Republic of Guinea Bissau
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Contributor: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Contact: Jean Bonnal

Republic of Guinea Bissau

( The terms and data used in this publication are in no way an indication of the authors' position relating to the legal status of the countries, territories, cities and zones mentioned, or of their authorities or borders.

A. General Country Data

Surface Area36 125 sq. km
Population (millions)1.1
Population Growth2.1%
Urban Population21.7%
Density (1995)30inh/ sq. km
GDP (1994) Billions US $ 0.24
GDP per Capita US $ 218
Currency Franc CFA
National Budget20% of GDP
Human Development Indicator0.291
HDI Ranking (out of 174 countries)163

Borders, Topography and Climate

Guinea Bissau, a West African country bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west , Senegal on the north and Guinea on the east and south, comprises besides the main land (about 28,000 sq. km) 60 islands off its coast including the Bissagos archipelago. Besides its islands, Guinea-Bissau is characterized by a marshy coastal plain. The relief rises steadily towards the east and ends in a plateau which on the south-east rises up to 360 meters. Many rivers flow from west to east and form large estuaries at their mouths. Most of them are navigable and are the major means of transportation.

The country has a humid and tropical climate with average annual temperatures of 25 degrees centigrade without much variation from one season to the other. The rainy season lasts from June to November; the annual average rainfall at Bolama reaches 2,184 mm.

Characteristics, and Recent Developments of the Political System

Led since 1975 by a single party (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cap-Verde, PAIGC, split into two separate parties after the separation of the two former Portuguese colonies in 1980), the country began in 1986, a process of economic liberalization at first, and then political democratization, with the institution of a multi-party system and a strong presidential régime in 1991. As the PAIGC accepted a multi-party system, the Supreme Court legalized many opposition parties. Presidential and legislative elections initially planned for November 1992 finally took plance in July 1994. Legislative power is vested in the Legislative Assembly comprising 150 members. Administratively, the country is divided into an autonomous sector (the capital) and eight regions divided into 36 sectors or municipalities. Outside the capital, the provincial centers are only sparsely populated and inadequately equipped villages.

The same politician, J.B. Vieira, was elected president of Guinea-Bissau in 1984 (the year that the extant constitution was promulgated, and which gave the president the powers of head of state, the party, and the armed forces), in 1989 and in 1994. He is still the head of state. However, in accordance with a recent agreement with the opposition parties, a national unity government will be formed and legislative and presidential elections will be held, if possible, before the end of 1999.

Agriculture in Guinea-Bissau

The Guinea-Bissau economy is principally agricultural. Farming is for food crops: rice (the country's staple food), sorghum, corn, plantains and cassava. These subsistence activities contribute more than 46.3% to the country's GDP and employ more than 90% of the local work force. Self-sufficiency in food has still not been reached but forest and fishing resources have not been fully developed. Products for export are mostly peanuts (grown in the interior), coconuts (found on the islands and the coast) and cashew nuts (the source of half of the annual export revenues). Fishing, a growth sector, was the primary source of revenue at the start of the 1990s with revenues earned from the sale of fishing rights.

Current Economic Situation

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in Africa and is sustained by international aid. The economy is particularly undermined by a heavy debt burden, three times greater than its GDP, and by 40% unemployment. There has been a radical change in economic policy since 1986, the government having given up central planning. A series of structural adjustment programs, involving agriculture also, followed by an economic stabilization policy, have been implemented since 1987 with the support of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This new policy seems to be successful but the economy remains fragile.

B. On-going Decentralization Process

Background, Objectives, and Legal Framework

The decentralization process started in 1994 as a complement to the privatization process launched in 1986. The central government made the two policy changes in order to restructure the economy while responding to increasing political pressure to democratize the nation's institutions. The decentralization law did not however, go into effect until 1997.

Functions, Resources, and Autonomy of Decentralized Entities

The decentralization law assigned the regions and sectors new decision-making, implementation and control functions while leaving the financing of development to the central government. The decision to decentralize proved to be purely formal to the extent that neither the intermediate nor the local level received any new resources to carry out the new functions that were assigned them under decentralization. The powers of the authorities in charge of the decentralized entities are thus almost nil.

C. Decentralization and Rural Development

Forms of Decentralization, Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Formulation

The process of rural development decentralization preceded the more general political decentralization of the country, having been launched since 1986. Its main, even unique characteristic, was the strong deconcentration of the central services of the state. This deconcentration, again purely formal, only took effect ten years later (August 1996) through an administrative restructuring program of the Ministry of Agriculture which tried to make deconcentration more meaningful by assigning some role to the local level.

In spite of the persistence of central planning of rural development, policies were adapted, if only moderately, to reflect regional and production characteristics. This was followed by consultations between, and joint decisions by the national and local levels and also coordination of regional level interventions. Thus, for example, with regard to equipment and rural infrastructure, decision-making and financing are the exclusive responsibility of the national level but control, monitoring and evaluation are shared by the national, regional and local levels.

Decentralization and Agricultural Support Services

There is sharing of roles also with regard to the determination of policies concerning the major agricultural support services. With the exception of training for which policy is determined only at national level, policy relating to extension services, research and inputs is determined jointly by the national and local levels. Financing of these four services is however, centralized.

The role played by the principal actors in rural development (public sector, private sector, producer organizations, NGOs) depends on the sector and no model seems to emerge, which is probably an indication of the lack of a coherent agricultural policy. Hence, the public sector is the only supplier of research services, but it shares responsibility with producer organizations and NGOs for training services, and with NGOs for extension services. The public sector does not provide credit services. These are provided only by the NGOs. Nor does it provide inputs; they are provided by the private sector, producer organizations and NGOs.

Support Policies, Constraints and Evaluation of the Decentralization Process

Apart from some support for producer organizations, no support policy was adopted to facilitate the process of decentralization. The lack of information on this process surely explains its late implementation while the lack of training for the new responsibilities seems to confirm the theory that decentralization in Guinea-Bissau is more like a formal objective than an on-going process. Consequently, it is easy to understand why its impact is difficult to evaluate.


The absence of modalities for coordination between the three levels of government and a framework for consultation together with the weakness of civil society organizations and that of the local and intermediate levels, explain perhaps why the government of Guinea-Bissau is reticent about going ahead with decentralization. But this hesitation could be explained also as a want of political will to take into account the aspirations of the local communities and to allow them to manage their own affairs. This is borne out by the absence of elections at the local and town levels. It is unlikely that decentralization will be carried out, and demonstrate all its possibilities without this will. The political agreements of November 1998 will perhaps help to move in this direction