The islands of the British West Indies saw foreign competition from the slave grown sugar of Louisiana and Cuba. However, by the 1860’s, due to a loan from the British government, Trinidad, Antigua, Barbados, British Guiana and St. Kitts all survived the equalization crisis. The sugar industry in Jamaica, on the other hand, continued to deteriorate.
Jamaica’s figures show a sugar industry, which failed to survive. Below is proof of this failure and decrease in sugar production. As the 19th century progressed, the production of sugar decreased greatly.
Ø1832 – 71,000 tonnes
Ø1852 – 25,000 tonnes
Ø1888 – 13,000 tonnes
The abolition of slavery caused a decrease in the manual labor. The price of slaves in the internal market rose, and the only way to combat this was to raise the price of sugar. Emancipation just made the situation worse. There was virulent competition from Indian and East Indian sugar. Before this, West Indian planters were the only ones to enjoy low rates of duty on sugar. In Jamaica there was too little space and too many plots of used and weary land for sugar to be planted and cultivated successfully. When compared to Jamaica, Cuba had virgin land, it was ten times larger than Jamaica, had a better water source and power. There was also a longer period of time designated to slavery in Cuba. Therefore, the labor force of Cuba lasted until the year 1886, fifty years after the British West Indies had emancipated their slaves.
Cuba also had immigrant labor, machines and then – modern technology, refined sugar and a better relationship with the world – wide market. This Spanish colony had a friendly relationship with the United States of America. To put it in simpler terms, Jamaica just did not stand a chance.
The Windward Islands were not able to find an alternative form of labor such as immigrant or indentured labor after emancipation. There was a growth in the peasantry and Free Village movement in Jamaica as well. Because of the Sugar Duties Act of 1846, the planters had failed to mechanize and centralize. They no longer had a British market and a protected one at that.
There was competition from European beet sugar on the British market. More and more of the countries dependent upon British cane sugar, turned toward beet sugar as a result of its quality and availability. Therefore, the islands had to find alternatives in which to conquer all or at least some of their problems.
In order to try to at least temporarily alleviate some of these problems, the planters of the British West Indies had to keep the sugar production going by finding new markets. They used these to export their sugar states (1875 – 1897) and Canada (1898 – 1912). This was profitable for the planters as these two markets were very developed, wealthy countries. Of course, this period of profitability only lasted for a couple of years.
In 1882, England sent a Royal Commission to the British Caribbean, in order to make an estimate of the problems and figure out if sugar production was still viable or not. They decided that the decline in sugar production was due to subsidized beet sugar from Europe. Years after in 1897, the British government sent the Norman Commission to study the sugar industry in the British Caribbean. Their findings were exactly like those of the Royal Commission. His suggestion was that sugar should remain the staple crop in Barbados, Antigua and St. Kitts. He encouraged all other islands to search for new crops.
Also, British planters tried to mechanize in order to replace the slave labor that was lost with the advent of emancipation. Unfortunately, they lacked the necessary time and capital to afford this drastic change. In the 1860’s, the British government gave a loan to a few of their island colonies to alleviate the equalization crisis. This was to assist them in increasing their sugar production rate.