More on Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa and occupies an area of 36,125 km2. Its coastline and tidal estuaries are characterised by mangroves; the interior by Guinean forest-savannah mosaic. Of its total land area of 28,120 km2, 57.9 percent is used for agriculture. Of this, 66.3 percent is under pasture;  10.67 percent is arable; and 8.8 percent is used for permanent (non-timber) crops.  Much of the the country is covered by forest, although in recent decades logging has significantly reduced forest cover: from 78.8 percent of total land area in 1990 to 70.8 percent in 2015.

Guinea-Bissau’s population numbers 1.8 million, just over half of whom live in rural areas. Almost 85 percent of the population depend on agriculture as their main source of income. According to UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Index, Guinea-Bissau ranks 178th out of 188 countries.

Facts about Guinea-Bissau

  • Population of around 1.8 million
  • 69.3 percent live below the poverty line
  • 3.7 percent of adults have HIV
  • Life expectancy is 55 years

The incidence of poverty in Guinea-Bissau increased from 65 percent of the population in 2002 to 75 percent in 2013.  This has since improved slightly to 69.3 percent. Infant mortality is high (77.9 per 1,000 births), as is maternal mortality (560 per 100,000 live births – the 11th highest of 184 countries for which data are available).

Guinea-Bissau’s poverty and lack of development are largely due to political instability, which has marred the country’s development since it became independent in 1974. A coup d’état in 1980, was followed by a series of attempted coups in 1983, 1985 and 1993. A civil war that began in 1998 culminated in the military ousting the president in 1999. Subsequent, successive presidential and legislative assembly elections failed to produce stability. 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.

Guinea-Bissau’s main crop, cashew nuts, is the main source of income for more than 80 percent of rural households. The 2012 coup coincided with the beginning of the cashew season, preventing traders from carrying out their usual activities, and political instability limited the credit available to traders from local banks. To compound matters, the global price for cashews fell significantly in 2013. Because this single commodity accounted for 98 percent of all export revenues and 10 percent of government revenues, these factors have had a disproportionate and sustained effect both on the country’s economy and on food security. 

Elections in 2014 restored democracy. Political deadlock between the President and Prime Minister led to the appointment of a new Prime Minister and Government in October 2015.

In 2015, the cashew harvest, by then accounting for 85 percent of exports, fared better due to higher production and international demand, bringing some relief to those whose income is so precarious due to reliance on this single crop.

What are the current issues in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau’s population is subject to the combined effects of several problems. At present, these are:

  • Poverty

    Over 69 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s population live below the poverty line. Three quarters of those living in extreme poverty are almost entirely dependent on agriculture for sustenance, income and barter. Chronic food insecurity is compounded by shocks related to political instability, irregular rainfall, and volatility of prices for imported rice and local cashew nut production.

  • Undernutrition

    Undernutrition is a major public health challenge in Guinea-Bissau, and is due mainly 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 the 2014 Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 5), countrywide the chronic malnutrition rate is over 25 percent.

    As of July 2015, the Guinea-Bissau Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System data showed that, overall, 11 percent of the households of the Guinea-Bissau are food insecure. However, this figure varies across regions: in some areas, up to 51 percent of families are affected.

  • Low literacy rate

    Poor educational attainment has been a significant barrier to economic development at local and national levels. Decades of political turmoil have caused chronic underinvestment in schools, leading to a severe shortage of teachers and resources.

    Although the average literacy rate among over-fifteen-year-olds has improved since 1979 when it was 20 percent, at 59.9 percent it remains low. Furthermore, there is a significant literacy gap between genders (males, 71.8 percent; females, 48.3 percent). In the 15-24 age group the gender gap has closed to 7.1 percent, but almost 23 percent of this group remain illiterate. Net enrolment, attendance and completion rates at primary school are extremely low, with disparities among regions.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Guinea-Bissau

Since 1 April 2016, WFP has been implementing the first Country Programme in Guinea-Bissau, which has three components: Health and Nutrition, School Feeding and Rural Development. Through technical assistance to strengthen Government capacity and ownership, the Country Programme aims to reduce undernutrition, increase access to education at national, regional and community levels, and improve national capacity to monitor food security. 

  • Addressing malnutrition

    WFP provides nutrition support (food by prescription) to 6,500 people living with HIV who are receiving ART and people with tuberculosis under DOTS treatment. This improves their general health, and helps ameliorate some of the adverse effects of the drugs used for these diseases, improving treatment adherence. Their food insecure family members are also supported in order to offset some of the impact of the illnesses on their household income and nutrition.  

    More generally, we aim to reduce malnutrition among children under five, and pregnant and lactating women. In three priority regions, we are working to prevent chronic malnutrition in children under two. We are also strengthening national and local capacity to implement nutrition programmes.

  • School meals

    WFP provides over 173,000 hot meals to school children, aiming to incentivize school enrolment and attendance. Take-home food rations for female students encourage girls to attend and remain in school. WFP is also working to strengthen the Government’s capacity to manage the school meals programme, facilitating the transition towards national ownership.

  • Resilience-building activities

    WFP, in partnership with the Government and local NGOs, aims to protect livelihoods of food-insecure households, building resilience to shocks and improving access to basic social services and markets in rural communities.

    With the new Country Programme, 96,000 Bissau-Guineans will benefit from WFP’s Food for Asset activities. During 2015 the project provided food assistance, technical expertise and non-food items to small landholders. In exchange they worked to construct feeder roads and build infrastructure for rice production. The project ended in August but will be restarted in April 2016. 

World Food Programme partners in Guinea-Bissau

WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Guinea-Bissau: