St. Vincent and the Grenadines - Agriculture

Saint Vincent's mountainous terrain made it less suitable as a sugar-producing center than most other Caribbean islands, but the banana industry, beginning in the 1950s, was well suited to a territory mostly made up of small, family-run farms. A combination of protective quotas and stable prices guaranteed by Britain and then the European Union (EU) underpinned the steady growth of the banana industry in the 1980s and early 1990s, despite occasional hurricanes and other natural disasters. In the 1980s, bananas contributed, on average, 60 percent of export earnings and were the island's single biggest economic activity. This situation changed dramatically in 1995 when the United States complained to the WTO that the EU banana regime discriminated against Latin American producers. A series of legal rulings ensued, with the U.S. introducing trade sanctions against the EU, which has sought to find a compromise between the WTO ruling and its commitments to Caribbean banana producers. As a result, the late 1990s were marked by considerable uncertainty in Saint Vincent's banana industry and a drop in production from almost 80,000 tons in 1990 to 37,435 tons in 1999. According to the World Bank, the banana crisis has already caused "a decline in the central government's revenue growth, a slowdown in the pace of domestically financed investment, a rise in unemployment, and major financial difficulties for the Banana Growers' Association." Even so, recent efforts to improve banana production through irrigation schemes show a determination on the part of local farmers and their organizations to ensure the industry's survival. One possible strategy is to concentrate on the organic and "fair trade" markets in Europe.

Other important crops include coconuts, sweet potatoes, and ornamental flowers, some of which are exported to "niche markets" in the UK and U.S. The government has encouraged diversified small farming by splitting up some 7,000 acres of state-owned land into 1,500 small-holdings . Arrowroot, traditionally used as a food thickener, is now grown as a dressing for computer paper, and acreage of this crop has expanded in recent years, making Saint Vincent and the Grenadines the world's largest producer. Less well documented is the significant cultivation of marijuana, which is believed to be grown in the mountainous interior of Saint Vincent. In January 2000, U.S. Marines participated in a controversial crop eradication program, in which millions of plants were reportedly destroyed.

The fishing sector has benefited from extensive foreign development funding, most notably from Japan. There are now jetties and fish refrigeration facilities in Saint Vincent, Bequia, and Canouan, the large complex in Kingstown having been dubbed "Little Tokyo."

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