Country Listing

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Land Tenure and Use

Trinidad and Tobago's total land area covers 513,000 hectares, of which less than one-third was arable. Approximately 11,000 hectares, or only 2 percent of total area, were devoted to pasture, the lowest percentage in Latin America or the Caribbean. By contrast, approximately 45 percent of total land was forest or woodland, making timber abundant. Although Trinidad's three corridors of mountains place the greatest restriction on agricultural activity, the plains between the ranges were generally fertile. Only about 13 percent of the arable land was irrigated, but there were numerous streams and small rivers. Flooding was common during the rainy season.

According to the most recent agricultural census from the early 1970s, there were over 35,000 farms on Trinidad and Tobago, occupying nearly 130,000 hectares. The average farm had 6 hectares, but the 40 largest farms were extremely large, all over 400 hectares. Landholdings were usually of two kinds. Small farms were numerous, used traditional methods, and produced mostly food crops for the domestic market. Larger farms were generally more capital and input intensive and produced cash crops for export. Land distribution on the islands was not believed to be as skewed as in other Commonwealth Caribbean islands; in 1987 current data were unavailable, however. The relative abundance of land and the large availability of state lands did not make land reform or landownership a prominent issue. In fact, the opposite was true; Trinidad and Tobago had difficulty retaining citizens in rural areas to work the land.

Agricultural inputs such as machinery, fertilizers, and technical assistance were generally available but were mostly utilized for export crops. Although agriculture was increasingly mechanized, it was still relatively labor intensive. According to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization, Trinidad and Tobago had only 2,500 tractors in use in 1983, or only 8 tractors per 1,000 hectares. This made Trinidad and Tobago less machinery intensive than Jamaica. In spite of being one of the leading producers and exporters of fertilizers in the world, Trinidad and Tobago's fertilizer use in the 1980s was still below 1970 levels. In 1983 approximately forty-nine kilograms per hectare of fertilizer were used compared with sixty-five kilograms in 1970 and forty-five kilograms in 1975. Although the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, and Food Production provided some technical assistance in the rehabilitation of various aging and diseased tree crops, these programs were generally unsuccessful, and yields continued to decline. In 1982 a successful citrus rehabilitation program was introduced, however, which helped expand citrus output in the mid- to late 1980s.

Government agricultural policies did not focus on technical assistance per se but instead utilized pricing policies, such as subsidies, price controls, and guaranteed earnings for agriculture producers. Subsidies, the most rapidly expanding portion of government expenditure in the 1970s, were directed almost entirely at agriculture, especially sugar and livestock. Because of the small number of producers, however, price controls were also introduced to keep prices at fair levels and to help subsidize poorer consumers. As a result of the dwindling production of export crops, the government also instituted guaranteed prices for agricultural output that could be sold to the government via the Central Marketing Agency. Agricultural research took place at the regional Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute. Although credit for farmers was available from numerous sources, the most influential lender was the government's ADB.

Data as of November 1987