Models for the French overseas territories and small island economies

© Julien Girardot for AFD

The “Models for the French Overseas Territories” program was launched in late 2012. It focuses on a multidisciplinary and comparative approach, particularly with territories that have similar characteristics, such as small island economies located in tropical or equatorial regions. The studies and research conducted or coordinated by AFD aim to provide tools to give a better understanding of the dynamics at work in the overseas economies and societies. The objective is to provide effective guidance for public action and, more generally, contribute to knowledge production and feed into debates.

Each overseas department and territory (DCOM) has its own historical, institutional, demographic, social and economic realities. The “catching-up” process in the overseas economies over the past three decades has been based on strong economic growth, boosted by domestic demand and fostered by public procurement and the tax exemption arrangements. During this period, the job creation rates in the DCOM have been much higher than in the most dynamic regions in mainland France, and more specifically in the market sector. The growth has also led to progress in the fields of education and training, health and infrastructure. The marked slowdown in economic activity (to a lesser extent in French Guiana and New Caledonia) since 2008, as a result of the combination of economic and social crises, has led to a rise in unemployment, which has been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of people in a precarious or extremely precarious situation.  

These economic trajectories occur in different demographic and social contexts. The DOM-COM can be classified in two groups of territories with relatively similar sociodemographic dynamics. On the one hand, there are territories characterized by a combination of a rapid aging of populations and the emigration of young workers, most of them graduates (this is the case for Martinique, Guadeloupe and, to a lesser extent, Réunion). On the other hand, there are territories with a high birth rate among “native” populations and large-scale immigration (as with French Guiana, Mayotte and the young local authority of Saint-Martin). These contrasting dynamics mean that there are different needs for health and education services, housing, energy…

One of the fundamental questions is: In these contexts, how to ensure that a certain social cohesion is maintained? The first condition for social integration is vocational integration.

As the former growth drivers are running out of steam (increase in purchasing power through the narrowing of the social gap, public procurement, tax exemptions, except in the social housing sector), it is now necessary to identify new ones. For several years, local public and private actors have been aware of the need to open up these economies due to the narrowness of markets. Beyond the rhetoric, what comparative advantages can the DOM-COM actually promote in international competition, firstly in trade with countries in their geographical environment (Indian Ocean, Caribbean/South America and Pacific)? Which sectors, industries or niches hold real potential in terms of creating activity and creating employment, the main challenge for the coming years?

Furthermore, the challenges of biodiversity conservation are particularly marked in the overseas departments and territories, which account for 80% of France’s biodiversity and 10% of the world’s coral reefs. Among the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, 5 are located in overseas France. The destruction of natural habitats, overexploitation, pollution and the proliferation of invasive species pose major threats, which undermine the maintenance of this exceptional biodiversity. The expected impacts of climate change could increase these threats over the coming decades. These changes will exacerbate the pressure that is already at work under human pressure (population and urban growth, lifestyles), with undeniable consequences on biodiversity and a number of sectors of activity, first and foremost tourism, fishing and agriculture.

► 1st area – Population, social, macroeconomic and environmental dynamics [+]


Economic, environmental and human development vulnerability indicators: a dynamic and comparative analysis applied to overseas departments and territories and small island economies (Research co-produced by the Research Department in partnership with CERDI and the University of La Réunion).
What impacts does the aging of the population have on Martinique’s economy? (study launched by the AFD agency and Fort-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in partnership with the consulting firm DME). 
Comparison of the development strategies of small island economies: review of the literature and empirical observations (study ongoing, co-produced by the Research Department and Laboratory of Economics Applied to Development – LEAD – University of Toulon).
Migratory patterns, training pathways, vocational integration and social cohesion in the DOM: What do we learn from Migration-Family-Aging (MFA) surveys? (study forthcoming, in partnership with INED, University of the French West Indies and University of La Réunion).

► 2nd area – Local policies and public finances, housing and urban development [+]


Understanding the cultural processes of change in order to provide more effective support for public policies for territorial development, the case of Polynesian local authorities (coproduction of the Research Department, Insular Research Center and Environment Observatory – CRIOBE-CNRS French Polynesia – and Center for Socio-Economic Research – Paris).
Population dynamics and urban policy: the case of Saint-Laurent du Maroni (study conducted in partnership with a multidisciplinary team from GRET – Technological Research and Exchange Group).
Analysis of the vulnerability to climate change and its mainstreaming into local public policies (study in partnership with CDC Climat).

► 3rd area – Natural resources, biodiversity, climate [+]


What to expect from the standardization of the issues of biodiversity conservation in the overseas territories? The example of certification. An application to the cases of Réunion, Mayotte and French Guiana (study co-produced by the Research Department in partnership with CIRAD and WWF).
Natural capital and growth in New Caledonia (study ongoing supervised by the Research Department in partnership with the North Province, CIRAD, New Caledonia Agronomic Institute and Centre for the Study on Globalisation, Conflicts, Territories and Vulnerabilities – University of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines).

► 4th area – Analyses of sectors and industries [+]


Comparative advantages of industries of the future: the case of Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana and Réunion (study conducted by a consortium of researchers, coordinated by the consulting firm Technopolis).

► Download the document (in French) (PDF)

► Conferences and seminars [+]

Studies and publications also give rise to seminars, public feedback meetings and conferences.


The AFD-CEROM biennial conference. The last “The French Overseas Territories at the Center of International Competition” was held at the BNF in November 2013. The presentations of studies were followed by panels where participants were able to discuss (i) factors of success or bottlenecks for the development of sectors and niches with potential in terms of business and employment creation, (ii) relations between Europe and the overseas territories and (iii) innovations from the overseas territories that can be applied in other territories.
As part of the “Development Meetings”, the conference on 25 June 2014 was on the topic of “Inequalities in the French Overseas Territories: How to Address Them?”, with actors well-established in the overseas territories and/or people interested in gaining an understanding of the economic and social dynamics at work (elected officials, experts, members of civil society…). Following a review of the inequalities and poverty by three experts, discussions focused on the drivers of action able to reduce inequalities. The economic model of the overseas territories was also questioned, as well as the public polices conducted for these territories.


Last update in March 2015

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