Guinea-Bissau is among the world's least developed nations and one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, and depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Cashew crops have increased remarkably in recent years, and the country now ranks sixth in cashew production. Guinea-Bissau exports fish and seafood along with small amounts of peanuts, palm kernels, and timber. License fees for fishing provide the government with some revenue. Rice is the major crop and staple food.
From the viewpoint of European history the Guinea Coast is associated mainly with slavery. Indeed one of the alternative names for the region is the Slave Coast. When the Portuguese first sailed down the Atlantic coast of Africa in the 1430s, they were interested in gold. Ever since Mansa Musa, king of the Mali Empire, made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325, with 500 slaves and 100 camels (each carrying gold) the region had become synonymous with such wealth. The trade from sub-Saharan Africa was controlled by the Islamic Empire which stretched along Africa's northern coast. Muslim trade routes across the Sahara, which had existed for centuries, involved salt, kola, textiles, fish, grain, and slaves. As the Portuguese extended their influence around the coast, Mauritania, Senegambia (by 1445) and Guinea, they created trading posts. Rather than becoming direct competitors to the Muslim merchants, the expanding market opportunities in Europe and the Mediterranean resulted in increased trade across the Sahara. In addition, the Portuguese merchants gained access to the interior via the Senegal and Gambia rivers which bisected long-standing trans-Saharan routes. The Portuguese brought in copper ware, cloth, tools, wine and horses. Trade goods soon also included arms and ammunition. In exchange, the Portuguese received gold (transported from mines of the Akan deposits), pepper (a trade which lasted until Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498) and ivory. There was a very small market for African slaves as domestic workers in Europe, and as workers on the sugar plantations of the Mediterranean. However, the Portuguese found they could make considerable amounts of gold transporting slaves from one trading post to another, along the Atlantic coast of Africa. Muslim merchants had a high demand for slaves, which were used as porters on the trans-Saharan routes, and for sale in the Islamic Empire. The Portuguese found Muslim merchants entrenched along the African coast as far as the Bight of Benin. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the African slave trade, centuries old in Africa, is not yet the major feature of the coastal economy of Guinea. The expansion of trade occurs after the Portuguese reach this region in 1446, bringing great wealth to several local slave trading tribes. The Portuguese used slave labour to colonize and develop the previously uninhabited Cape Verde islands where they founded settlements and grew cotton and indigo. They then traded these goods, in the estuary of the Geba river, for black slaves captured by other black peoples in local African wars and raids. The slaves are sold in Europe and, from the 16th century, in the Americas. The Company of Guinea was a Portuguese governative institution whose task was to deal with the spices and to fix the prices of the goods. It was called Casa da Guiné, Casa da Guiné e Mina from 1482 to 1483 and Casa da Índia e da Guiné in 1499. The local African rulers in Guinea, who prosper greatly from the slave trade, have no interest in allowing the Europeans any further inland than the fortified coastal settlements where the trading takes place. The Portuguese presence in Guinea is therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau.
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