Today, Guinea-Bissau's efforts to increase agricultural exports such as cashews and mangoes reflects the country's struggle to establish sustainable, economic growth in a competitive world market. But the country's commercial history dates back centuries to an infamous beginning: the slave trade.

In 1446, the Portuguese sailed up the Guinea coast into the heart of the Mandinka Kingdom, whose strategies for domination included slave trading. By the end of the 15th century, the Mandinka trade had become international. Thousands of Balantas, Mandingas, Fulas, Manjacos, Papels, and others were shipped as servants to Europe, as miners to South America, and as cane and cotton growers to North America. Ironically, after slave trading ended in the early 1800s, several U.S. groups again looked to Guinea-Bissau, specifically the fertile island of Bolama, as a potential site for relocating freed slaves. Trade with the U.S., especially the Northeast, continued: hides, wax, ivory, and gum copal in exchange for rum and tobacco. Today, the U.S. remains an important source of imports for Guinea-Bissau, though little is export to the States.

Cashews, along with mangoes and citrus fruits, rank among Guinea-Bissau's principal growth sectors for domestic consumption and regional and international export. Ninety percent of producers are rural farmers, who still live in their ancestral villages -- though changes are taking place. These days, the typical peaked straw roofs are being replaced by tin or even tile roofs as residents invest their increased earnings in better living conditions. Likewise, the traditional barter system is giving way to the market system. Increasing money income from cashew means various kinds of freedom: not only greater access to education and medicine, but disposable income for investment in even higher value agriculture, providing greater opportunities to take advantage of increasingly global markets. With this growth, which is already taking place, comes hope that Guinea-Bissau can escape its poverty through its own efforts, not by relying on foreign aid.

Produced by Steele Communications