The New Caledonian economy is one of the strongest and most dynamic among France’s overseas possessions, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimated at slightly under 6.5 billion euros in 2007, i.e. a particularly high GDP per inhabitant (estimated at € 26 500 in 2007), higher than the GDP of nearly all Pacific Island states and territories (including New Zealand) and comparable to the GDP of most regions in France. The unemployment rate is only 4.8% with an economic growth rate of 5.5% in 2008. This economic dynamism is mainly linked to the island’s mining resources, as New Caledonia holds nearly 25% of the world’s known reserves of nickel. The other side of the coin is strong dependence on fluctuations in the nickel market.
In the North Province
The economy of the North Province relies on three major industries: nickel, fishing and aquaculture, and tourism. But alongside market resources, there is major activity in subsistence agriculture among the Kanaks, for whom craft work is also a not inconsiderable source of income.
Ore mining remains the main activity in New Caledonia and especially in the North Province. Two large mining companies operate the mines there: the SLN (Société Le Nickel) and the SMSP (Socété minière du sud Pacifique). These two businesses employ hundreds of people. Around these two big mining companies gravitate small businesses supplying local services, haulage in particular.
Another major industry is the sea and its produce. The aquaculture industry, with three industrial farms established in the North Province (Pouembout, Koné and Voh), is in the midst of the development phase. New Caledonian prawns have made a name for themselves in the European, Asian and American markets, thanks to a constant high level of quality. Fishing is also among the buoyant industries. Marine resources, which are still abundant, allow subsistence fishers to consume sea produce regularly and small-scale fisheries to make a living from their activity. An ocean fisheries business based in Koumac makes use of the open sea resources, particularly tuna.
The agricultural industry is firmly directed towards quality production. The two worlds of subsistence agriculture (mainly tuber crops such as taro and yam) and market production live side by side. Cattle breeding represents a large share, and takes up the most room, due to its extensive operation and historic importance. However, other sectors such as fruit and vegetables, horticulture, the production of honey in particular, are of increasing importance in the agricultural economy. Areas of quality production are becoming better and better known. This is true of Ouégoa and Pouébo region bananas, Pouembout melons, Canala mandarins, Houailou lychees or Ponérihouen coffee.
As part of tourist development, the North Province promotes ecotourism and respectful discovery of an environment that has remained almost pristine.
Craft work occupies an important place in Melanesian culture. Often women from the tribes form associations to share their skills and sell their creations: basketwork, weaving, making mission dresses. Some of the work is for sale at roadside stalls. Among the men, sculptors work wood and stone with remarkable dexterity.