poverty in sao tome
Two small islands on the coast of West Africa, The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is known for its lush vegetation, Portuguese influences and the warm island weather year round. Guadalupe, a small town situated on the northern coast of Sao Tome and Principe, has become one of Africa’s premier vacation spots.

As one of Africa’s smallest countries, Sao Tome and Principe has experienced periods of dramatic increase as well as economic and political decline. However, a great number of the country’s population, over 190,428 residents, face poverty, particularly in rural areas where the population is especially dense.

The main causes of poverty in Sao Tome and Principe are low income, lack of productive assets and means of production, lack of infrastructure and lack of social capital. Most of the country’s citizens depend on subsistence agriculture and farming to live, many of whom work on cacao plantations, harvesting Sao Tome and Principe’s number one export. Eighty percent of the country’s production of cacao is sent abroad.

Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Sao Tome and Principe has depended largely on cacao production to generate national profit. However, due to poor agricultural practices and mismanagement the quality of cacao coming from Sao Tome and Principe has decreased substantially as well as the quality of life for those who depend on its harvesting to survive.

Sao Tome and Principe also relies heavily on foreign imports, possibly due to its lack of a skilled workforce and its high national debt. This reliance on imports makes the country susceptible to fluctuations in global market prices and with a GDP of only $612 million, of which $126.2 million goes to imported goods, Sao Tome and Principe has little room left over for emergency funding or poverty reduction spending.

According to The World Factbook, 66.2 percent of Sao Tome and Principe’s population lives below the line of poverty. Around 14.4 percent of children are underweight and 6.8 percent are undernourished. Even with advances in the healthcare system, 50 percent of Sao Tome and Principe’s population lives with HIV/AIDS and at least 4,500 people have died of HIV/AID related illnesses in the last decade.

However, despite its lack of economic resources, there are bright prospects for Sao Tome and Principe. As of last year, 69 percent of the population is literate and 97 percent of children are enrolled in primary school. Sao Tome and Principe has made beneficial investments into its educational system and the results are showing. Malnourishment has dropped by 16.1 percent since the nation’s highest rate of 27.7 percent in 1997.

Though these small islands’ residents face poverty, illness and economic hardship, Sao Tome and Principe’s governing body places the utmost importance on education and finding better ways to sustain the integrity of its country.

Candice Hughes

Sources: CIA, World Bank, Rural Poverty Portal, UN
Photo: Babakoto