Hunger in Guinea-Bissau: Causes and Prevention

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SEATTLE, Washington — Guinea-Bissau is a predominantly low-lying country in which more than half of the population suffers from hunger. Guinea-Bissau’s name is thought to be a corruption of an Amazigh word meaning “land of the blacks.” The country also uses its capital name, Bissau, to distinguish itself from Guinea, its neighbor to the east and south.

Economic Turmoil

Guinea-Bissau was once one of Africa’s more developed countries. Nowadays, the country is one of the poorest in the world as a result of large debt and an overreliance on foreign aid. More than 85% of Guinea-Bissau’s population is dependent on the nation’s primary export of cashew nuts to other nations, mostly European and Asian countries. However, today, Guinea-Bissau has massive debt with these European nations. This debt has led the country to poverty, and Guinea-Bissau does not have enough resources to provide for the whole population.

Guinea-Bissau has been dealing with political instability since it became independent in 1974, which has also contributed to the cycle of poverty within the nation. But, as it stands, food insecurity is the largest current concern for the Guinea-Bissau government.

Food Insecurity and Malnutrition

Nearly 70% of Guinea-Bissau citizens live in poverty, with high infant and maternal mortality rates and a nationwide malnutrition rate of over 25%. Overall, 11% of Guinea-Bissau households are food insecure, though this figure spikes to as high as 51% in some areas. Food insecurity is the main cause of undernutrition, in addition to inadequate health services, poor water and sanitation, inadequate infant feeding practices and high illiteracy rates among women.

Cereal Subsistence Farming

Most of the families in Guinea-Bissau that are involved in cereal farming, produce cereal for their own consumption. However, this is sometimes not enough to feed an entire family. Only 8% of families have enough cereal to cover their needs for one month and a half, with 48% having cereal stocks to cover just one month of food consumption. If the cereal that these families produce is ruined, more than half would not have anything to eat and would suffer from extreme food insecurity.

Food and Nutrition Security Statistics

According to the Food and Nutrition Security Monitoring System, 28% of the population of Guinea-Bissau does not consume as many vitamins and nutrients as they need. Additionally, in 2019, Guinea-Bissau ranked 99th out of 117 in a study about countries with increased rates of food insecurity. This rank means that Guinea-Bissau has a severe problem with both hunger and malnutrition.

The Food and Nutrition Security Monitoring System interviewed 3,900 families in rural areas within the eight regions of Guinea-Bissau in 2017. At first, the results indicated that only 4.7% of babies aged between six and 23 months received a minimum adequate diet, which means that many children do not receive enough food for their development, leading to stunting. Since the publication of these findings, however, the Guinea-Bissau government has been working with several organizations to develop solutions for the issues of malnutrition and food insecurity that are affecting a significant percentage of the population.

The World Food Program Assists

The World Food Program is such an organization that has been helping Guinea-Bissau achieve its goal of zero hunger by 2030. The program has supported Guinea-Bissau in this goal by providing more than $2.5 billion to the country. According to the World Food Program, the country needs to use these funds to stop focusing on agriculture and instead expand its business sector in order to achieve sustainable economic success. This would provide the country with more jobs and cause fewer people to suffer from food insecurity. The World Food Program provides many resources to Guinea-Bissau to give the country the health and nutritional support that it sorely needs. The program also helps the government to review solutions for food insecurity.

There is a long way to go before the problem of hunger in Guinea-Bissau can be completely solved. However, the efforts of organizations and governments such as those listed above are steps in the right direction that may lead to a more economically stable future for the country’s citizens.

Ainhoa Maqueda Castillejo
Photo: Unsplash

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