Belize Sugar Industries (BSI), an ASR Group mill and supplier to our Thames Refinery, has launched a new community outreach programme called Women Cane Farmers Field School (WFFS) which aims to educate and empower female sugar cane farmers in Belize.

Women cane farmers make up around 40% of the total cane farmers of the northern sugar industry in Belize.

“The WFFS engages women at the farm level with the objective to improve sugarcane practices and yields,” said Olivia Avilez, BSI Cane Farmer Relations Manager, who led the programme. “It was tailored to meet women where they are and to take them to the next level as farmers. At the same time, it also helps the industry diversify, strengthen and grow.”

The year long programme — a collaboration with The Hershey Company, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the Green Climate Fund — covered eight modules, ranging from planting and integrated pest management to harvesting, processing and financial literacy. It included lectures, primarily given by BSI Research & Development Officer Miguel Keme, as well as in-depth, hands-on learning in the cane fields.

A special graduation ceremony was held for Cohort 1 of the WFFS programme in the spring. Industry stakeholders and leaders, friends and family members applauded as the 11 women cane farmers received their certificates of completion. The programme featured a main address by H.E. Rossana Briceño, Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children with the Ministry of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs from the Government of Belize, a testimony by graduate Filiberta Pena on behalf of her classmates and remarks by Olivia.

“I am proud to work at an organisation that champions diversity and supports women in our industry,” said Olivia. “And, because they do, I get to lead – really lead – these types of programs, not just for Women’s Month but all through the year.”

After its successful first year, the WFFS kicked off its second year with a new group of women cane farmers in May.