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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands


St. Kitts was early regarded as a logical choice for agricultural colonialism and became the launching point for seventeenth-century British expansion into the Caribbean. In many ways, St. Kitts was an ideal island for development of the colonial sugar estate; it had relatively large, fertile tracts of land, an amenable climate, and a steady pattern of rainfall. More than 300 years later, the Kittitian economy was still very dependent on sugar; but by the 1970s, government and business leaders realized that a move away from sugar was vital for continued economic growth.

Tourism and manufacturing developed slowly as economic alternatives in the 1980s, but eventually they began to challenge sugar as the primary foreign exchange earner. Because significant capital investment was a prerequisite, the transition was at first both unpredictable and uneven. Diversification within the agricultural sector, particularly toward fresh vegetables, was also a government priority. Nonsugar agriculture also experienced a similar pattern of steady but slow growth because of land restrictions and reluctance on the part of farmers to attempt smallholder farming.

Nevis, in its bid to achieve economic viability, has had less success. Historically, it lacked the richer soils and larger tracts of land available on its sister island and was consequently less suitable for cultivation of sugar. It was valued, even in colonial times, for its seclusion and beaches rather than for agriculture, a fact that may allow it to accommodate the growing international tourist market of the late twentieth century. Agriculturally, Nevis has relied heavily on the cultivation of sea island cotton as its primary export commodity. This crop, usually planted without rotation, caused a serious soil erosion problem, however, which will likely diminish the island's potential for further agricultural production for many years to come.

In the mid-1980s, the government envisioned the economic future of St. Kitts and Nevis as dependent on tourism, light manufacturing, and a scaled-down sugar industry. Although the potential seemed great, both islands were still struggling to make the necessary adjustments. The development of infrastructure and effective marketing techniques, however, may allow these three economic sectors to mature by the 1980s.

Data as of November 1987