The population is irregularly distributed throughout the islands of the Azores. The majority of the residents are found in São Miguel (53%), followed by Terceira (23.5%), Pico (6.4%), Faial (6.3%), São Jorge (4.3%), Santa Maria (2.5%), Graciosa (2.2%), Flores (1.8%) and Corvo (0.2%).
The active population, currently at approximately 100,000 individuals, is divided by economic activity as follows: 22% in the Primary Sector, 26% in the Secondary Sector, and 52% in the Tertiary Sector.
The breeding of livestock is also very important to the local economy. Dairy cattle and the production of milk are by far the most important. Fresh milk is the primary raw material used in the Azorean transformation industry. Cheese, butter and powdered milk are the principal goods exported. Meat production is also very important to the Azorean economy. High quality beef is a major export to both Madeira and continental Portugal. Also of importance is the production of pork and the production of eggs although their destination is primarily for the regional market.
The fishing industry provides one of the major regional potentials for future growth. The extensive economic exclusive zone of the Azores contains a rich and diverse aquatic population providing a vast array of fresh fish for export as well as canning. Recently a few companies have begun smoking fish for both domestic consumption and export. Economically the most important species is tuna which is the principal catch of the commercial fishing fleet. The major catch of the nonindustrial or artisan fishing fleet includes herring, sea bream, conger eel, fork beard and mackerel.
The concentration of transformation industries is in the production of foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco in conjunction with smaller industries processing lumber and cork. The majority of these industries are found in São Miguel.
Thermal energy is the base for the production of electricity in the region, however other alternatives such as hydro, geothermal and wind generated electricity are in the experimental stage.
Within the tertiary sector, the geographical dispersion of the archipelago generates increased movement of merchandise in the ports and airports of the region largely due to the transfer of essential products that are not available on the smaller islands. The distance which separates the region from continental Portugal, also contributes to the increased traffic especially in terms of passengers travelling to the region and between the islands.
Trade within the national borders provides the primary market for Azorean products, nevertheless foreign trade plays an increasingly important part in the regional economy. Imports are concentrated in products such as, cereals, fuels, machinery, transportation materials and primary materials. The most significant export for the Azorean economy are fish preserves. The principal product, canned tuna is marketed mainly in Italy and milk products (especially cheese), fresh fish, lumber, and agricultural products represent other major product groups exported.
Representing a small percentage of the economy but still considered to be principal industrial crops cultivated in the Azores the sugar beet, chicory, tea, passion fruit and pineapple, with the exception of the pineapple which is sold fresh, are exported or sold in the local market after being processed in the transformation industry.
The pineapple (Ananassa Sativus, Lindl.), which is grown in greenhouses on the Island of S.Miguel, concentrated in the Municipalities of Ponta Delgada, Lagoa, Vila Franca, along the southern coast came originally from South America. It was brought to the Island as an ornamental plant about the middle of the 19th century. It was first grown , to supply the tables of the wealthy. The first greenhouses date from the year 1864. The greenhouses are always rectangular, covered by glass which is white-washed, forming a roof with a slope of approximately 33º. On the upper part of the roof there are “alboios”, or skylights, which serve to control the temperature inside the greenhouse and for ventilation during the final stage of growing. Only the sun is used to heat the greenhouses.
On the other hand, the cultivation of Sugar beet in São Miguel, which has been around for more than 100 years was initially introduced for the production of alcohol. Today it represents an economically important industry supplying the only sugar factory in the region.
Equally, the production of tobacco, also cultivated on the island of São Miguel, assures the future of the existent factories and occupies an important place on the scale of industrial cultures of the region.
In addition, there exist two other crops in São Miguel worthy of mention due to their quality even though production in terms of quantity is not significant, such as:
- the “Maracujá”, (Passion Fruit), which can be consumed fresh or used in baking but is mostly utilised as a primary raw material for the production of the aromatic and regional Passion Fruit Liqueur;
- and the “Chá”, (Tea), brought from China to the Azores, namely Terceira, around 1801 and some 30 years later to São Miguel where two Chinese men reallocated to teach the producers the secrets of cultivation and production of this delicious drink.
Presently, confined to a specific area in São Miguel, the bushy green tea plantations are a prominent part of the Gorreana landscape, (an area between Maia and Ribeira Grande)