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Rosamund Benn, a coconut oil producer in Guyana, recognized as a Leader of Rurality of the Americas by IICA

Rosamund Benn, a farmer who has encouraged dozens of rural women in Guyana to process and market their crops to improve their income and quality of life, was named a “Leader of Rurality of the Americas” by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

Benn, a wife and mother of five, will receive the “Soul of Rurality” award , which is part of an initiative by the agency specializing in rural and agricultural development to recognize the men and women who are leaving their mark and making a difference in the rural areas of the Americas, a region that plays a key role in global food and nutritional security and environmental sustainability.

Benn is the President of the Women Agro-processors Development Network (WADNET) in Guyana, an organization that provides rural women with crucial support to overcome daily obstacles.

In Guyana, the majority of food is transported by water. And climate change, which has increased the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts, has become a difficult reality to navigate.

In this South American country, known as “the land of many waters”, most of the population lives on or near the Atlantic coast. Rosamund, however, grew up in one of the hinterland communities, located in the forest area outside of the coastal plain. When she met her husband, she moved to Pomeroon-Supenaam, one of Guyana’s 10 administrative regions, which  has a seacoast and large rivers and is known for its fruit farms, which primarily grow coconuts.

“I come from a farming family, but production in the hinterland is completely different from that on the coast. I moved to The Pomeroon when I met my husband, with whom I have farmed for almost 40 years. When we got married, we owned 5 acres of land, where we started growing vegetables, coconuts and bananas. Over the years, we expanded and now own 50 acres, on which we carry out large-scale coconut production”, recalls Rosamund.

The “Leaders of Rurality in the Americas” award highlights positive examples for rurality in the region. 

IICA grants the Leaders of Rurality in the Americas award to those who play the irreplaceable dual role of being guarantors of food and nutritional security, while also being guardians of the planet’s biodiversity through production in any circumstances. The award also highlights positive examples for rurality in the region.

An entrepreneur who created her own brand

Coconut can be used to produce a variety of products. Together with her husband Rudolph, Rosamund started producing virgin coconut oil in the 90s. The process is labor intensive: coconuts are broken and pulp is extracted and grated by hand before it is processed.

The family sells its virgin coconut oil, a high-quality product with medicinal properties, to wholesalers as well as small and large businesses throughout the country. “Our product is sold in almost every supermarket in Georgetown, the capital”, she says. The family’s brand is called Pomeroon Rose.

Rosamund explains that coconuts require patience. They grow quickly and reach a good size in the rainy season, but take a long time to grow when there is little rainfall and it is very hot. In that regard, the extreme weather events caused by climate change have had grave consequences for Guyana’s farmers.

In 2021, the country was hit by devastating floods, as a result of heavy rainfall that caused rivers to overflow, destroying countless rice, sugar, fruit, vegetable and livestock farms. In response to the situation, the government declared a national disaster, assisted numerous vulnerable communities with food and medicine, and was forced to request international assistance.

“Many of us lost our crops and had to leave in search of higher ground on which to continue producing. Overall, the situation is quite challenging due to climate change, in addition to the difficulties we face in transporting our products, which has always been one of our greatest concerns”, recalls Rosamund.

Rosamund and her husband Rudolph began producing virgin coconut oil in the 90s.

In that regard, she considers that the Network of Women Agro-processors, created in 2012, has provided fundamental support. “When we share our experiences and aim to collectively solve problems, things start to work better. IICA has also been of great source of support to women in the network”, she explains.

“Women always face more barriers than men. For instance, most of them do not own the land on which they work, so they face greater obstacles accessing credit to grow their businesses”, she adds.

Rosamund is constantly conveying the value of agriculture to youth: “I tell them that the economic rewards will not come immediately, and that they will never get rich, but they will be able to live well. They will be able to guarantee food for their families and sell the surplus to earn money. If you have clear goals and don’t give up in the face of obstacles, you can achieve anything”.

She also encourages other farmers to reach out to young people and pass on their knowledge of good food production practices.

“I always say that the only way to keep young people in the countryside and involved in agriculture is for the older generations to pass on their knowledge. We have to take care of agriculture; without it, humanity has no future. Many people pursue other professions, but teachers, doctors and lawyers must eat when they get home, so they rely on agriculture”.