Economic Diversification in Guinea-Bissau
Guinea-Bissau is a small West African country with a poverty rate of more than 60 percent. Poor infrastructure and a stagnant business climate fostered a reliance on its main income producer, subsistence farming. Despite this, its GDP growth rate has remained fairly high. Real GDP growth rate in 2017 was 5.9 percent, one of the highest in Africa. Though a recession increased debt and caused Guinea-Bissau to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country has slowly rebounded. The nation stands to benefit from a diversified economy.

Current State of the Economy

Guinea-Bissau consistently ranks among the top 10 poorest countries in the world. About 80 percent of the population works in agriculture, while industry and services make up the remaining workforce. As is typical for a developing country, many residents rely on subsistence farming. Cashew production is an important export and source of income for Bissau-Guineans, making up more than 80 percent of income. Economic diversification in Guinea-Bissau could add jobs, begin infrastructure developments and lead to further investment in health and education.

A Cashew Economy

In a visit to Guinea-Bissau in January of this year, an IMF team led by Tobia Rasmussen discussed the importance of favorable cashew prices and production. “Ensuring a transparent and competitive cashew marketing season will be critical,” stated Rasmussen. Cashew production and pricing are important to most Bissau-Guineans. The issue, as with most developing countries, is an over-reliance on the agriculture industry.

Although economic diversification in Guinea-Bissau could be partially achieved by emphasizing crops other than cashews, there would still be a more widespread effect by focusing on services and other industries that have been left untapped. Further investment in the agriculture industry, such as through equipment and green technology, could also provide some relief to poverty-stricken residents.

Areas for Development

Guinea-Bissau lacks strong energy infrastructure and general infrastructure. Adding roads, bridges, railways, ports, hospitals and schools are examples of infrastructure developments that don’t just benefit the native population. Both tourists hoping to visit and business people interested in investing in a country that has the potential for growth stand to benefit, as well. Mineral resources, such as phosphates, mineral sands, bauxite, diamond and gold all are untapped. There are currently only small-scale mining of construction materials, such as clay, granite and limestone. Further development, as well as additional funding by the government in infrastructure, would provide a suitable foundation for the basis of a developed country. Infrastructure, such as roadways, is a necessary beginning to a developing economy. To demonstrate the current state of roadways in the country, only 10 percent of the national road network is tarred.

Energy Infrastructure

Only 21 percent of the population has electricity. There are also no telephone lines. Opening investment to the energy sector, especially to external corporations, is often foundational for further development. Current President of Guinea-Bissau Jose Mario Vaz has promised to reduce poverty and drug trafficking, both of which are rampant. At the 73rd United Nations Assembly President Vaz stated he wished to “eradicate poverty and hunger, combat major endemic diseases, as well as guarantee education and potable water for all.”

Promising Ports

The key location of the country is often overlooked. Guinea-Bissau is a western port of Africa that enables it to be a strategic location for trade. Fishing is usually grouped with the agriculture industry but could become a new income source for the 60 percent of Bissau-Guineans in poverty. Advancements in fishing, such as sonar technology that allows the user to find fish, is one example that provides simple and modern solutions to poor countries.

External Investment

China is a major investor in Africa and has announced it would invest more than $60 billion to help developing countries. One way it achieves this is through investment in infrastructure. China has built Guinea-Bissau’s parliament building, a government palace and a national stadium. The most economical investment China has made for Guinea-Bissau is its $184 million investment in a 30-kilowatt biomass power plant. The partnership is a major step in providing electricity to its residents while also adding to economic diversification in Guinea-Bissau.

With a continued focus on economic diversification and energy infrastructure Guinea-Bissau holds the potential for boundless development. The aforementioned initiatives and investment products indicate that positive change is already occurring in the West African nation.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Environmentally Responsible Fishing
Around the world, the fishing community is particularly vulnerable. Just over 96 percent of fishers live in developing countries and many of them live in substandard conditions of poverty. However, environmentally responsible fishing has the potential to alleviate environmental concerns as well as the poverty of fishermen.

Part of the reason that fishermen face such tenuous financial circumstances is the unstable nature of the profession. The fisherman’s boat and equipment are the most valuable possessions but also their most vulnerable. The unpredictable nature of the sea means equipment may be damaged at any moment and halt the flow of income.

Furthermore, fishermen in Africa, Asia and Central America are at least five times more likely to be infected with HIV due to their mobility. These circumstances often lead to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions and poor access to education and health services. Over and above these problems, the damaging environmental effects caused by this cycle of poverty has not even been explored.

It is understandable that many fishers are not focused on environmentally responsible fishing practices. People struggling to survive today are less likely to focus on long-term environmental effects. However, depletion of resources will ultimately push them further into poverty.

Therefore, it is imperative that fishermen consider how they can practice environmentally responsible fishing as it will help to alleviate the poverty that they face. Latin American nonprofit company MarViva aims to help fishermen with this objective. As the organization’s co-director said, “we are not dealing only with an environmental problem, but also with significant institutional, social, and economic challenges that require serious attention and integral long-term solutions.”

MarViva is working for these long-term solutions with a two-part initiative. First, they teach fishermen the advantages of responsible fishing practices that may appear as more expensive or labor-intensive in the short-term. For instance, investing in ice may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it ensures that fish stay fresh during transport and money is not lost due to a spoiled product.

They are also encouraged to use smaller hand lines instead of large gill nets. When gill nets are used, the caught fish are already dead and may be damaged. While gill nets seem to catch a larger amount of fish at once, they may sell for a lower price due to damage that may have occurred. Hand lines result in higher quality that will translate to a higher selling price.

The second part of the initiative focuses on the traceability of the product. If fishermen present the source and journey of their fish to the market, they can distinguish their product as one that was caught and handled responsibly. This means that it can sell for a higher price than fish of questionable or unknown origin.

Through its initiative, MarViva has increased the availability of high-quality products and the practice of responsible fishing. Raising awareness of how to protect the ocean’s precious natural resources is a highly important endeavor. Equally important is the fact that fishermen who depend on the ocean’s resources can protect those as well as alleviate the poverty that they face.

Nathaniel Siegel
Photo: Flickr


Earlier this year, Safeway, in a partnership with the nonprofit organization Fair Trade USA, became the first U.S. supermarket to offer Fair Trade seafood. The initiative is part of a program aimed at expanding the social and environmental considerations of the Fair Trade movement into the world seafood market, which currently employs over 120 million people across the world.

The supermarket chain began its Fair Trade seafood program in March with the distribution of wild-capture tuna from small-scale fishing operations in Indonesia. Those products are being supplied by four Fair Trade associations representing 120 fishermen in Indonesia’s Maluku province.

In order for seafood to become Fair Trade certified, suppliers must source and trade in compliance with standards established by Fair Trade USA’s Capture Fisheries Program. Those criteria include standards for empowerment and community development, which prioritize the well-being of communities in trade activities; fundamental human rights, which protect workers from forced labor and ensure their right to organize; and wages, working conditions and access to services, which aim to improve wages and benefits as well as working hours.

The Capture Fisheries Program is especially significant given an Associated Press investigation conducted in March, which found that hundreds of men in the Indonesian island village of Benjina were being forced to catch seafood against their will. Most of those interviewed were found to have been Burmese immigrants who were taken to Indonesia and forced to fish. A number of workers were deemed by employers to be “flight risks,” and were consequently forced into cages to prevent their running away.

“All I did was tell my captain I couldn’t take it anymore, that I wanted to go home,” said Kyaw Naing to an Associated Press (AP) video camera snuck into the work site by a fellow worker. “The next time we docked, I was locked up.”

These labor conditions are not limited to the Indonesian market. Although the waters encompassing the Maluku province are Indonesian territory, it sees a large amount of illegal fishing activity, including from Thailand, one of the United States’ foremost seafood providers. While the United States purchases 20% of the country’s $7 billion in seafood exports, the State Department blacklisted Thailand for failing to address human trafficking and labor abuses.

The Indonesian supply-chain is such that tainted and ethically caught fish are generally processed side-by-side. AP found that the two products were mixed and very well could end up being sold in American supermarkets including Walmart, Safeway and Albertsons.

Though American and Indonesian officials have decried the labor conditions that define much of the region’s seafood industry, the most immediately effective method of combating this race to the bottom is to popularize Fair Trade initiatives like the Capture Fisheries Program. However, until supermarkets prioritize Fair Trade products and eliminate ethically tainted ones from the market, these human rights abuses will continue to have moral implications for both suppliers and consumers.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: SFChronicle, Fair Trade USA, New York Times, Food Tank
Photo: Fair Trade USA

In a country where over 80% of the population lives on less than two dollars a day, Haiti is a country burdened with struggles. In a country that suffered one of the most devastating earthquakes in the Western Hemisphere in 2010, daily life is characterized by endless tribulations. As food prices soar, the Haitian situation becomes even more precarious as life revolves around food security, of which the average Haitian generally has none.

Throughout the developing world, a healthy aquaculture remains vital to food security, as fishing is often the primary source of sustenance for many of these populations. In small island states like Haiti, fish are even more important, as they generally constitute more than 50% of an individual’s protein intake. Furthermore, fishing in Haiti and other countries is an important source of employment for the developing world, where 97% of the world’s fish are caught. A healthy aquaculture can positively transform a struggling country like Haiti.

The World Resources Institute characterizes all of Haiti’s reefs to be at high risk.  Mass unemployment, overpopulated coastal areas, narrow shelf areas, and easy access to reefs have exponentially increased the danger to Haiti’s aquaculture, making Haiti’s coastal regions the most exploited in the Caribbean. Furthermore, due to the lack of sewage treatment plants and sanitary landfill, there is a heavy flow of nutrients into the ocean, sparking excessive algae growth.

Organizations like Food for the Poor have recognized the enormous need to stabilize and develop Haiti’s fishing economy. They have established 41 fishing villages in Haiti, providing entire communities with a reliable source of food and income. Additionally, Food for the Poor has constructed 40 tilapia ponds, further expanding the fish stocks in Haiti.

On their work with Haiti’s aquaculture, the Vice President of Food for the Poor Jean Robert Brutus commented, “The organization Food for the Poor has grown over time and has strengthened, the founders and managers of Food for the Poor have quickly realized, that although they distributing thousands of meals to the needy […] that the needs of Haiti go beyond simply distributing food to the poor…” Thus, the creation of sustainable fishing practices is much more effective in the long term, as Haitians will develop the skills to cultivate their aquaculture in a sustainable way.

Improving the fishing industry in Haiti could have an enormous impact on the lives of all Haitians, serving as an important step towards the future autonomy of Haiti.

– Anna Purcell 

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization, World Resources Institute, Haiti Libre
Photo: Nouvelle

Lake Malawi MediationOver two million Africans depend on the waters and shores of Lake Malawi for their livelihoods. The lake, which borders Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique, has historically belonged 100 percent to Malawi. However, Tanzania has now laid claim to 50 percent of the lake. The dispute between the two countries has been ongoing for the last fifty years and has only recently come to a head as the result of oil exploration within the lake.

Malawi and Tanzania have submitted their position papers in preparation for the conflict mediation that will take place between March and May of this year, overseen by the African Forum.

The lives of two million Africans hang in the balance. About 1.5 million Malawians and 600,000 Tanzanians depend on Lake Malawi for their daily needs, including food, income, and transportation. As tension between the countries has heightened, Malawian fishermen have experienced abuse at the hands of Tanzanian security forces. One Malawian fisherman, while fishing on the Tanzanian side of the lake, reported being detained, beaten, and told never to fish on that side again. Tanzanian officials denied the harassment charges and expressed concern over Malawian aircraft flying over Tanzania without permission.

Even as tensions over Lake Malawi have increased, residents continue to depend on the lake’s vast resources for their survival. For years, fishermen of both countries have been crossing the invisible border between the countries to fish the entire lake. Local residents depend on the lake’s 2,000 different fish species to support themselves and their families. As a result of being unable to fish the Tanzanian side of the lake, the Malawian fisherman has seen his income reduced from $286 per month to just $142.

The fishermen, as well as national authorities and NGO officials, express concern over what may come to pass if the oil is discovered in Lake Malawi. The lake’s ecological diversity would most likely suffer as a result of oil exploration and drilling. Lake Malawi’s fish stocks have already declined from 30,000 to 2,000 tons per year over the last twenty years. The decline further endangers the livelihoods of local fishermen.

– Kat Henrichs
Source: All Africa