Despite an abundance of natural resources, fertile soil and good rainfall, Guinea-Bissau is a fragile state and has been marked by political instability since its independence in 1974, facing recurrent socio-economic and political disturbances. These conditions have had detrimental effects on the country’s food security as well as on poverty and malnutrition rates, which are alarming, especially in rural areas.
The economy of Guinea-Bissau is dominated by agriculture; almost 85 percent of the country’s 1.6 million people depend on agriculture as the main source of income. The cashew accounts for 98 percent of export revenues and 10 percent of government revenues. Other crops—including rice (the country’s main staple), sorghum, millet, maize and cassava—are cultivated largely for subsistence.
In 2012, several socio-political shocks—including a coup d’état in April and a temporary disruption of the economy that led to several strikes across sectors—increased levels of food insecurity. The April coup coincided with the beginning of the cashew nut season, preventing traders from carrying out their usual activities, and political instability limited the credit available to traders from local banks. The cashew nut is the main source of income for more than 80 percent of rural households in Guinea-Bissau, making the disruption of trade particularly significant for households in these areas.
According to the results of a national food security assessment conducted in September 2013 by WFP, FAO, Plan International and their Government partners, only 7 percent of the population in Guinea-Bissau is food-secure, with particularly high levels of food insecurity in the regions of Oio and Quinara. The survey also indicates that more than 93 percent of the rural population may be food insecure and requires immediate assistance. The high level of food insecurity across the country is partly attributed to a significant drop in cashew nut prices in 2013 compared to 2011-2012 levels. In the short-term, assistance is required to feed the most vulnerable populations, while medium-term measures are needed increase food production.
Undernutrition is a major public health challenge in Guinea Bissau, mainly attributed to food insecurity, inadequate health services, poor water and sanitation, poor infant and young child feeding practices and high illiteracy rates among women. According to a 2012 SMART nutrition survey, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition is 6.5 percent nationally, reaching up to 9.8 percent in some areas, while the prevalence of stunting among children under five years is 26.5 percent nationally. The situation is critical in five regions where stunting rates are above the national average, including Oio (35.4 percent), Bafatá (32.3 percent), Gabu (30.3 percent), Tombali (26.9 percent) and Quinara (26.7 percent).
The incidence of poverty in Guinea-Bissau is estimated to have increased from 65 percent in 2002 to 75 percent of the population in 2013. Per capita income is approximately US$250 annually. According to 2013 Human Development Report, Guinea-Bissau ranks 176th out of 186 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index.