In 2002, Angola embarked on a mission to rebuild its crippled agricultural sector – once the crowning jewel of the economy – with the ultimate goal of developing the ability to feed itself once again.
Since then, efforts to resuscitate a countryside abandoned by its farmers during the civil war, where poverty is rampant yet the soil is fertile, have ranged from private programs sponsored by oil giants to the creation of Gesterra, an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture charged with the specific task of developing large-scale agricultural projects.
As the civil war raged throughout the 1990s, Angolans were fed through the efforts of the United Nations’ World Food Program. This intensified after the civil war, between 2002 and 2006, as the newly-peaceful country began to right itself. As Carlos Pinto, head of Gesterra’s board of directors, points out, Angola still imports over 90% of its food.
Consequently, a political decision was made very early on that agriculture would be an important sector of the economy in peacetime Angola, not only to combat hunger but also to diversify economically away from oil and to provide employment for those masses still fleeing the countryside and heading for congested Luanda.
“With the strategy of promoting the non-mineral sectors, agriculture was the logical choice for generating broad-based growth that can boost employment levels, and help sort out the problem of Angola’s massive imports of goods that could be produced locally,” says Mr. Pinto.
“The only product that we are self-sufficient in right now is cassava. However, the country wants to replace all imports, especially those of cereals such as corn, rice and some legumes such as beans and soybeans.”
Moving from subsistence to commercial farming
In order to capitalize on Angola’s competitive advantages in agriculture – fertile soils, plentiful water supply and climatic diversity – efforts throughout the industry have focused on making the move from subsistence to large-scale farming.
ProAgro Angola, a combined USAID-Chevron program in place since 2006, seeks to catalyze the value chain of selected agricultural crops from production to processing to marketing, including support for the financial sector along all points of the value chain.
The agriculture development and finance program, which aims to help the country make the reforms that will lock it onto a path of stability and prosperity, underscores the potential of the Angolan agriculture sector.
Indeed, the USAID website states, “The potential to transform Angola’s subsistence farmers into commercial entrepreneurs is enormous. Angola, in fact, has the resources to become one of the richest agricultural countries in Africa. Prior to independence, Angola was the world's fourth largest exporter of coffee; a competitive exporter of sugarcane, bananas, palm oil and sisal; and self-sufficient in all crops but wheat. Over the long-term, Angola is destined to become an agricultural powerhouse.”
ProAgro Angola comprises four main components, one of which focuses on improving marketing strategies.
Secondly, the program wants to expand access to financial services offered by commercial banks to farmers and other agribusiness enterprises, with the help of a USAID guarantee facility (covering 25% of a $15 million loan portfolio for agribusiness lending at Banco de Fomento Angola).
A third aim is to enhance the production and productivity of selected crops through the provision of technical assistance to improve yields and quality, with particular emphasis on pest management, modern crop husbandry techniques, crop scheduling, soil protection, and irrigation and water management.
Additionally, ProAgro Angola looks at improving processing practices, including technical assistance in sorting and grading, packaging, safe transport of fruits and vegetables, and storage.
Targeting 150,000 tons per year by 2012
Since 2006, Gesterra has made massive inroads in its mission of creating commercial agriculture facilities that will lead in the short term to self-sufficiency, and in the longer term, to export. In some cases, the agency has reached its goal of boosting production from 400 to 4,000 kilograms per hectare.
“After 2002, the country began a program of domestic production promotion and Gesterra, the public company responsible for the development of large-scale agricultural projects, was chosen to head it,” says Mr. Pinto. “This meant administering state resources in the most effective way for the development and maintenance of large-scale agriculture-related projects.”
In 2006, Gesterra developed its first farm, Pungo-Andongo in Malanje province. That year, just 500 hectares were planted for corn production. Today, Pungo-Andongo has 33,000 hectares, produces soybeans and rice, and boasts an annual corn production of 18,000 tons. While Mr. Pinto admits this is still an insignificant figure (considering that Angola currently consumes 2 million tons of corn per year), he is confident that by the end of next year, Gesterra’s total production will be much greater.
“We have now formed technological partnerships with various countries so that Angola, in the short term, will rapidly develop its domestic production, and maybe have an exportable surplus as well. By 2012, we hope to have projects that will produce a cumulative 150,000 tons of products, which would be a big step towards national self-sufficiency,” he comments.
New projects on the way will help the agency reach this goal. Gesterra is now developing another 9,000-hectare agriculture and cattle-breeding farm in Bengo province called Rio Loge, where Mr. Pinto expects to be producing 10 tons of cereals per hectare on the farm’s irrigated fields in the near future, in addition to corn, potatoes, beans and bananas. A third farm will be developed in Ambriz district. Quimbumbe will cover an area of 8,000 hectares and will also produce corn, beans and bananas.
A UNITED WORLD SUPPLEMENT PRODUCED BY:
Saturnino Izquierdo, Regional Director
Amy Selbach, Editorial & Project Director
Gimena Solari, Aleksandra Pancevska, Project Coordinador
Diego Chico and Patricia Temiño, Editorial Analysts