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Case Study:



Sugar first came to the West Indies during the time of Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century but was not developed on a significant scale until the mid 17th century. The main reason behind sugarís late progress was that the Spanish were already producing their own sugar and had no need to bring more on the market (Hart 15). The English colonies began to produce sugar around 1640 but it was not produced in Jamaica until 1664 when the new governor, Thomas Modyford, arrived and created the first sugar plantation on the island (Hart 15). Sugar production required large plantations and a massive labour force. The original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Taino, Arawak and Carib Indians had quickly become extinct on most islands including Jamaica, because of the intrusion of the European colonizers. In order to support the growing sugar industry the British brought in thousands of slaves from West Africa to Jamaica and other parts of the region where they needed forced labour. The rapid expansion of sugar production resulted in remarkable population growth, as Africans became the race of the majority. In Jamaica in 1603 there were approximately 9,000 African slaves and by 1809 their number had risen to over 323,000 (Hart 18). After the Haitian revolution in 1804 slave revolts and rebellions were taking place throughout the region, and most often in Jamaica. The abolition of slavery by the British Parliament occurred on August 1st 1834 and was largely protested by the owners of sugar plantations (Hart 39). Now that workers had to be paid for their labour there was an immense reduction in the profitability of sugar. Owners could no longer afford to keep their plantations in operation resulting in the widespread closures and breaking up of plantations. The abandonment of sugar production was enforced by the enactment of the Sugar Duties Act of 1846 in which British Parliament eradicated the special preferences West Indian sugar had when being imported into Britain (Hart 42). Consumers were now required to pay the same high duties on sugar even if it came from the West Indies. At the same time, the development of beet sugar production began in Europe, creating a formidable competitor for Caribbean sugar. The resulting decline in demand for Jamaican sugar only sped up the sales of sugar plantations in Jamaica. Between 1805 and 1807 Jamaica exported about 90,000 tons of sugar annually and by the end of the century exports had declined to about 15,000 tons annually (Galloway 146). The economic development of Jamaica was slowed drastically during this time, and by the end of the 19th century there were thousands of workers left earning barely enough to survive on or left unemployed altogether (Hart 92).


The sugarcane industry picked up again in the beginning of the 20th century when Jamaica underwent large-scale industrialization and modernization. With the transformation of the industry also came the rise of foreign investment, resulting in the purchase of several large plantations by multinational corporations (Galloway 148). As sugar became prosperous once again, so did the Jamaican economy. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the wealth was placed in the hands of the elite so although the economy was relatively stable and strong, there was extreme income inequality. Poverty was rampant and even sugarcane workers were living in slums. Despite this disparity, growth continued until 1962 when Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom (Feuer 13). Decolonization began the spiral of the Jamaican economy. Once again a major reform was planned for the sugar industry, this time under the direction of Michael Manley who was elected prime minister in 1972.Amongst his many attempted reforms for the economy was that of the sugar worker cooperatives. Manley tried to place more ownership and control in the hands of those who actually worked in the fields and had a direct connection with the crop (Feuer 29).The effort to revitalize the industry was not as successful as he had hoped. The combination of political bureaucracy, inexperienced management and negative attitudes produced a less than satisfactory agricultural performance. Once Manley was voted out of office in 1980 these initiatives, which could have flourished given more time, were instead abandoned. Jamaican sugar has since not regained the prosperity it once enjoyed many decades ago.


The most recent issue plaguing the Jamaican sugarcane industry began in 2004 when the European Union made the decision to decrease the prices it pays for sugar imported from Jamaica. The three-year plan would decrease the price of sugar from all African, Caribbean and Pacific countries by as much as 37% (Jamaica Observer). For Jamaica this drastic reduction in revenues will mean it would be more profitable to move resources away from sugar production and into other agricultural processes. Negotiations are still underway to create an outcome that is satisfactory for both sides. It is clear that the sugarcane industry in Jamaica has been a major source of change. Sugar exports have been a main source of Jamaican revenue for many years hence changes in the economy are a direct reflection of the strength of the industry.


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