Want to perfect your yam growing? Take a trip to Castle Bruce, Dominica, and ask for Celia Seraphine.
Celia has been growing yams commercially for over 20 years. She clears and ploughs the land to ensure sufficient soft dirt to avoid twisting and breaking the yams during harvest. In addition, this allows for proper aeration and drainage of the yam mounds. Yam plants secured from previous harvests are then treated and planted. Stakes are then obtained to support the growing yam plants. Two months later Celia weeds and fertilizes the growing tuber. Within 6 to 8 months the yams are harvested. Celia plants 4 varieties of yam including white, yellow and a small variety called ‘sucoon’, the latter like ‘babaoulay’.
Celia practices crop rotation and although yam is her specialty, she multi-crops to avoid depletion or in her terms, tired land. This technique is also a natural and economical way of pest management. The other plants include toloman, sweet potato, cocoa, ginger, lettuce and other vegetables and cassava. She contributes to community food security as one of the most prolific producers of vegetables and seasonings, at times the sole producer and supplier. Most of Celia’s vegetable production is conducted under a greenhouse with a steady water supply that is gravity fed by a storage tank on the farm. Her adoption of water harvesting enables her to combat drought periods and ensure a year-round vegetable supply. She also agro-processes cocoa into coco sticks and cassava into farine and cassava bread. Celia is an avid collector of plant seeds. Once she is given a plant, she incorporates concepts of a germ plasm in her production to reproduce the stock, so she never wants that variety in the future.
Like many women in Dominica, most of the land on which Celia farms is leased and this adds to her cost of production. Fortunately, some of the land on which she farms is close to her house, reducing transportation fees and facilitates her housewife and farming roles seamlessly. Earlier on in her farming career Celia considered going deeper into agro-processing but felt the change would be a challenge combined with her family duties. Her oldest child is now a mature adult and the youngest at secondary school.
Celia is very ably supported by her full-time farmer husband who prepares the yam banks to perfection.
Celia has built a reputation of consistent high quality and her yams are so sought after that she rarely experiences glut. In any event the yams can be stored in her shed for up to 4 months after harvest.
What is next for Celia in her farming journey? In preparation for her retirement, armed with understanding the need for value-added products, she plans to broaden her cocoa production and expand her markets.
Celia is advised by Agricultural Extension Officer Hilroy Alfred. She has been a participant in the UNDP’s Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) training through the Strengthening Disaster Management Capacity of Women in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the Commonwealth of Dominica.