BASSETERRE, St. Kitts and Nevis — Higher levels, improved literacy rates and fewer drop-outs are education goals the global community can agree to aim for. The impact of education on agriculture, however, remains unclear. While some believe education improves agricultural efficiency, others argue that it causes agricultural prosperity to fall victim to brain drain.
The Caribbean island nation St. Kitts and Nevis provides an example of increased education coinciding with decreased agricultural prosperity. Over recent decades, the country has achieved an adult literacy rate of 97 percent. As that rate has risen, skilled workers have emigrated away. In 2005, the country shut down its traditional sugar farming operations due to decreasing profitability and started trying to diversify its agricultural output and overall economic activity.
St. Kitts and Nevis has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, and school is compulsory from ages five to 16. Primary, secondary and tertiary education are all free. However, the country has experienced brain drain as educated youth leave the nation for work abroad.
Brain drain, the phenomenon in which a country’s most educated or skilled workers take positions offering better pay or living conditions in other countries, is a prevalent issue in the Caribbean. Many Caribbean countries rank in the top 20 globally in skilled worker emigration.
St. Kitts and Nevis has one of the highest rates of skilled worker emigration, both globally and compared to other Caribbean countries. From 1965 to 2000, nearly 50 percent of the country’s labor force emigrated to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. Among workers with tertiary education, that rate increased to 78 percent. Typically, over half of migrants from St. Kitts and Nevis move to the U.S.
While the departure of young work force members implies fewer available contributors to the agricultural sector, not all sources agree that increased education decreases agricultural output. In certain cases, increasing education offered to farmers can greatly improve the efficiency and productivity of output. Combining education with improved access to technology and equipment can compound that effect. Education’s influence on agriculture typically depends on the region and the level of education previously available.
– Charlotte Bellomy