Jamaicans - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The gross domestic product was U.S. $1,400 per capita in 1991, up from $960 in 1987. The economy grew rapidly in the 1960s, declined steadily from 1973 to 1980, and recovered slowly in the 1980s. Sugar was the main industry until the slaves were emancipated, whereupon a peasantry and a dual economy came into being. Small farmers produce a variety of crops, such as yams and sweet potatoes, for local consumption. Bananas replaced sugar as the main export at the beginning of the twentieth century, but the peak production level attained in 1937 has never been surpassed. The primary cash crop today is marijuana (ganja), which is largely exported to the United States and had an estimated value of U.S. $3.5 billion in 1984. Marijuana cultivation is illegal (as is its use), but the economy is very dependent on it. The most valuable sector of the formal economy is bauxite mining and alumina processing. Light manufacturing grew rapidly in the 1960s, and in 1984 there were 1,202 small factories (768 of them in the Kingston metropolitan area). The number of tourists fell sharply in the 1970s but rebounded in the 1980s; the island had over a million visitors in 1987. There was a marked decline in the number of tourists and in the rate of economic growth in 1991, as a result of the recession in the United States.


Industrial Arts. Owing to its long history of plantation monoculture, the island has developed few industrial crafts, with the notable exception of basket making. Industrialization has been hampered by a shortage of skilled workers, due in part to emigration.

Trade. There are many small shops in the countryside and a few large grocery and department stores in urban areas. Agricultural products are distributed largely through a system created by slaves; about 20,000 higgler women buy produce from small farmers and sell it at some ninety marketplaces. The economy has always been export oriented and dependent on a few basic commodities. Guided by the philosophy of Mercantilism, the British developed the island for sugar production and as a market for their industrial exports. Jamaica was an important part of the infamous "triangular trade," which brought firearms and manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Caribbean, and sugar from the Caribbean to Europe. England was Jamaica's main trading partner until the development of the bauxite industry in the 1950s, when the focus of trade shifted to the United States.

Division of Labor. In 1989, 22.5 percent of the labor force was employed in agriculture, 41 percent in the service sector, and 19 percent in industry. The unemployment rate was high, at 17.5 percent, and highest among 20to 24year-olds. The proportion of women in the labor force is about 46 percent, one of the highest in the world; women work mainly in the service sector, as higglers, domestics, teachers, and office workers.

Land Tenure. Slave plantations were generally located in flat and fertile areas, such as valleys and the coastal plains. The hilly and less fertile interior was sparsely inhabited until Emancipation; seeking land as a symbol of freedom, former slaves settled there and became peasant farmers. These historical patterns still prevail to some extent. There are about 1,000 farms of over 40 hectares and 151,000 of under 2 hectares. Large farms occupy the best land and produce a single crop, principally for export. Small farms are generally located in hilly areas and produce a variety of crops, mostly for the domestic market. Ownership of land is greatly preferred to renting; some land is held in common by kindreds. All heirs to this "family land" have an equal right to live on and use a portion of it but cannot alienate it. Family land is an important symbol of security and family unity; it usually has little or no agricultural value, but kin are often buried on it.


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