Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced periods of political instability and violence. A military conflict from 1998 to 1999 destroyed much of the country’s social and economic infrastructure and thwarted economic growth. Today it is one of the world’s poorest countries, with more than two-thirds of its 1.5 million people living below the poverty line.
Loss of income threatens food security
Around 80 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, mainly producing rice, the primary staple, and cashew nuts. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s largest exporters of unprocessed cashew nuts and most farmers depend on the crop for cash income.
Most smallholder farmers in Guinea-Bissau do not produce enough rice to feed their families throughout the year. To cover the lean periods, they use earnings from cashew nuts to buy imported rice. However, in September 2008, prices for imported rice were 68 percent higher than in the previous year. This increase, coupled with dwindling incomes from cashews, left many people food insecure.
In 2006, the government set a high price for cashew nuts, which put a considerable dent in sales as traders began buying elsewhere. The government lowered the price in 2007, but supply outpaced demand and farmers, unable to get a decent price for their crops, saw their purchasing power drop. Despite better results for cashew crops in 2008, accumulated losses in income have seriously affected families’ means of survival, making them even more vulnerable to future shocks.
High prices a concern despite production gains
Although the country boasts good soil, agricultural output has been poor and food shortages frequent, owing largely to a lack of inputs and expertise and weakened infrastructure. Erratic weather – from insufficient rainfall to flooding to brush fires – has also been a factor.
National cereal production rose in 2008, with overall production 15.5 percent higher than the average from the previous five seasons. These higher yields, due in part to abundant and regular rainfall, have helped to improve the country’s food situation in 2009, but high prices and volatility continue to be a concern. The price of imported rice has since dropped from its previous peak in 2008, but is still higher than it was in January 2008.
European Union Food Facility
Partnering with the World Bank, the FAO launched a two-year project in May 2009 through the EU Food Facility to help the government of Guinea-Bissau reduce the burden of high food prices on its people.
With funds from the European Union totalling close to € 3 million, 25 000 vulnerable farming families will receive seeds, fertilisers, tools and training to increase their output during the main growing season of 2010 and the off-seasons in 2009 and 2010. Funds will also go towards the rehabilitation of the country’s agricultural infrastructure, including rice fields and market garden plots.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INPA), FAO will support the training of 50 farmers in seed multiplication activities in a bid to strengthen their understanding of the entire production cycle, from the supply of seed stocks to the marketing of certified seeds. FAO will also focus on building the capacity of the INPA to control the quality of seeds produced.
Fifty breeders of small animals (poultry, sheep, goats, pigs) will be taught new techniques in livestock management and receive help in enhancing the sanitary conditions of livestock areas, while veterinary services will be provided with medicines and other essential supplies.
FAO is also working with WFP to support 300 school gardens that will benefit around 24 000 students. The aim is to teach students gardening skills while boosting their nutritional intake. About 40 percent of the produce will be sold in local markets.
Other FAO activities
In July 2008, FAO launched a year-long Technical Cooperation Programme project worth US$ 500 000 to provide quality seeds, agricultural tools and technical assistance to 5 000 vulnerable farmers to boost their off-season food production. With FAO support, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and NGOs, farmers have planted rice, niebé, peanut, cassava and sweet potato crops. Harvests have been good and local markets have seen an increase in the variety and availability of produce, while farmers have managed to harvest seeds to sow during the next planting season.
Funds from the project have gone toward the vaccination of livestock and to fishing associations and the Ministry of Agriculture’s plant protection division.
FAO is also implementing an emergency project with funding from Spain to enhance the food security of households affected by the cashew nut marketing crisis. The aim is to increase incomes resulting in a more efficient and safer transformation of cashew nuts and fruit locally, and to boost the nutritional status of women and children who consume cashew by-products, such as juice.