Agriculture is the basic industry of Jamaica. As the island possesses
a wide variety of soil and climate, nearly every tropical product can be
grown here. The chief economic crops are sugar, bananas, citrus, cocoa
and coconuts, each of which is dealt with below in detail. Not one of the
major crops of the island is indigenous. 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, the breadfruit from Tahiti and ackee from Africa.
Pimento is grown largely in St. Ann, Trelawny, Manchester and St. Elizabeth.
Ginger grows well in Jamaica, especially at elevations of over 2,000 feet
above sea level. Logwood, from which a dye is extracted, is found on the
dry plains of St. Catherine, Clarendon and St. Elizabeth.
Sugar cane, a tropical grass, can be grown under a variety of soil
and climatic conditions. Alluvial plains containing large quantities of
humus, as in St. Catherine and lower Clarendon, are very suitable. Flat
or gently undulating lands are best; flat areas will render more easy cultivation
by hand or mechanical equipment and transportation of the reaped canes
to the factory.
Sugar cane cultivation varies from district to district according to the
existing conditions but the trend is for more mechanisation as dependence
on hand labour grows less and less.
One important factor in sugar cane cultivation is sunshine, which determines
to a large extent the sucrose content of the cane juice. Flat lands always
have more hours of sunshine than hilly districts. Before the introduction
of machinery, the small factories which crushed cane by windmills, were
usually situated on elevated land to make use of all the available wind.
In recent times, however, the large central factories like Frome and Monymusk,
are situated in areas to which transportation is relatively easy.
Sugar cane is propagated by cuttings, and planted in rows about 1.5 metres
(4 ft 6 ins) from each other. The crop requires intensive cultivation in
order to produce satisfactory results. Moulding should be started when
the plants are about 0.5 m (18 ins) high, and the fields must be kept free
from weeds. While irrigation is necessary on most estates, good drainage
is essential and the soil must not be waterlogged. It is essential that
the fertility of the soil be maintained by the addition of vegetable matter
or artificial fertilisers.
The crop takes from twelve to eighteen months to reach maturity, and the
first harvest reaped from the cuttings which have been planted are called
plant canes. If the roots or 'stools' are left in the ground, new shoots
will grow from them. These are called rations. Fresh cuttings should be
planted after the second ratoon since the yield per acre diminishes rapidly
By-products of the sugar industry are rum, for which Jamaica is world-famous,
molasses, molascuit, a cattle food made of the interior cellulose fibre
of the sugar cane, power alcohol, and various forms of bagasse, such as
the fibreboard known as 'Celotex' and paper pulp.
The varieties of citrus may be divided into three classes: the orange,
grapefruit and lemon. In the orange group, the types are the Common Jamaica,
grown chiefly for home consumption;the Valencia, the fruit of which does
not fall off the tree after ripening; the Navel, the Ortanique and the
Seville. In the grapefruit group are the Marsh Seedless, the standard variety
grown for export, the Silver Cluster and Duncan which contain many seeds,
the Ugli, chiefly exported, and the Chadwick .
The best soils are fertile, well-drained, medium-textured loams with
no impervious layer near the surface. Rocky hillsides with shallow soil
exposed to erosion should be avoided. In preparing the land special consideration
must be given to the avoidance of pests. There should be about 125 cm (50
ins) of rainfall with even distribution throughout the year. The trees
should be protected from prevailing winds and, if there is no natural shelter
such as a mountain range or a belt of forest, windbreaks should be established
before the orchard is started. Propagation is by budding.
Bananas are cultivated in nearly every moist tropical country, and constitute
a substantial part of the local diet. Jamaica is one of the leading banana-exporting
countries in the world.
Deep loam with a fair proportion of sand is the best type of soil for banana
cultivation. There should be good under-drainage, for the roots are very
susceptible to water-logged soils. 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.
The water requirement of the banana is very great. Whereas St. Mary and
Portland with their abundant rainfall provide excellent banana lands, the
St. Catherine plains have to be extensively watered by artificial means
to grow bananas. A high temperature is necessary, and the plant thrives
best in tropical and more so in equatorial climates. Clean weeding should
not be practised.
The plants are propagated by shoots or 'suckers' which used to be spaced
3 m by 3m (9 ft by 9 ft) apart. However, closer planting with the use of
fertilisers is now being done to get more yield to the acre. The plant
does not offer resistance to heavy wind and entire crops are destroyed
in a hurricane.
Erosion is an important factor to consider in banana cultivation, for about
80 per cent of Jamaica's bananas are produced on sloping land. The plant
does not provide protection against soil erosion, because its important
roots occur in the top O.25 to 0.66 metres (10 to 24 ins) layer of soil.
Extensive conservation measures, therefore, have to be adopted on sloping
Panama Disease and Leaf Spot are the two main diseases which affect the
plant. The Lacatan variety is immune to Panama Disease and while Leaf Spot
is still a serious problem it can be effectively checked by careful spraying.
The main pest is the banana weevil borer, which can be controlled by strict
Apart from its great demand on the world market, coffee is important
as a 'money crop' because it can be cultivated on slopes, too steep for
other crops; it can be picked by unskilled labour, and it keeps well and
is not damaged by rough transportation.
Coffee grows with best results in a warm, moist climate, and on rich, well-drained
soils with an abundance of decayed vegetates mainly a crop for high elevations
and since it should be protected from wind, the leeward slopes of mountains
are more suitable than the windward slopes. The large coffee growing districts
of St. Andrew are on the southern slopes of the Blue Mountains, thus sheltered
from the northeast trade winds. Three chief chemicals should be present
in the soil-- potash, which is needed at all times, nitrogen and phosphoric
One of the most important aspects of coffee cultivation is pruning, which
gets rid of old wood and encourages new branches for blossoming and crop-bearing.
Blue Mountain coffee is of very fine quality, and is well known throughout
The original home of the cacao or cocoa tree is that part of South
America watered by the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. In its wild state the
cocoa tree grows under the shadow of taller trees. The tree which is about
3 to 10 metres (1530 ft) high, begins to flower when it is about four
years old, with blossoms arising from the trunk and branches which are
more than a year old. Only 5 per cent of the blossoms usually set fruit,
and the pods take about five months to ripen. Each pod contains twenty
to forty-five seeds or 'beans'.
The varieties chiefly grown in Jamaica are the Forastero and Criollo. The
cocoa tree will grow in a great variety of soils, provided they are deep
and well-drained. The mean shade temperature should be about 26C (80F)
with an allowance of 7 (15F) above and below this point.
Next to climate and soils, shade is the most important requirement for
cocoa. In Jamaica cocoa without shade suffers from tieback caused by the
direct rays of the sun and by thrips, an insect attracted to unshaded cocoa.
The most suitable shade trees are the quick-stick or St. Vincent plum and
the locust or cocoa oak. The guango or immortelle are also used. Temporary
shade may be provided by plants such as the banana, pigeon peas and castor
bean. Cocoa trees should be planted four metres by four metres (12 ft by
12 ft) apart.
One important factor is that the cocoa tree suffers from the drying effect
of continuous winds which injure the small, tender flowers and dry up the
young pods. In the north of Jamaica where the northeast winds are prevalent,
the cultivations must be protected either by hills or artificial windbreaks.
The most important cocoa area in Jamaica is the parish of St. Catherine,
which is sheltered from the trade winds by the central mountain range.
The principal cocoa harvest occurs between September and November, and
there is a lesser harvest between February and April. Pods should be carefully
cut to prevent damage to the tree. After having been processed extensively,
the beans are finally used to make cocoa and chocolate.
There are four fermentaries in Jamaica for processing cocoa. They are situated
at Richmond in St. Mary, Morgan's Valley in Clarendon, Haughton Court in
Hanover and at the Cocoa Board's headquarters in the Industrial Estate
in West Kingston.
The coconut, the most widely cultivated of all the palms, grows
best on alluvial soil which allows for free drainage. Coconut palms grow
on many different types of soil but they give best results where the soil
is friable. Lands near the sea-coast are therefore the ideal soil for coconuts
since the coconut is not susceptible to ordinary wind and requires heavy
rainfall. The crop will thrive inland, however, where soil and rainfall
conditions are suitable.
Formerly coconuts used to constitute a major part of Jamaica's export produce
but now that the edible oil and soap industry had been developed, most
of the annual crop is used in local factories.
In the nineteen-seventies, the tall coconut trees have been afflicted by
a scourge called Lethal Yellowing. Many thousands of trees were destroyed
by this disease but replanting of dwarf coconut trees, which are immune
to the disease, has progressed rapidly.
The term forest here applies to lands with trees whose crowns
cover more than 20 per cent of the land area. The Jamaican forests consist
of a mixture of mainly evergreen, broad-leaved tree species, with a sparse
occurrence of the more valuable species. This is a typical feature of tropical
forests. In the 1970s as much as 24 per cent of the land area (300,000
hectares/660,000 acres) was classified as forest and about 20 percent (270.000
hectares/560,000 acres) could be called wooded lands.
Jamaica is a very mountainous country, with more than two-thirds of the
land mass above 300 metres (1,000 ft) in elevation. The value of the forest
cover is therefore extremely important in protecting the soil from severe
damage by heavy rainfall and in conserving moisture which is allowed to
percolate slowly into the natural aquifers and thus ensure the continuous
flow of the major rivers and streams.
In addition, these upland forests have a natural scenic beauty which is
increasingly receiving the attention of the populace for recreational purposes.
A number of recreational areas have been developed for public use within
the national forest estate of 130,000 hectares (274,000 acres).
This large area of forest land is managed by the Forest Department, which
was formed in 1942. The Department has the responsibility of conserving
and developing Government-owned forest lands. Since its formation, the
Department has been encouraging private afforestation while carrying out
its own afforestation programmes. There are now approximately over ten
thousand hectares (20,000 acres) of Government forest plantations, mainly
Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea) and Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus elatus).
Recent studies carried out jointly by the Forest Department and UN/FAO
experts confirm that the country has considerable potential to supply its
future timber and wood requirements by large-scale plantation of Caribbean
Jamaica's forests have always been exploited for timber but in recent years
extensive clearing for agriculture, including coffee, and unrestricted
cutting for other purposes have severely reduced the forest lands, leaving
large areas of 'ruinate' or understocked natural forests. Increased afforestation
programmes are now being introduced together with greater controls in the
THE FISHING INDUSTRY
Up to 1949, the Government had taken practically no active part in the
Fishing Industry. In December of that year the Fisheries Division was set
up as a sub-department of the Forest Department. It was later transferred
to the Department of Agriculture, which later became the Ministry of Agriculture
Since December 1949, when the Fisheries Division has been actively engaged
in the development and promotion of the Jamaican fishing industry by provision
of training and technical advice to fishermen, conducting exploratory fishing
to test the potential of fishing grounds, provision of easy credit for
outboard motors, duty-free outboard motor fuel, encouragement of fishermen's
organisations such as cooperative societies, provision of outboard motor
fuel outlets, gear stores, sanitary conveniences and lighting on beaches,
and by the preparation and execution of schemes aimed at increasing the
quantity of fish landed in Jamaica.
This Division is also responsible for the inland or fresh-water fisheries,
and has been encouraging the cultivation of fish in ponds, tanks and marshes
by provision of fingerlings and advice on pond management. Through this
programme of fish-farming and the stocking of rivers and irrigation canals
with fish, previously useless land has been put to more productive use,
and a major source of cheap animal protein has been provided. This has
had a significant effect on improving the diet of the people in several
parishes of Jamaica, particularly St. Catherine, St. Elizabeth, Clarendon
and Westmoreland. Since the 1980s, the inland fishing industry has developed
to the extent that the import of fish for the tourist industry has been
reduced. Up to the present, the inland fishing industry has shown an average
of 4% annual growth.
In relation to the marine fisheries, the programmes carried out by the
Government have produced results. Because of the training and advice given
to fishermen, the fishing industry has extended its limits in that Jamaican
fishermen are now able to fish at distances of up to 480 kilometres (300
miles) away from Jamaica, whereas 25 years ago they fished barely 16 kilometres
(10 miles) away from shore. Today, fishermen are using synthetic materials
for making their boats and equipment, polythene rope has almost completely
replaced Cayman rope among trap and pot fishermen, nylon and monofilament
netting is increasingly taking over from cotton netting. As it becomes
more difficult to obtain the cotton and guango trees from which canoes
were traditionally made, more and more canoes made of fibreglass are appearing
on our beaches. As a result of Government assistance in obtaining credit,
our fleet of large decked vessels grew in numbers and the fishing industry
flourished. In recent years, however, the industry has been experiencing
difficulties as a result of a reduced stock of fish and competition from
foreign vessels fishing in Jamaican waters.