The major areas of economic activities in the parish are agriculture and bauxite mining, making the parish one of the principal contributors to government revenue. Tourism in the parish is at a minimum but has great potential for development given the natural attractions in the parish. The focus on manufacturing and industry has been increasing with local and foreign investments but it is agriculture that continues to dominate the economy.
It is projected that these economic activities will continue to experience growth and development, especially with the south coast being targeted for a number of investment projects specifically aimed at packaging and promoting the natural attractions available there.
Until early in the 20th century, the savannahs in the north of St. Elizabeth were used for raising cattle and horses, and cassava cultivation. In recent times however, severe periods of drought have become a characteristic feature of this area. As a result, farming is not as extensive as before and with the growing population, the vast savannah lands have gradually been divided into clusters of small plots. Also, many of the areas formerly used for grazing and tree farming have been gradually reduced.
Sugar cane cultivation have taken up some of the lands formerly used primarily for coconut and mixed farming. The main crops now grown on the savannahs are tomatoes, watermelons, carrots, escallions, green onions, sweet peppers and tobacco. Corn (maize) is also grown and is primarily used as livestock feed.
Only the top 15 centimeters (six inches) of the loam soil in south St. Elizabeth can be considered fertile. The soils below this consist of red clay, which is totally infertile. As a result of these soil conditions, St. Elizabeth farmers have devised ingenious methods of farming in order to make the best use of their resources. One particular method used is that of ‘fly penning and mulching’, used mainly on small plots. Using this method, small plots are planted out with specific crops and savannah grass is used as mulch on these plots. Livestock (usually donkeys) are then tied in these plots and they are fed and watered by hand.
The animals provide manure for the soil, and they are only moved when the crop is well established and has begun to grow. As soon as more savannah grass is available this technique can be repeated in another small plot. This method allows for the growing of several crops during a specified period, even if there is little or no rain.
Despite the long periods of droughts experienced in the parish, St. Elizabeth is known as the food basket of the island producing a large quantity of ground provisions, root crops, fruits, vegetables, tree crops, peas corn, sugar, rum, pimento, coffee and ginger. Some are produced for the export market and some for local consumption the lowlands of St. Elizabeth include properties such as Gilnoc, Fonthill, Pepper, Longhill, Goshen, Friendship, and Warminster among others, which are all famous for the quality of their cattle, horses and mules.
The parish is also famous for its involvement in horticulture.
This industry, the oldest industry in the parish, still plays a major role in the economy. There is one active factory at Siloah, Appleton Sugar Estate – which produces the famous ‘Appleton Special’ rum. The other was located at Holland, near Middle Quarters, but has closed.
This industry has, within a short time, become the major economic factor in the parish. Early in the 1950s, Kaiser Bauxite Company started mining in St. Elizabeth. This eventually led to Alumina Partners of Jamaica (ALPART) in 1969, starting operations of their bauxite mining and alumina manufacturing at Nain in the parish. Unfortunately this was closed in 1975. Alpart, along with Reynolds Jamaica Mines, continue to mine extensive property in the parish.
Alpart, together with its sister company, is perhaps the largest single earner of foreign exchange for the Government of Jamaica. Through salaries and wages, locally produced goods and services, taxes, royalties and bauxite levy, Alpart injects more than $2.5 billion into the Jamaican economy each year.
St. Elizabeth provides river fishing unequalled in Jamaica and its sea fishing is also of the best. Middle Quarters, located on the edge of the morass is known as the ‘Shrimp Capital’ of Jamaica. Passing motorists can buy this delicacy, cooked and highly seasoned from roadside vendors. The Black River supports this important shrimp and freshwater fishery, which earns an estimated $3 million yearly.
The quality of craftwork produced in ST. Elizabeth, is of a very high standard particularly since the development of community craft centres. Hats, bags, baskets, mats and other articles made from locally grown thatch and sisal, have found favour throughout the island and have finally established the parish as a leading craft centre. The parish also enjoys unmatched or competitive resources and skills for manufactured products such as handicraft, wood products, metal fabrication and sewn products.
The parish has a food processing plant at Bull Savannah for the processing of tomatoes, carrots and pineapples under the brand name Village Pride. A cassava factory was established at Goshen in the parish, as well as pimento leaf factories at Giddy Hall, Bogue and Braes River.
Other industries include Glass and Abrasives.