FAO in Jamaica, Bahamas and Belize

Jamaica at a glance

Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Caribbean island, and the third largest in the region. Jamaica’s 4,411 square miles of terrain includes towering mountain ranges, expanses of lush vegetation as well as long stretches of clear, sandy beaches.

The island is divided into three counties – Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey – which are subdivided into 14 parishes. Kingston, located on the island’s southeast end, is Jamaica’s capital.

While Jamaica can be described as a multi-ethnic island, its population is primarily comprised of persons of African descent. People of European, East Indian and Chinese origin also make up a portion of the population.

Tourism is Jamaica’s primary contributor to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The main tourist regions in Jamaica are Negril in Westmoreland, Montego Bay in St. James, Ocho Rios in St. Ann and, more recently, Falmouth in Trelawny.

The agricultural sector also makes significant contributions to Jamaica’s economy with domestic farming being a steady source of employment for many locals. Coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and bananas are some of the main export crops, while yams, sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkins are among the popular crops grown mainly for the domestic market. As of November 2016, the Government of Jamaica indicated that the domestic agricultural sector grew by 43 percent, and traditional agriculture, including the sugar industry that had been under a lot of stress, grew by 21 percent.

For decades, Jamaica struggled with low growth, high public debt and many external shocks that further weakened the economy. Over the last 30 years, real per capita GDP increased at an average of just one percent per year, making Jamaica one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world. The government steadily accumulated debt, which reached 145 percent of GDP in 2012.

A recently introduced reform program is beginning to bear fruit. In the 2016 Doing Business report, Jamaica ranked for a second year in a row among the top ten improvers worldwide. According to the 2016 DB methodology, Jamaica jumped 7 places, moving from 71 in 2015 to 64.

The country continues to be confronted by serious social issues, such as high levels of crime, violence and high unemployment that predominantly affect youth. Jamaica, which had seen its poverty rate drop almost 20 percent over two decades, saw it increase by eight percent in a few years after the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008.

The Statistics Institute of Jamaica estimates that the country’s unemployment rate is at 13.7 percent (April 2016). The unemployment rate for youth is considerably higher at 29.2 percent, and the average unemployment rate for women is almost double that for men: 18.6 versus 9.6 percent.