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Sicily is economically one of Italy's weaker regions. Industrialisation and billions in subsidies from the European Union and Italian government have not helped much so far. Unemployment, especially among women and young people, is high at around 20% of the workforce and per capita incomes are low. Furthermore, only about 40% of Sicilians have a job. This is because there is little part-time work and women do not participate in the labour market.

About 10% of the workforce works in fishing and agriculture, about 20% in industry and about 70% in services, including many in tourism.

Agriculture, livestock and fisherie

In the 1950s, the number of people dependent on agriculture was still more than 50% of the labour force (today: about 10%). Nevertheless, about 80% of the land area is still used for agriculture, about 2 million hectares. An important means of subsistence on the island is therefore still agriculture; the production of wheat, flax, wine, olives, nuts, corn, legumes, vegetables and citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons. Other fruit trees yield peaches, apricots, almonds, medlars and pomegranates, among others. The interior is the cereal-growing area par excellence and is called the granary of Italy. The Catania plain and the Conco d'Oro valley are important horticultural areas.

Until not so long ago, land ownership was commonplace in Sicily and resulted in many unemployed farm workers. Land reforms have improved the situation but there are still many large landowners. Another problem is the long period of drought followed by periods of heavy rainfall. This often causes great damage to crops. The low prices for grain are currently the biggest problem for agriculture. This is caused by the big competition, especially from Argentina and the United States.

Livestock farming is of secondary importance and, due to irrigation, is only possible in the coastal plains. Due to the decrease of pastures in the interior, goat and sheep farming is also declining. In the south-west, fishing is important. Mazaro del Vallo is the largest fishing port in Sicily and its fishing fleet is also quite large. Both in the coastal waters and on the high seas, especially sardines, redfish, tuna and swordfish are fished. The fishing industry does suffer from the fisheries policy (including catch quotas) of the European Union.

Industry and mining

The discovery of oil off the coast in the provinces of Ragusa and Syracuse in the 1950s led to the establishment of petrochemical industries, which also process and export imported raw materials. Mining and salting have always been the main industrial activities, although they have become less important in recent years. The mines supplied sulphur and marble and the salt pans (potassium salt and rock salt) were located along the southern coast. On the island of Lípari pumice stone is still extracted.

Some large companies are also represented in Sicily, such as Pirelli (tyres), Fiat (cars), Navali (shipbuilding), and Thompson (electronics). Fiat is the largest industrial employer. There is also a considerable building materials and food industry. Paper, metal, and textile industries are also important. Industrial centres can be found near Syracuse, Palermo, Milazzo and Augusta.

Service sector

The service sector is the most important economic sector in Sicily, concentrated in the cities of Palermo, Messina and Catania. The government is the largest employer alongside the railways and Telecom Italia.

Employment around Catania has risen sharply and is almost entirely due to employment in the service sector, but also to the rise of small and medium-sized enterprises. The nickname 'Milan of the South' is not without reason. Furthermore, tourism is becoming increasingly important.


Scholten, J. / Sicilië: met de Egadische en Eolische eilanden
Van Reemst

Bausenhardt, H. / Sicilië
Van Reemst

Haan-van de Wiel, W.H. de / Sicilië

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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