Elizabeth Morgan | Where have our traditional agricultural exports gone? | Remark


Last week I wrote about our main traditional export, sugar, the production and export of which has declined significantly in the region. When I studied geography in high school in the 1970s, the Caribbean was known for its agricultural exports – in addition to sugar, limes for citric acid from Dominica; pomegranate nutmeg; and arrowroot from St Vincent and the Grenadines.

There were also bananas, ginger, cocoa and coffee. Guyana was also known for rice. Citrus fruits were a major export – oranges, grapefruits, ugli fruits, ortanics, tangerines and tangerines. Note that grapefruit, ortanic and ugli have been propagated in the Caribbean – grapefruit possibly in Barbados and ugli and ortanic in Jamaica.

Until the 1950s, agricultural products were the main exports for Caribbean Commonwealth countries, but declined in the 1960s for countries like Jamaica, accounting for around 11% of gross domestic product (GDP). Of course, this contribution to GDP has further diminished with the diversification of economies in the mining, manufacturing and service (tourism) sectors.

Agricultural products have also declined with the development of synthetic substitutes and competition from lower-cost producers.

In recent years, agriculture’s largest contribution to GDP appears to be in Guyana, around 18 percent, with around 4 percent in Barbados; nine percent – Belize; 17 percent – Dominica; nine percent – Jamaica; 2.1% – Saint Lucia; and 0.5 percent – Trinidad and Tobago. In some countries a high percentage of the workforce is still employed in agriculture: Guyana – 18 percent; Jamaica – 16 percent; Dominica – 21%; Saint Lucia – 10%; and Trinidad and Tobago – three percent.

As we now seek growth in the agricultural sector, in production and exports, we must ask ourselves where have traditional exports gone? From there, I’ll mainly use Jamaican numbers.


SUGAR – In sugar, in the 1990s Jamaica’s sugar exports were in the range of US $ 85-101 million, in 2017 the value was US $ 14 million and in 2020 it was $ 7. million US dollars. Caribbean sugar producers now compete with domestic beet sugar producers in the European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK) and major Latin American cane sugar exporters, d ‘Asia and Africa. Prices in the UK market are now much lower.

BANANAS – A major product of agricultural diversification in the 1870s, Jamaica pioneered the export of bananas to the United States and later to Great Britain. Competition from Latin American banana growers, through the United Fruit Company, came from the early 1900s. Enjoying preferential treatment in the UK market, bananas remained a major export for Jamaica, Belize and the Eastern Caribbean Islands until 2008, when the dispute within the World Trade Organization led to the liberalization of the UK market (EU). Caribbean Commonwealth exports to the UK market have been drastically reduced. Jamaica’s banana exports in the 1990s were valued at around US $ 43 million. In 2020, Jamaica’s banana exports were valued at just US $ 726,000.

COCOA – The Caribbean produces high quality fine or flavored cocoa. In Jamaica, the harvest was affected by inclement weather and disease. Production has fallen sharply. In the 1990s, Jamaican cocoa exports averaged around US $ 5 million per year. In 2020, exports amounted to US $ 348,000.

COFFEE – Jamaica is one of the major coffee exporters and is known for its Blue Mountain brand. In 1995-1998, Jamaica exported an average of US $ 28 million. In 2020, coffee exports were valued at US $ 16 million. Exports have fluctuated due to changes in the export market. The price of coffee berries paid to farmers has fallen. The harvest was also affected by inclement weather and disease.

CITRUS – Jamaica had a thriving citrus industry which was decimated by the citrus greening disease (Huanglongbing) which has no cure. In 2004, exports were valued at around US $ 2 million, but by 2020 they had fallen to US $ 384,000. Jamaica’s main exports were oranges, ortanics, grapefruits and ugli.

Jamaica also exported ginger and chili, both of which have declined. Jamaican ginger was known for its spiciness and potency. Production has been severely affected over the decades by rotting of the ginger rhizome. Jamaica remains one of the main producers of high quality chili peppers. However, production is affected because the trees are shaken for use in jerking and for oil, and because the trees are not replanted. It takes about five years for a pepper to mature.

There is still potential for developing crops such as cocoa, coffee, ginger and chilli for export. I have noted that the Ministry of Agriculture is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization to revive some of these crops, but they require interest, persistence and investment from the parties. stakeholders.

Non-traditional exports, fruits, vegetables and ground supplies show steady growth but also require investment and shift to value-added products, which means investing in research and development. We need to find a way to recoup the loss in value of traditional agricultural exports.

But, really, are we serious about agriculture?

– Elizabeth Morgan specializes in international trade policy and international politics. Send your comments by e-mail to [email protected]

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