St. Vincent has always relied heavily on agricultural
products to sustain its economy. The soil is so productive that the island
is known locally as "Planter Isle." Although the island was once renowned
for its sugar plantations, today the chief export is bananas. St. Vincent
is also the world's largest producer of arrowroot. Fruits (especially
coconut), vegetables and flowers are also sold internationally.
Tourism is very important to the economy. Recent projects undertaken to boost the tourist trade include the construction of airports on Bequia, Canouan and Union Island, and a new yachting facility near Kingstown. International banking facilities have been established in Kingstown. Islands such as Mustique are owned by foreigners, who have built luxury resorts. Canouan and Union Island are also being developed for tourism.
More than 50% of the population works in the service
industry. Unemployment, however, remains high-between 20 and 30%. Youth
and women are especially affected. The poverty of the people of northern
and eastern St. Vincent is in stark contrast to the wealth of tourists
and resort owners on some islands.
Most Vincentians farm a plot of land, either for their own subsistence or for income. Because of the island's steep terrain, modern farming equipment cannot be used, so most labour is done by hand. Many families also raise livestock such as sheep, goats, pigs and chicken, or rely on fishing for their income. Local fishermen transport and sell dolphin fish, conch and lobsters to the large hotels on Saint Lucia and Martinique.
Fishing has received government support and substantial
aid from Japan. In 1998, Japan provided funds to build several fish- processing
plants on the islands. Boat building is an important industry on St. Vincent and
Bequia. Shipwrights build double-ended sailing dinghies, fishing boats, cargo
vessels and sailing yachts.
Most of the country's industrial activity involves the processing of agricultural products. Labour unions have been active since 1935, and worker-employer relations are generally good.
Economic depression, caused by natural disasters, still plagues the country. The 1979 eruption of La Soufrière was followed by destructive hurricanes in 1980, 1994 and 1995. The government is attempting to reduce the dependence on export crops by promoting tourism and industry.