Young agriculturalist wants to improve farmers’ use of information, technologies

Bridgette Williams and a colleague examine the leaves of the cassava plant that had been planted pot.

Looking back, she admitted that it must have been a shock to her parents when she suddenly abandoned plans to study business and announced, that she would instead, move to Portland to study agriculture.
Kingston-born teenager, Bridgette Williams had no interest in agriculture when in 1997, she, along with three class mates made their way from Wolmer’s Girls School on Marescaux Road, to Merl Grove High School on Constant Spring Road, for a motivational career talk. One very “interesting,” lecture later, they were packing their bags for the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE). After graduating with an Associate of Science degree in General Agriculture, in 2000, Williams went to work as an extension officer with RADA.
Ten years, a business and a Workforce Education and Development degree later, Williams is the Training Manager at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA). These days, Williams is looking at new ways of delivering extension information to in particular, the older farmers. After researching the ways farmers get their information and how they use it, Williams sees some links between low productivity and their resistance to new technologies and information.
She noted that some older farmers distrust extension officers, as many believe “young people don’t know much”. According to her research, only about 15 to 20 per cent of older farmers utilise extension information. Most, she said, get information from their peers, or prefer to continue the techniques they learnt from their fathers and grandfathers.
Williams favours the introduction of psychological methods of improving farmer retention and use of information to the way extension information is delivered locally. She pointed to RADA’s lead-farmer extension method as an example of what can be achieved. The lead farmer approach is one in which extension services are delivered to groups of farmers with the support of the lead farmers.
The last of five children, Williams giggled as she reminisced that given their modest means, her parents must have been relieved when she chose CASE above other universities, as the fees were so much less. It has been though, but she was she driven to further her education after CASE and despite a full-time job, complete her bachelors’ degree in Business and Professional Management and masters’ degree in Workforce Education and Development.
Williams credits her first boss Thomas Burton, a former deputy executive director of RADA, for much of her growth and development at the agency.
“He built my confidence and never put me down. He made me feel empowered,” she said of her former supervisor.
This support plus her stint as Farm Queen helped to boost her confidence. It was while working with RADA Clarendon that coworkers and friends talked her into entering the parish’s Farm Queen competition, not expecting to win, but to gain some experience and confidence.
“I was surprised when I won,” she said laughing at the memory of being Crowned Clarendon Farm Queen 2001. The surprise did not stop there; as she went on to win the National Farm Queen title, an “even bigger surprise” in light of the more outgoing competition.
Looking back, the only disappointment was perhaps, that she was unable to complete both degrees in agriculture, as there were no options in the field then. Williams has, however, been able to combine all three disciplines: an interest in adult education combined with training in agriculture, business and workforce development has prepared her for her current job.
She is strongest at agri-business management, an area Williams explained, which teaches clients how to manage their farms. Despite a heavy schedule from her substantive post as well as the responsibility for running a EU/FAO sponsored pilot Backyard Gardening programme for householders, she is continually looking for ways to influence and change the way local farmers see and adopt new technologies.
Williams has begun to tweak training tools and courses to include modern teaching methodologies. In the near future, she hopes to overhaul the programming. Her ambition is to, in the near future begin working on a PhD in agricultural extension methodologies. It is, she explained, an area that will allow for the development of strategies that will help extension officers and specialists to improve the rates of acceptance and use of technologies among the traditional farmers.
And if all that wasn’t enough, this pastor’s daughter is a member of Missionaries of the Poor’s Music Ministry. Spending time inside the homes is emotionally challenging she noted, but it is her way to “give back in some way”.

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