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Country profile: Vanuatu
languages: Bislama, French, English President: Iolu Abil
Republic of Vanuatu
According to the
Asian Development Bank, agriculture is more
important to the Vanuatu economy than it is to
any other Pacific economy, since it does not
have the mineral and forestry resources of Papua
New Guinea or Solomon Islands, the manufacturing
base of Fiji, the marine resources of
Micronesia, or the remittances of Polynesia.
Throughout Vanuatu, subsistence agriculture is
the mainstay of the village economy, since 80
percent of the population lives in villages.
Food crops produced include taro, yams, kumara
(sweet potato), bananas, coconut, and a great
range of fruit and vegetables.
The most important agricultural product, in
terms of cash production in the villages and in
terms of export, is copra. This is the dried
flesh of coconuts, produced by individual
households and on large-scale plantations.
Production of copra is highly variable year to
year depending on weather conditions and world
prices, although a general downward trend in
production is noticeable since the early 1980s.
One explanation is that the price in real terms
paid to producers has declined over this period.
Vanuatu - a string of more than 80 islands once known as the New Hebrides - achieved independence from France and Britain in 1980.
Most of the islands are inhabited; some have active volcanoes.
Vanuatu is mountainous and much of it is covered with tropical rainforests. Like most of the area, it is prone to earthquakes and tidal waves. Most of the people live in rural areas and practice subsistence agriculture.
Vanuatu has been spared the unrest which has befallen neighbouring countries such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji, although the largest island, Espiritu Santo, experienced a brief insurrection in 1980.
A land diver makes a death-defying leap on the island of Pentecost, Vanuatu
Local traditions are strong. Women, for example, generally have lower social standing than men and have fewer educational opportunities.
The economy has been unable to grow fast enough to meet the needs of Vanuatu's expanding population.
The main sources of revenue are agriculture and eco-tourism. Both depend on the weather, and when, as in 1999, cyclones and persistent rain hit Vanuatu, both suffer.
Tax revenue is derived from import duties, and neither personal income nor company profits are taxed.
Vanuatu tightened up its tax and regulatory systems after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that it could face sanctions if lax taxation regimes were exploited by criminals for money-laundering.
Australia, a key donor, has pushed for good governance and economic reform in the islands.
Iolu Abil was chosen as president by Vanuatu's electoral college - comprising the 52 members of parliament and the heads of the six provincial governments - in September 2009.
He served as a cabinet minister in the first Vanuatu government after the country gained independence in 1980.
He succeeded Kalkot Mataskelekele when his five-year term in office expired.
Prime minister (outgoing): Edward Natapei
Edward Natapei came into office at the head of a new coalition government, after his Vanuaaku Pati emerged as the largest force in parliament following elections in September 2008.
Edward Natapei was stripped of his position because of a clerical error
Born in 1954, Edward Natapei was prime minister once before, between 2001 and 2004.
He reassumed the premiership in 2008 at the head of a governing alliance that also included the second largest party in parliament, the National United Party of former prime minister Ham Lini.
Mr Natapei pledged to continue the reforms and policies of Mr Lini's government, and said transparency, good governance and fighting corruption would be among the main priorities.
He was stripped of his position and his parliamentary seat in November 2009 on account of a basic paperwork error - he missed three consecutive parliamentary sittings without submitting a written explanation for his absence.
Under Vanuatu's law, a caretaker government takes over until MPs have elected a new prime minister.