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Country profile - Jamaica


With its lush, beautiful scenery and tropical climate, Jamaica has long been luring tourists from all over the world. However, recent increases in violent crime are making it less attractive - Jamaica now has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Apart from tourism, another major source of foreign exchange is bauxite, or aluminium ore, which remains the country's most productive industry. Jamaica is one of the world's biggest bauxite producers. However the industry was badly hit by the drop in commodity prices in the 1990s, forcing the government to dramatically raise fuel prices which led to widespread rioting in 1999. Other factors plaguing the economy include high interest rates, a pressured and sometimes sliding exchange rate, and growing internal debt. These depressed conditions further stimulate crime rates and remain a challenge to economic growth.

Agriculture is no exception. Exports have declined from US$305m in 1996 to US$260m in 2000. Agriculture contributes less of the country's income than other sectors (an average seven per cent of GDP between 1996 and 2000), but is an important employer - providing work for 20 per cent of the population across its two main sub-sectors - traditional and non-traditional.

Land Limitations
More than 75 per cent of the country has a slope of 10 degrees or more, which severely limits its potential for agricultural production. A United Nations report in 1992 revealed that over half (53 per cent) of the total 407,434ha is only suitable for forestry. A further 10 per cent is considered suitable for tree crops and pasture with "extreme shortcoming for cultivation". Thirty-four per cent is suitable for farming but with 'strong' or 'moderate' limitations, leaving only three per cent, which is considered usable with no limitations.

Soil erosion is therefore a major issue, as these sloping areas are planted mainly with cash crops, which provide minimal soil cover. Coupled with high rainfall, soil erosion normally leads to excessive soil nutrient depletion. The difficulties become even more apparent considering that the average small farmer is elderly and rooted in tradition with low literacy (Jamaica's Ministry of Agriculture).

Smallholders represent 82 per cent of the total number of farmers, yet account for just 16 per cent of the total land under agriculture. Most of these farmers cultivate land in the watershed areas on steep, highly fragmented land.

Cash crops

Traditional agriculture includes sugar, bananas, coffee, cocoa, citrus, and pimentos. Of those, sugar and banana are the most important. The sugar industry is structured around nine sugar estates, five of which have rum distilleries. Jamaican sugar is exported to the UK under a special trade agreement while bananas are protected by the regime of the Lomé convention. But both commodities are currently under threat from increased global competition and debates over preferential trade agreements.

Changes in export quality requirements during the 1980s, led to radical restructuring in the banana industry. Small and medium sized banana producers were no longer able to meet the demands and many fell by the wayside. Instead, large-scale banana farms were set up which allowed better pre and post harvest handling technologies, but this dealt a severe blow to the rural economy through job losses and effects on related industries. With bananas from Central America being cheaper, Jamaica's banana industry needs to focus on becoming more competitive.

Coffee is the third most important crop with exports increasing by approximately eight per cent each year. The main destination of Jamaican coffee is Japan. A major growth constraint to this sector is over-reliance on the Blue Mountain brand. There are also problems associated with hillside production (see box) and therefore with keeping up with demand. However, the EU and USA offer, as yet, relatively untapped markets.

Virus threat

Some 10,000ha of Jamaica is dedicated to citrus production. Sweet oranges account for 84 per cent of production - the rest is made up by grapefruit, ortanique (a cross between tangerine and orange unique to Jamaica) and Ugli. There are 4000 growers, the majority of whom operate on a small or medium scale. However a major threat to the industry is the Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV) since the discovery of Brown Citrus Aphid, the main carrier of the virus, in 1993. A large-scale CTV outbreak could lead to the collapse of the citrus industry so over a fifth (2,833ha) of the citrus growing land has been replanted using certified material.

Approximately 90 per cent of the cocoa beans produced in Jamaica are exported to Europe, the United States, and Japan. However, annual production continues to decline for a variety of reasons. World prices remain low, resulting in a significant reduction in routine maintenance and rehabilitation of cocoa farms (leading to low yields and therefore income) in the major producing areas island-wide. There is also a lack of 'young blood' among cocoa farmers while a shortage of labour has pushed prices up making it unaffordable to many.

Non-traditional crops

The country's tropical, hot and humid climate, with a temperate interior, also lends itself to production of 'non-traditional' crops such as root crops, yams and sweet potatoes, exotic fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices. On a global level, demand for exotics grows steadily, but increased competition from other producers and a range of production and marketing problems are a considerable barrier to Jamaica exploiting this opportunity to the full. The country's most lucrative crop is marijuana, which is not native or legal, but Jamaica is a major supplier to the USA. It is also a major transhipment point for cocaine from South America to North America and Europe. Indeed, it is the drug scene in Jamaica, which fuels its mounting crime and violence problems.


The livestock industry has seen some expansion. Some increases were experienced in pigmeat (0.7mkg), and chevron (goat) and mutton production (0.1mkg) between 1996 and 2000. But the beef industry has suffered from consumer preference for white meat, while for the dairy industry, surpluses have affected prices. The poultry industry has outperformed all other livestock sectors, achieving 100 per cent growth between 1998 and 2000. It is considered to be the most efficient and integrated sector and further growth of five per cent per annum is expected in the medium term, although the opening up of large export markets such as the USA offer the potential for further expansion. So despite the major challenges, there are some opportunities yet to be exploited. Even so, a lot needs to be done in many sectors for Jamaica to reach its full potential.

Statistical information
  • Country: Jamaica
  • Capital: Kingston
  • Area: 10,991 sq km
  • Population: 2,695,867 (CIA World Factbook, July 2003 est)
  • Ethnic groups: Black 90.9%; east Indian 1.3%; white 0.2%; Chinese 0.2%; mixed 7.3%; other 0.1%
  • Major languages: English, patois English
  • Population growth: 0.61% (2003 est)
  • Labour force: agriculture 12%; services 60%; industry 19% (CTA World Factbook, 1998
  • Literacy (people aged 15 and over who can read and write): total 87.9%; male 84.1%; female 91.6% (CTA World Factbook, 2003)
  • GDP: Purchasing power parity US$10 billion
  • GDP per capita: Purchasing power parity US$3,900 (2003 est.)
  • Average annual income: US$2,800 (World Bank, 2001)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture 6%; industry 31%; services 63% (CIA World Factbook, 2002 est)
  • Major industries: Tourism, bauxite, textiles, food processing, light manufacturing, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products
  • Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone
  • Agricultural products: Sugarcane, bananas, coffee, citrus, potatoes, vegetables, poultry, goats, milk
  • Major export partners: US (35.7%), EU excluding the UK (15.9%), UK (13%), Canada (10.5%) (CIA World Factbook, 1999)
  • Environmental issues: Heavy rates of deforestation; coastal waters polluted by industrial waste, sewage and oil spills; damage to coral reefs; air pollution in Kingston from vehicle emissions

Date published: January 2004


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