The Federation of St Kitts & Nevis is a twin-island country in the Caribbean, famed for its volcanic landscape, its stretches of golden beaches and its lush rainforests.
At one time, nearly a third of the island’s arable land was devoted to sugar production. It remained the mainstay of the country’s export economy until the 1970s. But after 300 years of sugar production, 2005’s harvest was the state-owned company’s last, because of rising production costs and falling global market prices.
Government efforts to reduce dependence on this primary export have resulted in growing diversification of the agricultural sector and, with the simultaneous growth of the tourist sector, the bold move is now paying dividends.
The St Kitts & Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation
The St Kitts & Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) is a charitable organisation that was established in 2006. Its primary purpose to assist the transition from an economy dependent on the growing of sugar, to one that is more diversified. Some of the SIDF’s projects include rebuilding infrastructure, promoting green energy sources and developing new housing.
Private donors to the SIDF qualify for citizenship under the St Kitts & Nevis citizenship by investment programme. In 2015, the programme was thought to generate roughly EC$200 million (approximately US$74 million), around 30% of the government’s revenue.
A notable programme funded by these means is the People Employment Program, a government initiative designed to create empowerment opportunities for the indigenous St Kitts & Nevis population. Another example is the Small Entrepreneur and Enterprise Development Project, affording entrepreneurs in St Kitts & Nevis the opportunity to start their own business with training and interest-free loans.
The tourism sector in St Kitts & Nevis is growing
Despite suffering considerable damage during the hurricane seasons of 1998 and 1999, since 2005, the tourism sector has become the main foreign exchange earner for St Kitts & Nevis. By 2015, travel and tourism provided for 24.2% of employment opportunities on the islands.
This has been facilitated, in part, by the government’s commitment to improving the tourist infrastructure on the island. The Hotel Aids Act is just one example of a government initiative that has encouraged the resurrection of once dilapidated sugar plantations as luxury hotels, retreats and restaurants.
Tourism is also handed a boost thanks again to the country’s Citizenship by Investment programme. As an alternative to making an investment to the SIDF, the programme also invites investment in authorised real estate projects, including such tourist developments as Pelican Bay (a series of Embassy Suites by Hilton) and the Kittitian Hill Resort Development.
The St Kitts & Nevis manufacturing sector is buoyant
Over the decade since divesting from the sugar industry, the local manufacturing sector in St Kitts and Nevis has contributed approximately 10% towards GDP. Over 2,153 persons are currently employed in this field, and the sector accounts for a highly comparative portion of income generation among blue collar workers in the Federation.
The main exports of St Kitts & Nevis are passenger and cargo ships, broadcasting equipment, electric motor parts and low-voltage protection equipment. In 2008, St. Kitts & Nevis exported US$54 million in manufactured goods to the United States, making it the largest exporter of goods to the United States amongst the The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
This is a result of Government concessions to the manufacturing sector under such strategies as the Fiscal Incentive Act. Elsewhere, upgrading the Port Zante harbour complex in Basseterre has enabled large container ships to dock, further enhancing St. Kitts’ attractiveness as an offshore manufacturing base.
In 2011, then-Senior Minister and Minister of International Trade, Industry and Commerce (now Prime Minister) Dr Timothy Harris renewed the government’s commitment to take a proactive role in ensuring the sustainability of the local manufacturing sector. He praised its industries, hailing their willingness to accommodate and adjust to changing trends in the industry in order to meet important targets.
Elsewhere, St Kitts & Nevis is still investing in agriculture
Located in the former sugar belt, Capisterre Farm is a 113-acre farm that was established to create opportunities for employment for displaced sugar workers. It was also designed to help the island achieve the goal of diversifying its food production. The farmland is cultivated for the growth of fruit trees and vegetable crops, such as pineapples, seasoning peppers, peanuts and yams.
Established in March 2010, Capisterre Farm is funded by the SIDF. A total of 84 private farmers have benefitted from the Foundation’s Agricultural Subsidized Loans Program.
The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) is also active in St Kitts & Nevis, promoting an agricultural diversification programme with a continued emphasis on building sustainability and resilience. The Institute is also involved in agricultural research and development of crops and livestock cultivation.
Agriculture contributed just 3.5% of the GDP during the economic downturn in 2009, but as a result of the plan set forth in the country’s Agricultural Development Strategy for 2013-16, now constitutes a vital economic pillar of St Kitts & Nevis.