Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2007, the estimated population reached 2 675 million, out of which 1 357 million or 50.7 percent was female (27). In the same year, rural population was estimated at 1 285 million, of which approximately 49 percent was female and 50.9 percent was male (27).  The country’s population density was approximately 246.9 persons per square kilometre (28).

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) using the official exchange rate was estimated at US$14.4 billion  in 2008 (29). Between 1998 and 2001, the average annual growth rate of real  GDP was 0.4 percent (3).  Per capita GDP, using purchasing power parity, in 2008 was US$7 500 (29).  In 2006, measured at constant 2000 US$ prices, the per capita GDP was US$3 318, while the per capital agricultural GDP US$1 019 (29). In 2008, agriculture constituted 5.2 per cent of the country’s GDP, while industry and services constituted 32.6 percent and 62.2 percent respectively (29). In 2006, the proportion of agricultural imports out of total imports was 11.1 percent while the proportion of agricultural exports out of total exports was 14.6 percent (29).  The agricultural labour force accounted for 19 percent of the total labour force in 2004 (4). Since the 1980s, the country has been implementing a Structural Adjustment Programme designed to drastically reduce state role in the economy and is prescribing steps to remove state protection of the private sector through the privatization of state-owned entities and the liberalization of the foreign exchange market (2). The economy is heavily dependent on the trade of a few commodities, particularly sugar cane and bananas, which are the major crops produced (3).

The Human Development Index (HDI) for Jamaica was 0.766 in 2007, ranking the country 100st out of 182 countries with data in 2007 (1). Between 2000 and 2007, the population living below US$2 per day was estimated at 5.8 percent, while the population living below the national poverty line between 2000 and 2006, was estimated at 18.7 percent (1).  Between 2003 and 2005, 5 percent of the total population was undernourished (29). Adult literacy rate in 2007 was 86, percent for all adults aged 15 and older (1).  Between 1997 and 2007, the adult literacy rate for women and men aged 15 and older was 91.1 and 80.5 percent respectively (1). Life expectancy at birth in 2007 was estimated at 75.1 years for females and 68.3 years for males (1).

In 2008, the total economically active population (EAP) was 1.3 million approximately, with the female EAP reaching 591 300 or 45.4 percent and of the total EAP, and the male EAP reaching 711 100 or 54.6 percent of the total EAP (30).  In 2006, the EAP in agriculture consisted of 248 000 persons, constituted 18 percent of the total economically active population (29). Women in agriculture are engaged in a wide range of activities, including cultivation, casual labour, hawking and trading (3). Nevertheless, only around 8 percent of the active female workforce is classified as “Skilled Agricultural and Fishery Workers”, against 26 percent of employed males. Traditional practices and perceptions tend to define women in agriculture as “farmers’ wives” rather than farmers in their own right (3). The majority of female farmers work smallholdings for cash crop or subsistence production and are principally engaged in food production for domestic consumption (3). Their average farm size is significantly smaller than that of their male counterparts (31).

The 1978 Agricultural Census of Jamaica showed that of the total of 182 169 farms island-wide having single holders, 19 percent were operated by women (2). The majority of workers employed in the coffee and banana industries are women, and their activities are predominantly picking coffee, grading, separating and washing the produce. Women also tend to work with small stock, including poultry and rabbits, and are hired in large numbers in poultry processing plants (3). The country covers an area of about 11 000 sq. km. In 2006, 26.2 percent of the land was cultivated, of which only 8,8 percent – i.e. 2.3 percent of total surface area - was irrigated (4). Agricultural land is divided between large-scale plantations, located in the fertile coastal lowlands, and small-scale subsistent farms in the mountainous areas of the central highlands. About 80 percent of agricultural land is owned by small holders, farming less than two hectares, while the remainder is farmed by large land owners. Small farmers practise mixed agriculture, with the majority operating on small, marginal and hilly plots that are vulnerable to soil erosion (5). In 1978, the land owned by women represented only 12 percent of the total cultivated land (2).

The most significant land reform programs in the post-war period were the 1966 Land Development and Utilization Act - the Idle Land Law - and Project Land Lease introduced in 1973. The 1966 Act allowed the government to encourage the productive use, sale, and lease of some 40 000 hectares identified for the program (6). On the other hand, the 1973 Project Land Lease attempted a more integrated rural development approach, providing small farmers with land, technical advice, inputs such as fertilizer, and access to credit. The project provided assistance to more than 23 000 farmers to cultivate 18 000 hectares. It is estimated that 14 percent of idle land was redistributed through Project Land Lease. Redistribution of land in the 1970s emphasized cooperative ownership, a decision that sharply increased the number of cooperatives and made members an important political force (6). Government policies toward land tenure and land use shifted in the 1980s in favour of privatization, commercialization, and modernization of agriculture. Sugar cooperatives were dismantled, some government holdings were divested, and foreign investment was sought to update farming methods and help develop non-traditional exports. Agro-21, established in 1983 to spearhead the new agriculture policies, held the objective of putting 80 000 hectares of idle land into the hands of the private sector in four years. The program was responsible for growth in the production and export of non-traditional crops, such as winter vegetables, flowers, and Jamaican ethnic crops (6).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography