Saint Lucia is a popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, with tourism increasing each year. In 2014 alone, 338,158 visitors stayed on Saint Lucia, a six percent increase from 2013. Although Saint Lucia is a thriving tourist destination for those with expendable income to relax, many of its citizens face poverty. Poverty in Saint Lucia, as found by UNICEF, measures at 18.7 percent of households and 25.1 percent of individuals.
UNICEF’s Poverty Assessment Report for Saint Lucia highlights 10 main causes of poverty in Saint Lucia. The first of these causes is the decline in earnings from the banana industry. The agriculture industry employs 21.7 percent of Saint Lucia’s labor force. Agricultural Minister Ezechiel Joseph stated that there is a demand for Saint Lucia’s bananas, but that banana farmers need “to be able to produce the fruit in a sustainable basis.” Greater productivity and consistency are needed to satisfy potential buyers, recover the failing banana industry and reduce poverty in Saint Lucia.
An additional cause of poverty in Saint Lucia is the developing light manufacturing industry. Some of Saint Lucia’s light manufacturing exports include clothing, electronic components and corrugated cardboard boxes. While Saint Lucia produces quality products and has been commended for its strengths in light manufacturing by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the Commerce Minister of Saint Lucia noted that there is work to be done to improve competitiveness and export potential in order to keep up with growing international competitors. The light manufacturing industry in Saint Lucia has the potential for great economic gain for the country, but has yet to bring that gain to fruition.
Failings by the government also contribute to poverty in Saint Lucia. In its report, UNICEF highlights poor infrastructure’s role in contributing to continued poverty in Saint Lucia. Many communities lack electricity, safe drinking water and usable roads, isolating them from other communities and limiting the types of industries in which they can take part. For these communities, agriculture is the main industry and is not likely to be a lucrative venture.
Additionally, the government is limited in its resources to provide a “safety-net” for those facing poverty because of its own financial difficulties. This compounds the problem of poverty in Saint Lucia; as the government faces hard times, it cannot provide as many services to its people, increasing the level of poverty for its citizens.
To truly alleviate poverty in Saint Lucia, economic expansion is key, particularly in the agriculture and ligh manufacturing industries, as these employ most of Saint Lucia’s poor. If these industries grow and compete in the international market, Saint Lucia’s poorest citizens will find themselves with more jobs, more money and greater peace of mind.
– Mary Kate Luft