More than 80 percent of people in Guinea-Bissau – one of the poorest countries in the world – earn a living from agriculture. Rice and cashews are two important crops – the latter contributes significantly to the country’s export earnings – but scarce inputs, erratic weather and weak infrastructure translate to low yields.
The cashew market has suffered serious setbacks in recent years, with farmers’ incomes dwindling as a result. This has made life difficult for many families, especially in light of high food prices and inflation. FAO is helping Guinea-Bissauan farmers ramp up food production – from introducing new rice varieties to raising livestock to planting vegetable gardens – in a bid to lessen their vulnerability to shocks.
High food prices
In general, Guinea-Bissau’s smallholder farmers do not produce enough rice to feed their families throughout the year. They use earnings from cashew nuts to buy imported foods. But food prices skyrocketed in 2008 – the price of imported rice was 68 percent higher than in the previous year – at the same time farmers’ purchasing power dropped. To cushion the blow, FAO has worked to boost farmers’ output, improving their access to quality seeds, fertilizers, tools and technical training. In addition, FAO has supported efforts to diversify production, such as off-season food crops, and to produce certified seed locally.
Growing one or two main crops is a gamble. A shock, whether market-related or a natural disaster, can seriously dent production and with it, a farmer's ability to make a living. FAO is helping Guinea-Bissauan farmers produce more and varied foods to boost nutrition and incomes. It has helped women’s groups grow and market vegetables and has supported school gardens. It has trained small animal breeders in new techniques in livestock management and animal health, providing veterinary services with medicines and other essentials. Working with producer organizations, it has tested new rice varieties suited to the country’s different ecosystems, and has supported the cashew value chain, distributing kits for shelling and tools for processing and preserving cashew products.