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Caribbean Economies: Tourism is good, but the environment and agriculture matters

September 1, 2006       Commentary Archives

The benefits tourism has brought to the Caribbean are undeniable. For some Caribbean islands tourism is the only major industry. But serious environmental damage is being caused by this industry. The neglect of our agriculture sector   threatens the Caribbean way of life. You might say, we're biting the hand
that feeds us.

The economic impact of tourism on the Caribbean states is  large. According to the Iter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) "the industry without chimneys" (tourism) is one of the most dynamic economic activities in the world." In the Caribbean in 1998 tourism provided 2.9 million jobs, generated US32.5 billion into the Caribbean economy. The tourism sector was 31.5 of Gross domestic product (GDP).

According to United Nations Environmental Programe (UNEP) "Tourism is also the major foreign exchange earner in the region, accounting for one-quarter of foreign exchange earnings, and one-fifth of all jobs (ranging from direct dependence on tourism, such as working in hotels and on the beaches, to indirect involvement such as banking and farming."

Receipts in 1996 were in excess of US$1 billion each for Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, within the range of US$ 250-725 million for four of the other more popular tourism destinations in the region and less than US$ 81 million each for the rest.

While our leaders have taken steps to arrest the damage to the environment, some argue that it is not reversible. For years the pursuit of economic profit led to polices that did not take the environment into account

Environmental degradation in the form of  beach erosion, breakdown of coral reefs, marine and coastal pollution. Caused by water sports, waste dumping, none-treatment of sewage, sand mining along with other activities.

Given the role that the environment plays in attracting tourist to an island. Degradation of the environment can only lead to serious backlash, for the tourist industry.

 According to a Janouska Grandoit of the Maxwell school of Syracuse University. Degradation for mature, mass-market tourist spots, falls in line with the last phase of  R.W Butler tourism cycle model:

 Where "as the place sinks under the weight of social friction and solid waste, all tourist exit leaving behind derelict tourism facilities littered beaches and country sides, and a resident population that can't return to its old way of life."

The Numbers

Given the large piece of our GNP taken by tourism (between 31 and 35 percent) depending on whose numbers you're looking at. The single digit numbers associated with the agriculture sector belies its true benefit, which is an all encompassing benefit to our society.

Studies have shown that the true scope of agriculture rises sometimes, as much as, seven times when backward and forward links in the commodity chain are factored in.

A study carried out in Argentina by the IICA showed that a 4.6 percent of GDP in the Agriculture sector, increased to 32.3 percent when forward and backward linkage is considered. For Brazil the figures rose from 3.2percent of GDP to 26.2 percent. Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico all show patterns consistent with this data.

A New Vision

The agriculture sector is referred to by the IICA as "the bedrock of society and the corner stone of any economy."

Certainly with many of our poor living in rural areas, agriculture has to be an important part of any strategy in the effort to reduce poverty.

This report points out that the increasing migration from rural areas --as a result of poor policies -- into the cities. Result in less agriculture production, the government then imports more food to satisfy urban demands. Not to mention the increase in social problems.

 

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