Located just north of the equator, the islands are of volcanic origin and rise to 6,640 ft (2,024 m) on São Tomé. They have a tropical rain forest climate and thick vegetation. The official language is Portuguese, although a creole dialect is widely spoken. About 70% of the population is Roman Catholic, and there is an Evangelical Protestant minority. The population consists mainly of mesticos (persons of mixed European and African descent), descendants of slaves and laborers from from the African mainland, and Portuguese. There is also a sizable population of foreign workers, principally from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde.
From state-owned farms, tropical produce, notably cocoa (80% of export earnings), copra, coffee, and palm oil, is exported. Coconuts, cinnamon, pepper, bananas, and papayas are also important, as are fish and timber. Industry is limited to food processing and light manufacturing. Efforts to diversify agriculture and the economy in general have met with limited success, but there are significant offshore oil fields to the north of the islands that are now being developed. Machinery, electrical equipment, foodstuffs, and petroleum products are imported. The country's trading partners include the Netherlands, Portugal, the United States, and Belgium. The country has an ongoing balance-of-payments problem and relies heavily on foreign aid. São Tomé island has a good road and railroad system.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.