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language: Tuvaluan, English Head of state:
Queen Elizabeth II Prime minister: Apisai Ielemia
As much as 75
percent of the population of Tuvalu is involved
in agricultural production of some sort.
Subsistence farming is the main source of both
food and income for many Tuvaluans. Agriculture,
in the form of the production of copra, also
provides the nation's only true export. Total
agricultural exports in 1998 amounted to
US$400,000, and agriculture accounted for 25
percent of the nation's total GDP.
The main crops include copra, taro (a large
tuber), bananas, and sugarcane. There is little
or no livestock production, although many
families keep small numbers of pigs and chickens
for personal consumption. While copra is
harvested from coconut trees, the other crops
are planted according to traditional practices.
The islands receive about 2,500 millimeters (100
inches) of rainfall per year, but the porous,
volcanic nature of the soil means that islanders
have to use cisterns to collect rainwater as the
water rapidly soaks through the ground and there
are no natural springs or wells on any of the
islands. Because there is little fresh water,
islanders often use coconut milk in place of
drinking water. Water constraints have also led
to the evolution of a distinctive form of
Tuvalu is a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific which won independence from the United Kingdom in 1978. Five of the islands are coral atolls, the other four consist of land rising from the sea bed.
All are low-lying, with no point on Tuvalu being higher than 4.5 metres above sea level. Local politicians have campaigned against global warming, arguing that climate change could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels.
Life on the islands is simple and often harsh. There are no streams or rivers, so the collection of rain is essential.
Coconut palms cover most of the islands, and copra - dried coconut kernel - is practically the only export commodity. Increasing salination of the soil threatens traditional subsistence farming.
Three-storey government HQ: Tuvalu's tallest building
Tuvalu depends on foreign aid, the income from the sale of tuna fishing licences and the interest from a trust fund set up in 1987. The sale of postage stamps also brings in revenues.
It is one of a handful of countries to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which has funded the construction of Tuvalu's largest building - a three-storey administrative headquarters.
Tuvalu has shown ingenuity by exploiting another source of income. It has sold its internet suffix - .tv - to a Californian company for several million dollars a year in continuing revenue. The company sells the suffix on to television broadcasters.
Some of the money has been used to pave roads - which were formerly made of crushed coral - and to build schools.