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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Agriculture in Jamaica is quite popular as a profession and an industry. What exactly is cultivated in Jamaica? How important is agriculture to the economy?
Jamaica is well known for the hearty and flavour packed meals we eat daily. At the top of most people’s wish list is to get an authentic Jamaican meal or fruit to eat. Many of these products are cultivated right here. Agriculture in Jamaica is quite a popular industry.
Though it was looked at as the job for the simple and uneducated, many persons have even quit their more established “corporate jobs” to join the many persons who have chosen agriculture as their career path.
Yes there is. While agriculture has been taken over by tourism as the highest earner for the country, it remains one of our most lucrative industries.
The fertility of the land in Jamaica has been very evident. Ever since our first ancestors arrived, the Tainos, the land has been used for agricultural purposes. Of course, with slavery came agriculture on a wider scale but just a few specific crops. Sugarcane and Tobbacco were the most produced crops during the days of slavery.
Emancipation gave way to a more diverse set of crops being planted for both commercial use and exportation. This trend has continued and now agriculture is one of Jamaica’s biggest industries.
Today, 18% of active Jamaicans are employed in agriculture and 46% of lands is used for active farming of crops and livestock.
Jamaicans practice subsistence farming or commercial agriculture.
With subsistence farming, the farmer will plant enough to feed their families and the surplus will be sold at the local market or sold to a vendor who sells in the market. There are some subsistence farmers who may have a small local supermarket or hotel that they supply to as well.
Subsistence farmers usually have a little bit of each of the major crops needed as well as livestock. Much of the fruits, vegetables, eggs and ground provisions etc are purchased from local farmers, ith a large percentage coming directly from farm to table.
With commercialised agriculture, it is done as a wide scale business that is, in most cases, very specific as to what is produced. Most will focus on either crops or livestock and may even further specialise on the particular crop or animal they will rear. Many of these crops are grown for export or are absorbed by local manufacturers.
The most popular crops are horticulture, fruits, vegetables and ground provisions. The most popular animals in livestock farming are: chickens (poultry, egg), fish, pigs, cows (beef, dairy), rabbits, bees and goats. These are absorbed by local markets, hotels, eateries, and the like.
A list of all the crops planted in Jamaica is next to impossible. However this is a list of our highest exported crops. Many persons especially in commercialised farming, will select one or a few of these crops specialise in. This includes:
Sometimes focussing on one or two crops or animals is best. For example, from one crop you will be able to get the actual produce as well as by-products which are just as important.
Sugarcane has been a very important crop, from the days of colonial Jamaica until today. Yes the most important or most obvious use is for sugar, but from sugar cane , you can also get molasses, bagasse and farm feed as well.
How much does agriculture contribute to Jamaica’s economy? That is a very important question, especially if you are looking to join the industry yourself. Agriculture contributes to 8.68% of Jamaica’s economy. As insignificant as it sounds, highs and lows in agriculture positively or negatively affects the GDP of Jamaica. Agriculture is one of the pillars holding up Jamaica’s economy.
Agriculture doesn’t only contribute to Jamaica in this regard though. There are entire industries built around agriculture. For example, Hi-Pro and Fersan supply farmers with animal feed and fertiliser respectively. These are two very important types of products in agriculture and as such these are two of the biggest companies in Jamaica.
Agro Processing is also a huge industry. Many bi-prodcuts are made from the fruits and vegetables cultivated on the island for local use and exportation, which is another industry that relies heavily on agriculture just the same. Another example of this is Banana. Banana is one of our highest exported fruits and also Banana chips, a by product of the fruit is exported as well.
All these major companies will need to employ persons to carry out the many tasks that make companies of this size run efficiently. Which means agriculture should also be thanked for job creation.
Farm Stores and retailers/suppliers are also very important and prominent jobs in farming communities.
There are also agencies like the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and the portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the government’s cabinet that are dedicated to agriculture in Jamaica. They help to meet the needs and concerns that will inevitably arise.
This not only speaks to the importance of agriculture and the economy of Jamaica, but to its general importance on every level.
The parish most associated with farming is the “bread basket” St. Elizabeth, because this parish alone is responsible for supply 22% of the country’s food needs for beef, poultry, tubers, fruits and vegetables.
Parishes are not only known for farming but for specific crops or animals that are heavily produced there.
Jamaica’s major issues with agriculture are lack of funding, praedial larceny, the terrible conditions of the roads in most farming communities and pests. Though Jamaica has, and hopefully continues to have years without the threat of hurricanes, farmers suffer the loss of crops and livestock to other natural disasters, especially flooding during the wet months of the year.
The dry months are also an issue. Quite often in the bread basket parish of all places, there are times with issues with water distribution, and inconsistent rainfall. Farmers then have to resort to buying water for their plants and animals which drives up production costs for them.
But even though there are many challenges, agriculture in Jamaica still thrives, thanks to the resilient farmers who always find a way around the issues they face daily.
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