Slightly less than triple the size of Connecticut, Guinea-Bissau is a small West African nation of a mere 1.7 million people. Unfortunately, Guinea-Bissau is also among the world’s poorest countries, with exports in 2016 totaling a mere $163 million. Of this figure, approximately 80 percent of exports come from cash crops, specifically cashews. As a result of the economy relying on cash crops, therefore, over two-thirds of Bissau-Guineans live below the poverty line.
With much of the nation’s food being exported, rather than consumed, hunger in Guinea-Bissau is a pressing issue. One in 10 people in Guinea-Bissau is food insecure, with the figure being as high as half of people in rural areas. According to the World Food Programme, hunger in Guinea-Bissau is plagued by three key factors: political instability, irregular rainfall and fluctuating rice and cashew prices on the global market.
Guinea-Bissau’s political struggles stem from the current president’s dismissal of prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira, a politician popular among the people for his work with Western leaders donating to Guinea-Bissau. The national parliament has not met in over a year, and the instability has caused severe issues with access to electricity and water. By prolonging water shortages as a result of political deadlock, Guinea-Bissau struggles to properly irrigate its crops and feed struggling communities. Resolving the deadlock is critical to solving other more pressing matters.
Of course, the issue of water shortages is not helped by irregular rainfall patterns that have likely emerged as a result of climate change. As the nation’s prime exports are agriculturally-based, it is clear that reliable weather patterns are vital to sustaining not only the economy, but the very survivability of the people, as hunger in Guinea-Bissau will only worsen if crops continue to fail. An acute lack of rainfall will also lead to the spread of desertification.
With little industry in the country, even by African standards, Guinea-Bissau is among the most vulnerable countries to the negative effects of climate change, especially given the country’s reliance on agricultural goods to support both the economy and themselves. Sustainable and responsible water usage practices must be undertaken when water is once again made available after the resolution of the political stalemate.
Finally, there is the issue of fluctuating prices. Despite the suspension of donor flows into the country following the dismissal of Pereira, Guinea-Bissau’s economy actually grew at approximately 5 percent in the past two years. With two-thirds of the nation reliant on cashew exportation, however, price shocks to the international cashew market are capable of crippling entire communities and worsening issues of hunger in Guinea-Bissau. In order to combat this extreme vulnerability, the country must diversify its economy far beyond cashew production and exportation, and eventually beyond agriculture as well.
The situation is desperate, but not hopeless. In order to reduce and eventually eradicate hunger in Guinea-Bissau, the first issue to address must be that of the controversial political deadlock in the capital. In doing so, more urgent issues can be addressed by political leaders. The implementation of sustainable water practices and diversification of the entire national economy will alleviate the suffering of communities across the small West African nation and prevent them from happening in the future.
– Brad Tait