Caribbean Islands Table of Contents
Jamaica's total land area covers over 1 million hectares, 25 percent of which were under cultivation in the 1980s. In 1985, about 145,000 hectares, mostly in the coastal plains, were determined to be highly fertile, and 350,000 hectares were suitable for cultivation with various limitations. Some 160,000 hectares of agricultural land remained idle or underutilized. Twenty-four percent of total land, some 265,000 hectares, was covered with natural forest of commercial value. By mid-decade Jamaica had roughly 155,000 farms,down considerably from the 1978-79 agriculture census total of 179,700. Most farms were small; over 90 percent of all farms had four hectares or less. Farms having more than 20 hectares contained 43 percent of total cultivated land, however. According to the agriculture census of 1978-79, the average farm measured 3 hectares, and the island's largest farms, those 200 hectares and over, averaged 784 hectares. Sugarcane still covered over 25 percent of all agricultural land in use, followed by bananas, root crops, coconuts, citrus, and pimento.
Historically, land tenure in Jamaica has been rather inequitable. Most concentration of land in the postwar period resulted from urban migration and the purchases of very large tracts of land by incoming bauxite companies. The most important land reform programs in the postwar period were the 1966 Land Development and Utilization Act (also known as the Idle Land Law) and Project Land Lease introduced in 1973. The 1966 act allowed the government to encourage either the productive use, sale, or lease of some 40,000 hectares identified for the program. Project Land Lease attempted a more integrated rural development approach, providing small farmers with land, technical advice, inputs such as fertilizer, and access to credit. The plan helped more than 23,000 farmers cultivate 18,000 hectares. It is estimated that 14 percent of idle land was redistributed through Project Land Lease. Redistribution was still perceived by some as slow, inadequate, and containing marginally arable land, however; still others saw it as highly uneconomical and partisan in political terms. In the 1970s, unrealistically high expectations over land reform, as well as economic frustration, caused some sporadic land seizures and squatting, which found little government support. Redistribution of land in the 1970s emphasized cooperative ownership, a decision that sharply increased the number of cooperatives on the island and made members an important political force.
Government policies toward land tenure and land use shifted in the 1980s in favor of privatization, commercialization, and modernization of agriculture. Sugar cooperatives were dismantled, some government holdings were divested, and foreign investment was sought to update farming methods and help develop new product lines, or "nontraditional exports." Agro-21, established in 1983 to spearhead the new agriculture policies, held the ambitious objective of putting 80,000 hectares of idle land into the hands of the private sector in four years. The program relied heavily on international consultants and foreign investment; for example, the most prominent Agro-21 project, the Spring Plains farm, utilized Israeli technology. Although success was mixed, the program was responsible for growth in the production and export of nontraditional crops, such as winter vegetables, flowers, and Jamaican ethnic crops.
Traditional farming methods, including slash-and-burn methods, still dominated on most small farms. The mountainous island suffered from serious erosion problems, the result of farming on overly steep hillsides in the interior. Such farming has caused long-term damage to the country's topsoil, lowering soil productivity up to one-third according to some estimates. Most small farmers tended to grow a diversity of crops along with one main crop. Few peasants were solely subsistence farmers as the great majority traded a part of their produce and participated in the exchange economy.
In the 1980s, the use of such agricultural inputs as machinery, fertilizers, irrigated water, and technical assistance was slowly growing. Most small farmers still used handtools, especially the machete instead of more expensive power tools. A large percentage of the machinery was found on medium-to-large farms, but farms of up to two hectares used a surprisingly large amount of machinery for the size of the plot. According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of tractors in use on the island increased by 5.6 percent from 1971 to 1980, averaging eleven in use per 1,000 hectares of arable land in 1983; despite the improvement, this ratio was relatively low.
Fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigated water were likewise used in moderate amounts. Chemical fertilizers were not widely used, and animal manure and mulch were more common among small farmers. The use of chemical fertilizers declined by 4.8 percent in the 1970s after an increase of some 7.2 percent in the 1960s. Declining use of fertilizers continued in the 1980s. Fertilizer use was most prevalent for large export crops such as sugarcane, bananas, and citrus. Pesticides were even less common than fertilizers and were utilized mostly for sugarcane. Irrigated water covered 12 percent of arable land in 1983, up from an 8-percent level in 1965.
Most agricultural research occurred within the Ministry of Agriculture, but various farmer associations, such as the Coffee Industry Board or the Coconut Industry Board, provided research, as did the UWI at Mona. The Saturday edition of the Daily Gleaner provided farmers with valuable information on planting, harvesting, and new techniques. Agricultural extension workers were also active in Jamaica, including Ministry of Agriculture officials, crop associations, and agents of both local and foreign development organizations. The most important national farmer's organization was the Jamaican Agricultural Society, to which most farmers belonged.
Access to credit had increased since the integrated rural development plans of Project Land Lease in the 1970s, and augmenting credit to farmers continued to be an important government policy in the 1980s. The most customary sources of credit included the People's Cooperative Banks, commercial banks, Agriculture Credit Board, Agriculture Credit Bank, and Jamaican Agricultural Development Foundation. High interest rates in Jamaica throughout the 1980s prevented most small farmers from obtaining commercial bank loans. Nonetheless, the growth of private commercialized farming doubled the number of outstanding agricultural loans from commercial banks between 1980 and 1985. Multilateral and bilateral development agencies supported a number of projects in 1987 designed to improve export crops, rural parish markets, fumigation and certification, and overseas marketing.
Data as of November 1987
Caribbean Islands Table of Contents