A Glimpse Of Jamaican Agriculture

When you think of Jamaica, what do you see?  White sand beaches? Palm trees? Coconuts? The relaxing sounds of Reggae music and crashing waves? But Jamaica, just like most other countries in the world has a very strong agricultural history and heritage.

If we go back a few hundred years to the 1400s, the original inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawaks, also called Tainos. They grew cassava, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), fruits, vegetables, cotton and tobacco. They built their villages all over the island but most of them settled on the coasts and near rivers as they fished to get food. Fish was also a major part of their diet. The Arawaks lived peaceful lives until they were destroyed by Christopher Columbus and other Spaniards in May of 1494.

On May 10, 1655, England led a successful attack on Jamaica. The Spaniards surrendered to the English, freed their slaves and then fled to Cuba. The English settlers concerned themselves with growing crops that could easily be sold in England. Tobacco, indigo and cocoa soon gave way to sugar which became the main crop for the island. The sugar industry grew so rapidly that the 57 sugar estates in the island in 1673 grew to nearly 430 by 1739.

Today agriculture is the basic industry of Jamaica. The land possesses a wide variety of climates and soils allowing nearly all tropical products to be grown there. The main agricultural products are sugar, bananas, citrus, cocoa and coconuts, although none of these crops are indigenous to the area. Sugar cane, coconut, rice and ginger were introduced into the island from far eastern countries, bananas from the Canary Islands, cocoa from South America, limes and mangoes from India.

Sugarcane is currently the island’s leading export crop. It is produced mainly on plantations organized around modern sugar factories, although small and medium-sized businesses do contribute between 30 and 40 percent of the bulk sugarcane converted on the plantations. Raw sugar production in 2000 was estimated at 175,000 tons, earning 66 million dollars for the Jamaican economy. Sugarcane is propagated by cuttings and can take anywhere between 12 and 18 months to reach maturity. But like many other countries productivity in the Jamaican sugar industry is low due to outdated equipment, inefficient management, and an aging workforce.

Bananas are the only other crop that almost surpasses sugarcane production in Jamaica. From a low in 1988 following Hurricane Gilbert, Jamaican banana production reached 88,917 tons in 1996, and earned over 44.1 million dollars in revenue. Banana producers, who are generally small farmers, hope to increase their output by increasing efficiency and extracting higher yields per acre. In Jamaica bananas are grown on various kinds of soils, but especially on the three most important types, the alluvial soils, the shales, and the red limestone soils. Panama Disease and Leaf Spot are the two main diseases which affect the plant.

The remainder of Jamaica's agricultural production is divided among a number of smaller export products, including cocoa, coffee (Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is prized throughout the world), copra (coconut flesh), and pimentos. Despite what you may imagine because of the islands desirable location, the people of Jamaica do not do a lot of fishing. Programs have been established by the government to attempt to encourage the production of fish and the use of aquaculture on the island.

This is just a glimpse of the vast agricultural opportunities and history of Jamaica. If you are interested in learning more about this country follow the links below to further your knowledge.





- Shelby Watson