Environments, Economies and Contemporary Change
Chapter 3: The historic core: agriculture and fisheries
Virtually without exception SISI were historically characterized by agricultural systems, inevitably supplemented (or dwarfed) by fishing, a situation which continued until far into the twentieth century. Such dominance typified even relatively recently colonized islands, from Tristan da Cunha to Réunion. Yet in very few places, usually relatively remote islands, is this still true. However, there are great historic differences between the more autonomous Pacific islands, and those of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean, where many islands were populated by European settlers and their slaves developing plantation agriculture oriented to distant markets and never having to adjust to a life of subsistence broadly within the ecological limits of island environments. Since that first wave of globalization, agricultural change has taken quite different directions, especially in the past half century, with external influences – trade policies, migration and so on – increasingly shaping contemporary agricultural systems. Market orientation, commodification, specialization, and shifts towards monoculture and individual land ownership, alongside movement out of agriculture, typify recent trends. Fisheries too have changed, but rather less dramatically. This chapter examines what were once the dominant sources of livelihoods in SISI, and the marginalization of agriculture that has gradually ensued. Here, as much as in any other context, there is remarkable diversity between SISI, some of which never supported much more than a rudimentary agricultural system and others that continue to sustain both subsistence and an export economy. Broadly, Caribbean SISI have moved away from agriculture, in circumstances where plantations were once dominant
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