Guinea Bissau Revitalizes Agriculture Sector, Increases Rice Production

May 27, 2011

  • Once an exporter of rice, Guinea Bissau struggled with food insecurity after international food prices rose dramatically in 2008.
  • Since then, the country has attempted to revamp the entire agricultural production chain.
  • The World Bank and the European Union assisted with emergency funds for school feeding and food for work programs.

BISSAU, May 27, 2011 -- "Hunger knows no boundaries," said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President of the Africa Region, on the launch of the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) in 2008. Like many Sub-Saharan African countries, Guinea Bissau, a small country with just over 1.6 million inhabitants, was not spared the turmoil of the global food crisis of 2007 and 2008.

In 2007, the country was hard hit by a spiral of skyrocketing international and domestic prices. Once a major exporter of rice, the country now imports almost half of its food, including up to 90,000 metric tons of rice per year. At the request of the government in 2009, the World Bank and the European Union responded with US$9 million in emergency aid under the Emergency Food Security Support Project (EFSSP), or Projecto de Apoio a Emergência na Segurança Alimentar (PEASA) in Portuguese.

As a staple in Guinea Bissau, rice accounts for most of its food imports. In Guinea Bissau’s eight regions, there are several areas well suited for rice cultivation. However, despite the significant hydro-agricultural potential of these areas, many people living in these regions have been pushed into poverty because they remain isolated from food production areas and lack resources. 

The food crisis hit the regions of Bafata and Gabu in the east the most severely. In the south, poor road infrastructure prevented the rice grown in Tombali, Blama, and Quinara from reaching wider markets.

With the help of the food security project, these regions are turning the corner. In Camposa and Finette, two villages located in the Bafata region, rice production has increased from one season to the next, says Alfredo Quidom, chairman of the NGO Etad.

"Before our interventions, farmers in Camposa produced just under 2,600 kilograms per hectar,” said Quidom. “We are now at over 4,200 kilograms, double the amount. In Finete, production went from 700 kilograms to 1,800 kilograms without any fertilizer!”

Djaladul, another small village in Bafata, is located on the Ga-basse-Temato route in one of the country’s most remote areas. The European Union wanted to include Djaladul in a financing program that includes rehabilitating 300 kilometers of roads in Guinea Bissau in order to open access for farmers and livestock breeders to buy and sell commodities in other parts of the country.

Chief Peulh Elhadj Sekou Baldé of Djaladul says the new road, in addition to improving the flow of food, will also help decrease the time it takes to travel to medical centers.

International assistance for food security

A visit from World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in July 2008 helped expedite the government’s request for emergency assistance to Guinea-Bissau. Three months later, the World Bank took a lead position and responded with initial financing of US$5 million. In February 2009, the World Bank provided additional financing through the European Union Food Crisis Rapid Response Facility Trust Fund for Euro 2.87 million (around US$3.93 million). These two operations were implemented in partnership with World Food Program (WFP) and the Government of Guinea-Bissau.

The WFP allocated over US$4 million to support the most vulnerable through school feeding and a food for work program to rehabilitate land and rural feeder roads. From March 2009 to January 2010, this program provided 14,000 meals a day to children, 48 percent of them girls. The school feeding has also helped boost attendance and passing rates. With additional support from the EU, this number was increased to 28,000 meals a day. The program is expected to close in August 2011.

The food for work component provided over 160,000 days of work and provided food assistance to over 180,000 beneficiaries. During this time, dike and drainage channels and anti-erosion banks in were rehabilitated on over 5,000 hectares of land that can now be used for rice production. The project also provided additional assistance in seeds and agricultural instruments to farmers. In total, 466 microprojects were financed, with approximately 650,100 direct beneficiaries.

Building awareness of food security

While the emergency support helped cushion the effects of volatile food prices, it has also helped build momentum for improving food security in the long run. Guinea Bissau is full of natural resources and receives exceptional rainfall and the right investments in the agricultural sector will help shelter the country from potential food shocks in the future.

The country also has the cooperation of technical and financial partners to continue its efforts. In February 2011, World Bank Project Manager Aniceto Bila and Program Coordinator of the World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development DepartmentMartien van Nieuwkoop announced in February 2011 that a Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) is being prepared with the ECOWAS States with an envelope of US$7 million for Guinea Bissau.

These funds should provide new innovations to the PEASA when it comes to an end in August 2011 (for EU funding) and September 2011 (for World Bank funding).  Efforts will be refocused, in particular, on the rehabilitation of agricultural production zones, better transport services to other parts of the country, the direct transfer of resources to village communities, the use of innovative technologies for greater yields and diversification, as well as incentives to private sector involvement.