The Solomon Islands is an archipelago (a group of islands) in the South Pacific Ocean, about 485 kilometers (300 miles) east of Papua New Guinea, and about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Australia. Solomon Islands has a land area of 27,540 square kilometers (10,633 square miles) and a total coastline of 5,313 kilometers (3,301 miles). The land area of Solomon Islands is slightly less than that of the state of Maryland. Guadalcanal is the largest island, about 5,300 square kilometers (2,047 square miles). Other islands include Makira, San Cristobal, Vella Lavella Ren-nell, and Santa Cruz. Honiara, the capital, is located on the north coast of the island of Guadalcanal.
The population of Solomon Islands was estimated to be 466,194 in July 2000, based on a census taken in November 1999, the first since 1986. Over that period, the population increased by 43 percent, corresponding to an average annual increase of 2.8 percent. This was a substantial decline from the average rate of 3.5 percent per year between 1976 and 1986, but the current rate is still high by world standards. The birth rate was estimated at 40.9 per 1,000 population in 2000, one of the highest in the Pacific, and the death rate was 6.8 per 1,000 population. The projected population by the year 2010 is 620,500.
The great majority (93 percent) of the population is of Melanesian ethnicity, with about 70 different language groups, mostly located on the larger islands of the archipelago. A minority (4 percent) is of Polynesian descent comprising about 8 different languages; these people mainly originate on the small outlying islands, although many are now settled elsewhere. An even smaller minority (about 1.5 percent) is of Micronesian ethnicity, mainly descendants of those resettled from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) during the colonial period. The rest of the population is mainly of European or Chinese ethnicity. Of the major countries of the Pacific, Solomon Islands is the least urbanized, with only 13 percent living in urban areas. The only significant urban center is the capital Honiara, with about 50,000 people; in recent years Honiara has been growing about 35 percent faster than the rest of the country.
Despite high birth rates, Solomon Islands governments have not aggressively promoted family planning. For several years, there has been a low-key population planning policy, which promotes smaller family sizes and infant and maternal well-being. According to the 2000 census, birth rates have declined considerably, perhaps due to improvements in infant health and greater availability of contraceptives.
Through much of the 20th century, under British colonial rule, Solomon Islands represented a classic example of a plantation economy, with coconut production being the primary activity of both village smallholders (individual farmers) and large-scale expatriate (foreign) plantation owners. For village producers, the production of copra (dried flesh of coconuts) is still an important source of cash, and several large coconut plantations are still operating. As a source of export income, coconut products have steadily declined since the 1960s. During the 1990s, a number of coconut oil presses were installed in various parts of the country, and this has increased the value of this product.
For many years, government and international aid donors have sponsored initiatives to diversify the agricultural base of both smallholder and large-scale farmers by promoting the production of cocoa as a new crop. In 1998, cocoa comprised about 5 percent of export income. Also moderately successful has been the production of chilies, mostly at the village level.
In the late 1970s, large-scale rice production was established by an American company on the Guadalcanal Plains, leading to a small export trade. The industry collapsed in the next decade due to flagging domestic demand and the destruction of much of the crop in 1986 by Cyclone Namu. Production resumed in the mid-1990s on large plantations on Guadalcanal and on a smaller scale in many villages. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that 4,500 metric tons of rice were produced in 2000, up from 1,300 metric tons in 1998.
Most timber exports have been of whole logs, with only about 10 percent of total production in the 1990s being milled within the country. Logging began during the British colonial period and escalated considerably after independence in 1978. It is estimated that accessible timber resources may be exhausted by about 2010 if present levels of logging continue. The rate of exploitation was a major political issue during the 1990s and into the 21st century.
Fishing is an important activity at 3 different levels: subsistence production (production that only meets the immediate needs of the producer), small-scale cash fishing, and the large-scale offshore fishing industry. Small-scale cash fishing is most successful near urban markets, especially Honiara. Since the early 1980s, 31 fishery centers providing refrigeration and marketing services have been established throughout the country, although many of these have since failed. In the late 1990s, some centers were being renovated amidst attempts to facilitate the marketing of fish to Honiara and to Australia.
There were 2 major local fishing companies in 1999: Solomon Taiyo Ltd. (STL) and National Fisheries Development (NFD). STL has a large cannery at Noro in Western Province which produced nearly a million cases of canned tuna in 1999, about one-quarter of which was sold domestically. While domestic prices for fish remained high during the year, the world price of tuna plummeted, causing NFD to cease operations late in the year. STL closed during the period of ethnic tension, but is expected to open again.
Small-scale mining during the 20th century consisted mainly of gold-panning operations on Guadal-canal; the Gold Ridge mine in the central part of the island did not begin production until 1998. Developed by Ross Mining, this operation was expected to produce gold for about 10 years. The mine was closed down in June 2000 as ethnic tensions reached a peak. As of early 2001, the mine had not reopened, although negotiations were underway with landowners and the government about issues of compensation and security.
Except for the production of traditional handicrafts, manufacturing has never been a major industry in Solomon Islands. In the late 1990s it contributed about 5 percent of the country's GDP. The most important manufacturing enterprises cater to the local market in such sectors as food processing, beer, furniture, construction materials, and construction of outboard canoes. Traditional handicrafts such as woodcarvings, weavings, and shell ornaments are sold to tourists or exported on a small scale.
Despite its beautiful beaches and calm lagoons, Solomon Islands has always had a relatively small tourist industry. About 12,000 people visited the islands each year, with relatively little increase until 1997-98. Although official figures are not available, the numbers of visitors dramatically fell in 1999 and 2000 as a result of ethnic tensions and the interruption of air services into the country.
Guadalcanal and the nearby islands were major battlegrounds during World War II, and in the decades after the war most tourists were returning veterans or their families, both American and Japanese. Following the end of the war, the landscape was strewn with downed airplanes, tanks, and other war material, and the beaches of Guadalcanal and some of the other islands were littered with landing craft. Much of this material has since been exported as scrap, but even in 2001 there are remnants. Both the Japanese and the Americans have constructed hilltop monuments for the many thousands of troops killed during the war. More recently the country has become a center for scuba diving and snorkeling; along with spectacular coral reefs, there are many sunken warships still intact for divers to explore. Many tourists are attracted by the great cultural diversity of the country and its traditional villages.
Tourist infrastructure is limited, with only a few international standard hotels, mostly in Honiara, although there are guesthouses in most areas. Since the mid-1990s, efforts have been made to develop ecotourism (nature holidays), mostly village-based but in many cases supported through international aid programs. Unlike neighboring countries such as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji, the Solomon Islands has no flight and accommodation packages available to international travelers.
The financial services sector is small and mainly serves the local market. International banks such as Westpac and ANZ are located in Honiara and 2 provincial centers. The National Bank of Solomon Islands (a joint venture between Bank of Hawaii and the local National Provident Fund) is the only commercial bank with branches in smaller towns. The Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) regulates money supply and is responsible for general economic monitoring, and the Development Bank of Solomon Islands (DBSI) offers small-scale lending for development projects.
The retail sector is not well developed. Most retail operations are in Honiara and other towns, but the range of goods is limited. Villages are served by small locally-run shops selling basics such as soap, kerosene, rice, tea, sugar, biscuits, and fishhooks, or by copra trading boats that also serve as retail outlets.
Solomon Islands has no territories or colonies.
Asian Development Bank . Solomon Islands 1997 Economic Report. Manila: ADB, 1998.
Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI). Annual Report. Honiara: CBSI, various years 1980-1999.
Solomon Islands Employment 1998. Honiara: Solomon IslandsStatistics Office, 2000.
"Solomon Islands Ministry of Commerce." <http://www.commerce.gov.sb> . Accessed May 2001.
United Nations Development Programme. Pacific Human Development Report 1999: Creating Opportunities. Suva: UNDP, 1999.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook, 2000. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook> . Accessed May 2001.
Solomon Islands dollar (SI$). 100 cents equals 1 dollar. Coin denominations include 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, and 1 dollar. Paper notes include 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 dollars.
Timber, fish, coconut products, cocoa.
Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, mineral fuels, chemicals.
US$1.21 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).
Exports: US$142 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.). Imports: US$160 million (c.i.f., 1998 est.).