People and livelihoods

The population of the Union of the Comoros was estimated at 667 000 in 2009. The islands are small (the country is the fourth smallest in Africa), and so population density is high. In Anjouan, where the ECDD project works, there are 446 people per square kilometre (compare this to 255 / km² in the UK), but this doesn’t tell the whole story as not all of the island is habitable or productive. It has been estimated that in the Niumakele region in the south of Anjouan, there are over 1000 people per square kilometre of agricultural land.

The population is growing at 2.3% per year, driven by a high birth rate. At current rates, an average Comorian woman will have four children in her lifetime, however this varies hugely between areas and social status – the poorest women will have more than six children in their lifetime on average. If the population continues to grow at this rate, it will have doubled by the year 2040.

The Comoros is among the fifty least developed countries in the world according to the UN, and the last comprehensive survey showed that about 50% of Comorians live below the poverty line. The GDP is below the country’s population growth rate, and so real GDP per capita is negative, and falling. A large proportion of the populations depend on remittances from the Comorian diaspora (mainly in France and Mayotte): in 2004 the diaspora was estimated to have sent 35.4 million US dollars in remittances. Having relatives abroad plays a big part in a family’s relative wealth.

Comoros agriculture bananas transported by pirogue K Brayne

Bananas are an important staple crop in the Comoros. Photo credit: K. Brayne

Over 80% of the population are dependent on agriculture (including fishing). The staple crops grown for local consumption are bananas, cassava, and taro. Cloves, ylang-ylang and vanilla are the main cash crops grown for export. Market gardening is also becoming more widely spread as a cash crop grown for local consumption.