Agriculture and farming in Sao Tome And Principe

Sao Tome And Principe

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Agriculture in Sao Tome and Principe

Saint Thomas and Prince - officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is an island country in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, about 2 km apart and about 250 and 225 km off the north-western coast of Gabon.

Sao Tomé and Principe is a small country with a surface area of some 1,001 km2 and a population of over 200,000 inhabitants. São Tomé, which is oval in shape, is larger than Príncipe, which lies about 145 km northeast of its sister island. The capital of the country, São Tomé city, is situated in the north-eastern part of São Tomé island. The country’s closest neighbours are Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on the Atlantic coast of central Africa. The climate is basically maritime and tropical, but, because of the rough topography, there is a wide range of microclimates. The dry season, called gravana, lasts from June to September in the northeast but is scarcely discernible in the wetter regions. In the coastal areas the mean annual temperature is high. The average relative humidity is also high, about 80 percent. São Tomé is endowed with excellent conditions for tropical agriculture. The growing season is long, the volcanic soils are fertile, and there is no lack of water. Consequently, the economy remains dependent on plantation agriculture, especially cacao (grown for its seeds, cocoa beans). About two-fifths of the total land area is under cultivation, with cacao trees covering a little less than two-thirds of the cultivated land. Thus agriculture plays a key role in Sao Tomé and Principe’s economy: it accounts for some 20% of the country’s GDP, 80% of its export income and employs over half of the population (60%). Cocoa production, with 3,000 tons a year, predominates and provides the bulk of export earnings. The production of coffee and pepper – other major crops at national level – is often combined with other food crops (bananas, tubers, vegetables). 

The country has never been self-sufficient in staple foodstuffs, and a combination of local eating habits, the legacy of the plantation economy, and foreign food aid has undermined the production of food crops for the local market. Indeed, the country is dependent on imports of capital goods and food, but also of oil products, which are used to run the thermal power plants. Furthermore, its isolation has a strong impact on the costs of exporting and importing goods. Some of the islands’ area, mainly in the south and west, is still covered with rainforest. Much of this is secondary growth on abandoned plantation land. The flora and fauna include many rare and endemic species, reflecting the isolation and environmental diversity of the islands.

Half the country is covered by primary forest of which 30,000 ha, or almost a third, is protected. Elsewhere agroforestry dominates, with crops varying according to altitude. Farmers grow taro and cocoyam at lower levels, bananas, cacao and oil palm at mid-level and fruit and breadfruit trees at altitude. Specific farming systems have also developed for market gardening, pepper, tree fruit and to grow sugar cane for artisanal alcohol production. Fine stands of timber remain in the mountains, but the difficulty of removing logs from the steep terrain and the pressing need for effective conservation limit long-term prospects. The country’s small size prevents farmers from keeping large herds of livestock, but conditions for poultry raising are quite favourable. Fishing resources are limited by the narrow continental shelf. The domestic demand for fish exceeds supply by the local artisan fishermen, and trawlers from European Union countries pay small license fees for the right to fish in the country’s national waters. The deep-sea tuna resources of the Gulf of Guinea and shellfish in coastal waters represent the best hopes for fishery exports.

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