Country Listing

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands


Jamaica's monoculture sugar economy became diversified after emancipation, when former slaves planted a wide variety of food and some cash crops. Agricultural produce was quite varied in the 1980s, and included export crops, domestic crops, mixed crops, and nontraditional export crops; the latter comprised both new crops and those traditionally grown but not previously exported.

Sugar has been the dominant crop in Jamaica for centuries with the exception of the fifty-year period from 1890 to 1940. Even in the late 1980s, sugarcane fields covered over 25 percent of the total area under crops and employed about 18 percent of the total work force, although that demand was seasonal. Sugar production (including rum) accounted for nearly 50 percent of agricultural export earnings in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, sugar production declined sharply from 1965, when 60,000 hectares of cane fields produced 515,000 tons, to 1984, when 40,000 hectares produced only 193,000 tons. Many factors contributed to the decline of sugar, such as world price declines, falling yields, declining quality, labor unrest, and factory inefficiency. Farms over 200 hectares held the overwhelming share of the land under cane, usually on the fertile coastal plains. Jamaica's history as a slave-based, sugar plantation society marked sugarcane, and cane cutting in particular, with a strong social stigma.

Jamaica enjoyed two preferential markets for its sugar in the mid-1980s in the European Economic Community (EEC) through the Lomé Convention (see Glossary) and in the United States market via the United States sugar quota. In the 1980s, Jamaica was allocated 1.1 percent of the sugar imported into the United States from the world market. Although the United States sugar quota for Jamaican sugar dropped rapidly from 1984 to 1986 from 30,000 tons to 17,000 tons, Jamaica's own dwindling production prevented it from meeting the quota level in 1984. In 1985 the island actually imported several thousand tons of refined sugar for the domestic market. Meanwhile, the EEC remained a stable market.

Bananas were the only crop in Jamaica to have surpassed sugar in export revenues. After the peak years of the early twentieth century, however, banana production and exports were cyclical and generally in decline. During the 1970s, production decreased rapidly from 136,000 tons in 1970 to 33,000 tons in 1980. Although major efforts were made by the government and farmers, the production decline continued in the 1980s with 1984's figures totalling only 11,100 tons, one of the worst of the century. Several factors accounted for ebbing production, including slow technological advance, diseases, shortage of inputs, natural disaster, and transportation bottlenecks. In contrast to sugar, bananas were typically produced by small farmers. Most farms that grew bananas grew other crops as well. Banana exports were destined for Britain, where Jamaica had preferential access for up to 150,000 tons of its bananas against non-Commonwealth nations.

Citrus products, which included oranges, sweet oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and various hybrids, were usually grown on small farms. The large interior town of Mandeville was the hub of the industry. Citrus output was stable in the first half of the 1980s and reached 754,000 boxes in 1985. Citrus fruits enjoyed a large domestic market for direct consumption and processing. Many farmers picked their own produce to sell directly to consumers. Government policies in the 1980s sought to expand larger-scale production and emphasized fruit processing for juices, concentrates, preserves, or canned fruit.

Coffee, cultivated since the early 1720s, remained an important export crop for small and large farmers in the 1980s. All coffee growing was regulated by a central organization, the Coffee Industry Board. Two varieties of coffee grew in Jamaica. Lowland coffee was generally grown on small farms and accounted for about 80 percent of output in the early 1980s. Blue Mountain coffee represented 20 percent of output but was steadily gaining a larger share of production. The number of hectares with Blue Mountain coffee doubled in the first 5 years of the 1980s to over 2,000 hectares, but Lowland's cultivation remained constant. New coffee farms were generally medium-to-large in size. Jamaican coffee enjoyed exceptional prices relative to world prices. Lowland coffee averaged a price two to three times the world price, whereas the highly aromatic Blue Mountain coffee received four to five times the world price. Some 1,000 tons of coffee were exported in 1984. Almost all of Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee was sold to the Japanese, who were willing to pay top prices.

Jamaica produced a number of other traditional export crops such as cocoa (derived from the cacao plant), tobacco, coconuts, pimento, and ginger. Jamaican cacao plants were relatively diseaseand pest-free. Most cacao was cultivated on small farms on hillsides as a mixed crop. Although world cocoa prices were cyclical, Jamaica tended to receive a premium price for its cocoa. Some 51 tobacco farms produced 269,000 kilograms of tobacco in 1985 for both the domestic and export market. The tobacco industry was undergoing a process of deregulation. Coconuts were recovering from a lethal yellowing disease that killed 88 percent of the Jamaican variety. New varieties were being grown to continue to produce coconut derivatives such as soaps and oils from copra. Pimento, from which allspice is derived, remained stable and was also deregulated. The island's ginger was of high quality and found easy market access abroad, as well as being sold locally for use in nonalcoholic ginger beer, chocolate, and national dishes.

Numerous domestic crops, both fruits and vegetables, were also grown. Tubers, the most important staple crop, included yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, and dasheens. Popular vegetables included calaloo (a type of greens), sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and pumpkin. Abundant fruits such as plantains, avocados, mangoes, pineapples, soursop, breadfruit akee and melons were also grown. Legumes were also common, especially gungo peas, red peas (Jamaicans call beans peas), and peanuts. Jamaica was relatively self-sufficient in vegetable production.

Data as of November 1987

Country Listing

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents