For many years, life for the 500,000 inhabitants of Cape Verde, a chain of 15 volcanic islands situated in the Atlantic Ocean 460 kilometres west of Senegal, was tough. Droughts, soil erosion, poor agricultural conditions and a lack of drinking water forced many inhabitants to earn their living abroad. Even today, more than 80% of the country's food has to be imported.
But thanks to the efforts of the hotel and aviation industries, Cape Verde’s economy has been turned around in the last few years. The islands have invested in sustainable tourism projects and this has revitalised the previously fragile economy. According to an African Development Bank report in 2013, tourism and ancillary activities remained the driving force of the economy in 2012, accounting for around 30% of GDP and 90% of total exports. Tourism, the main driver for economic growth, has successfully tapped into natural resources such as biodiversity, landscape and the environment. The growth continues: in 2013 tourism revenues were up 27% over the previous year.
Major enhancements to Sal and Praia Airports on the largest islands, plus new airports in Boa Vista and Sao Vicente, have helped make the islands an exciting new tourist destinations for visitors from America and Europe; and have allowed thousands of Cape Verdeans to stay on the islands to earn a decent wage, rather than having to travel overseas.
The islands have also become some of the global leaders in renewable energy, working towards generating at least 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.