Agriculture is all that I ever wanted to do – Natasha Forde

Natasha’s farm

By Lakhram Bhagirat

Agriculture is perhaps the most important sector in every country for the simple reason that it provides the necessary sustenance for the populace. However, many do not consider agriculture as an important career choice but that was not the case for Natasha Forde.

Ever since she was a child, Natasha wanted a career in agriculture. She was fascinated by the things children her age never even considered. She developed a deep love for growing plants and rearing animals and modelled her studies at the Berbice Educational Institute in preparation for that career.

However, tragedy would strike the family before she could even complete school, causing a major shift in her life. When Forde was just 15-years-old, her father was killed while working with Guymine and that shattered her dreams.

The 45-year-old remembered her father as being the family’s sole breadwinner and after his death, everything immediately changed.

“I always had a love for agriculture, farming on the whole. My dream was always to go to GSA (Guyana School of Agriculture) but after my father was killed at Guymine and that shattered my dreams because them days you only had mainly the father used to work.”

“Everything interests me, crops and livestock. Agriculture was what I wanted to do and after he [her father] died, I was fortunate enough that we paid the CXC fees before because it was being paid in November and he died in November,” she said.

After she completed her CXC examinations, Forde knew that she could not follow her dreams because of her family’s lack of financial resources so she entered into other jobs. At the age of 20, Forde moved from New Amsterdam to Fyrish Village in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region to live with her husband.

Together they have five children. Ever since getting married, Forde has been actively involved in planting kitchen gardens as well as taking up other jobs. She has worked with Nand Persaud in Berbice and even made pastries and used to ride around the community on a bicycle to sell them.

Natasha Forde in her nursery

However, back in 2016 a group of cash crop farmers came together and started the Gibraltar-Fyrish Farmers’ Association, for which she now serves as the Chair. The Group has over 50 farmers on their register but just over 20 of them are actively involved in farming.  Forde saw this as an opportunity to finally move into the world of farming.

“We decided to start the Farmers’ Group because the Government of the day wanted you to farm groups in order for you to access certain funding and things like that. So, we would have formed this Group which I am the Chairperson for the longest while,” she said.

After they would have formed the Group, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) approached the to start-up projects in farming. The organisations, inclusive of the Food ad Agriculture Organisation, aided in the construction of a shade house for the Group.

“We had the NDIA (National Drainage and Irrigation Authority) helped us to clear beds in the backdam that wasn’t used for over 30 years. We brought water into a system that never had water before and we just choose to try cash crops because the usual crops would be plantain, banana, cassava, sweet potato but that was because we didn’t had water but now that we getting the water we go into the farmlands,” she said.

Everyone was assigned their own plot to farm and on Forde’s plot, she has been experimenting with several non-traditional crops. She first started with tomatoes and it was a success but then she decided that she wanted to move on with the non-traditional and started with cauliflower. Thus far, it has been successful for her and she has now branched out to include broccoli.

Broccoli in Natasha’s farm

Forde’s farm is fully organic since the land, according to her, is very fertile and requires no fertilisers.

“We reaped cauliflower then we put down broccoli. We have no problem with the cauliflower. We would have put down over 180 plants. We tried it before and it came out pretty well. We are fully organic. The place was never farmed for the past 30 years so now we don’t have to use fertilisers and stuff like that,” she related.

As it relates to sourcing markets for her produce, the mother explained that they have been going around in New Amsterdam and locked in quite a number of restaurants. The current crop of cauliflower and broccoli on Forde’s farm will be ready in time for the holiday season and according to her, there is no intention to deviate from her regular market.

Cauliflower in Natasha’s garden

“When we carry our stuff to Georgetown, the businesses don’t want to give you the prices. Sometimes we go from house to house (in Berbice) and educate people about broccoli and cauliflower which a lot of people don’t even know those stuff was planted in Guyana. They think it does grow overseas that is why it fetches a heavy price but we would go from house to house and we establish a market and what you get from us is healthy. We would also sell to suit the pocket of our customers,” Forde said.

Forde gets her entire family involved in farming and she said that the Group is hoping to expand their operations but they require assistance. They would have written to the Minister of Agriculture seeking assistance to further clear the lands, as well as donations of farming equipment and are waiting on a response.

“Agriculture for me is a form of livelihood. It builds your self-esteem because you know if you plant a seed it will grow and if it doesn’t grow, you will plant another seed and it goes on until you achieve what you want. It is a form of livelihood; it sources some form of security because it means I am going to eat.

“I would tell everyone to plant a seed because you will eat a little. Farming should be part of our livelihood whether it is two boulanger, two ochro. You will reap and you will eat. It is a means of our livelihood once you have any space just plant a seed,” she said.