Guinea Bissau


Overview of the country

Guinea Bissau covers an area of 36,124 km², with a population of 1.6 million inhabitants, almost 2/3 of whom live in rural areas. It is composed of 40.8% of people under 14 years old, 56.1% between 15 and 64 years old and 3.1% at 65 or over 30 years old. Its population density is 42 inhab./km2


It is bordered to the north by Senegal and to the east and south by the Republic of Guinea. With a human development index (UNDP) of 176 out of 186 countries in 2012, Guinea Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world.


Guinea-Bissau is divided into eight regions: Bafatá, Biombo, Bolama-Bijagos, Cacheu, Gabu, Oio, Quinara, Tombali, and an autonomous sector of Bissau.


The country is located at 12° north latitude. The coastal plains are cut by the vast estuaries of the coastal rivers: rios Cacheu, Geba.


Irrigated by numerous waterways which facilitate inland penetration but hinder transverse communications, half of the territory of Guinea-Bissau is made up of a series of islands and a coastal plain, often swampy, suitable for growing rice. The other half consists of an interior area of plateaus and high hills, often affected by drought.


The population growth rate is 2.019%, with a birth rate of 35.97 ‰, a mortality rate of 15.79 ‰, an infant mortality rate of 99.82 ‰ and a fertility rate of 4 , 58 children / woman


The official language of the country is Portuguese. The language of communication (and mother tongue of around a third of the population) is Creole from Guinea-Bissau, which developed from Portuguese. The different ethnic groups maintain their languages


Political, economic and social context of the country


  • Political context

At the political level, Guinea-Bissau has experienced, since its independence (declared September 24, 1974) and on a recurring basis, situations of political and institutional instability, which have significantly hampered its economic growth as well as the improvement of the quality of life of its populations. The political change that occurred on April 12, 2012 triggered the current politico-military crisis, and resulted in the breakdown of technical and financial cooperation with the country's main development partners.


Guinea-Bissau is governed by a Constitution introduced in 1984, through which it arrogates all powers to itself. Seventeen (17) years later, in 1991, Guinea-Bissau went from single-party to multi-party, accompanied by measures to consolidate democracy such as the independence of trade unions, freedom of association, the right to strike and freedom of press… The first pluralist presidential election was held on August 7, 1994.


The 1998-1999 civil war destroyed all of the country's poorly developed infrastructure. Despite a fragile return to democracy since 2005, interspersed with several coups d'état, the country's leaders continue to wage a veritable war of censorship against all forms of freedom of expression and the press in general.


At the same time, the socio-economic situation of the country is catastrophic. Civil servants are not paid regularly, equipment and services to populations are deficient everywhere, the economy has been slowing down for many years.


Yet the country has strengths that it could exploit much better. It is one of the main cashew nuts producers, employing nearly 30% of the workforce. It also has forests, a maritime area full of resources, oil, metals and other minerals. All of this remains largely under-exploited and widespread corruption is hampering the development of the country, which is one of the poorest in the HDI world rankings. Finally, the country remains one of the most affected by the atrocious phenomenon of female genital mutilation, since around 45% of women have undergone such torture, with prevalence rates of almost 96% in the remote rural regions of the eastern Guinea-Bissau.


Legislative power is exercised in the National Popular Assembly (ANP) / parliament and executive power vested in the Prime Minister with a semi-presidential system. There are 26 registered political parties of which 5 are represented in parliament (Legislative 2008). The ANP has 102 seats.


The country is a member of several international, regional, sub-regional and economic cooperation organizations: United Nations (1974), Organization of African Unity / African Union (1973), CILSS (1986), ECOWAS (1975), WAEMU (1997), CPLP (1996) etc.


  • Economic context

On the economic aspect, the IMF points out that economic growth in Guinea Bissau as well as efforts to fight poverty have been hampered by recurrent internal conflicts which have compromised social progress in the country.


The economy is mainly based on agriculture and fishing which account for about 46% of gross domestic product. Overall, Bissau-Guinean agriculture generates 80% of employment and 90% of exports (cashew nuts being the main export product). Infrastructure is weak, as are social indicators, with more than two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line.


The country is endowed with abundant natural resources, with good quality land and good rainfall (1,500-1,877 mm on average over 112 days). It is also rich in mineral resources, with a varied biodiversity, abundant fishery resources and a tourism potential which can constitute good sources of income.


  • National GDP : USD 1,458 billion (2018)


  • GDP/capita: USD 778 (2018)


  • GDP growth: 3,80 % / an (2018)


  • Distribution of GDP : Primary : 46 %, Secondary : 14 %, Tertiary : 40 %


  • Inbound foreign direct investments : $20 millions


  • Migrant remittances: $ 64 million


  • Variations in volume of exports: 1.69%


  • Variation in volume of imports: 18.95%


  • Change in trade balance: 10.8%


  • Balance of payments (as a percentage of GDP): 1.5%


  • Current account (as a percentage of GDP): 0.11


  • Public deficit / surplus (as a percentage of GDP): 2.2%


  • Public debt (as a percentage of GDP): 47.32%


  • Perception of corruption (ranking out of 175): 168


  • Social context

At the social level, the situation remains very precarious and worrying. Indeed, the results of the Second Light Poverty Assessment Survey (ILAP 2/2010) indicate that 69.3 percent of Bissau Guineans are poor and 33 percent are extremely poor and, that both agricultural and rural areas are the most affected by poverty. The occupation rate (employment) for the 15-24 age group was 10.6 per cent in 2009, and that for women was 4.6 per cent. In 2018, the country was ranked 178th in the classification of the Human Development Index (HDI), and is part of the group of countries with the lowest development indices out of 186 countries (MDG Report, 2012).


According to the WFP, Guinea-Bissau occupies the 99th position out of 117, in the world hunger index in 2019. 


Guinea Bissau is experiencing a situation of structural malnutrition and food insecurity. The net national food production is not sufficient to cover the food needs of the country. Vulnerable populations (small family farmers, women and young people) depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods.


According to the results of the Food and Nutrition Security Information System in September 2019, 30.7% of households are affected by food insecurity (approximately 368,458 people), including 34.2% of households in the rural area and 19.2% of households in the urban area.


Regarding nutritional indicators, the second UNICEF survey (published in 2013) on the nutritional status of children under 5 and women of childbearing age (15 to 49), shows that the national prevalence of underweight is 17 percent, the prevalence of global chronic malnutrition is 26 percent, and the prevalence of global acute malnutrition is 6.5 percent. The overall nutritional situation in Guinea Bissau remains precarious. This precariousness is more pronounced in certain regions (Bafatá, Oio, Gabú, Bissau and Bolama) particularly affected by acute malnutrition, high prevalence of chronic malnutrition and underweight. This situation in these areas is due to the low production of cashew nuts (low income) and unsuitable eating habits.


Agro-sylvo-pastoral and fishery sector


Agriculture, in the broad sense (farming, livestock and forestry) remains the dominant economic activity contributing more than 50% of the GDP and more than 80% of exports and employing 82% of the working population. It falls into two categories of producers:


    •  small village producers (tabancas) estimated at nearly 130,000 farmers constitute the bulk of the rural population and carry out 90% of production;


    •  modern producers called "ponteiros" (2,200 concessions, on which 1,200 actually installed), generally modern farmers with large land concessions (average size of 136 ha, varying from 20 to 2,500 ha) provided by the State, covering 27 % of arable land (or 9% of the total area of the country) and occupying the best agricultural land in the country. Due to lack of financing in terms of credit, they are all in a latent state.


Agricultural land covers an area of 1,110,000 ha, i.e 32% of the total area. The area of soils suitable for irrigated rice cultivation (mangrove and lowland rice cultivation) is 305,000 ha. Of this potential, around 50,000 ha are cultivated, or just over 16%. The lands with favorable characteristics for hydro-agricultural and pastoral development are located in areas irrigated by the Geba and Corubal rivers, to which are added numerous lowlands present throughout the country.


In terms of development, agriculture today is mainly occupied by two predominant crops: cashew and rice. The number of traditional farms is estimated at 130,000 for 1,200 agricultural enterprises. The cultivated areas are estimated at 400,000 ha (or 11% of the country's surface area), including 220,000 ha are under annual crops and 120,000 ha in perennial crops. For rice, the potential according to the type of rice cultivation is in the following range: i) irrigated rice cultivation: mangrove rice with 106,000 ha, of which 51,000 ha cultivated, and ii) lowland rice with 150,000 ha, of which 11,000 ha cultivated. Rice occupies the first place in the Government's medium and long-term priorities, due to its place in the diet and in the economy of Guinea-Bissau.


Despite the importance of livestock farming in economic, socio-cultural and nutritional terms, the share of public investments programmed for this sub-sector has remained relatively low and has been declining steadily for 30 years: by 4% of the allocated budget agriculture at the beginning of 1975, it went down to 2.4% in 2009 (0.3 to 0.4% of the national budget being intended for the operation of livestock services).


Overall, the Bissau-Guinean livestock represents a capital estimated at CFA 194 billion. Breeding is an activity practiced by about 96,700 breeders who thus contribute to the growth of food security, to the diversification and increase of rural incomes, to the improvement of the balance of payments, to the preservation and improvement of the environment, in particular through the development of the agriculture-livestock association.


The fishing sector represents an important natural wealth for Guinea-Bissau, whose waters are among the most fish-richest in the world and are very rich in various fishery resources: fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Sea fishing is the second source of foreign exchange and employment in Guinea Bissau. This activity contributes very strongly to the current revenue of the State budget, estimated at around 40%, due to fishing fees. Today, the revenues generated by this sub-sector are estimated at more than US $ 141 million per year according to a study of the private sector project, on fishing sectors in June 2004.


Additional information


Guinea – Bissau has a great ecological diversity (humid forests, dry forests, gallery forests, savannas, palm groves and mangroves). The coastal zone of Guinea – Bissau is internationally recognized in terms of conservation and protection of biodiversity, both for its breeding areas of various species of fish, shrimp and marine mammals on the coast of West Africa and for the large extent of its mangroves as well as the number and variety of birds. Forests cover about 2 million hectares, or just over 55 percent of the national territory, and wood reserves are estimated at 48 million m3. Environmental issues are associated with deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, irregular rains, overpopulation of forest areas, overexploitation of resources with all that this entails in terms of pressure on biodiversity and species threatened with extinction in the context of Guinea Bissau.


Guinea-Bissau presents conditions of vulnerability to various types of risks and disasters. Over the years, various emergency situations caused by various phenomena (locust invasions, rain floods, armed conflicts, etc.) have been recorded and have affected populations, particularly the most vulnerable individuals and families. Natural disasters are rare in Guinea Bissau.


Difficulties in the prevention and management of food crises and other natural disasters are linked to: insufficient food supply, weak regulation and rules, unorganized market taxation, including in the informal sector, the weak operational capacity of technical services.