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August 15, 2008

Angola invests 'billions' in agriculture-related infrastructure

Angola, with plentiful water and fertile soils, can re-establish itself as one of the world's richest farming nations as it recovers from a civil war that devastated the sector, the country's prime minister said.

"We have the potential to become one of the world's richest agricultural countries," said Prime Minister Fernando Dias dos Santos on August 14.

Angola was the world's fourth biggest coffee producer and a top exporter of sugarcane, bananas, sisal and cotton before a 27-year civil war on independence from Portugal in 1975 led to a mass exodus of farmers to the cities and halted production.

Dias dos Santos said Angola, which now imports over half of its food, has invested billions of dollars to rebuild roads, energy and water supply networks to revive the industry and link the capital Luanda to the countryside.

"We have been creating infrastructures that are necessary to increase internal production. We are completing roads for the transportation of goods and people and building energy and water supply networks that are also important," he said.

He said growing state and private investment in the sector will make Angola less dependent on oil, which accounts for almost 90 percent of the country's exports.

"We are creating areas of investment in several provinces in the rural areas. Some projects will be financed by the state but there has to be more private investment. I think that in the next two to three years there will be visible changes in production."

Angola is also trying to revive its once prosperous coffee and banana industry, Dias dos Santos said.

"There are old coffee plantations being revived in the centre and south of the country and rising investments in banana plantations like in Benguela, Luanda and Luanda Sul," he said. "Our goal today is not the same as in the 1970s, we have to surpass those goals. The situation is different and the population has increased."

Angola recently surpassed Nigeria as Africa's biggest oil producer and has experienced double-digit growth in both the oil and non-oil sectors. But ordinary Angolans have so far failed to tap into such growth -- almost two-thirds live on less than $2 a day and unemployment hovers around 40 percent. Some see agriculture as the only way to improve the lives of the people amid rising food prices and inflation.

The World Bank recently urged the Angolan government to bolster investment in agriculture and offered $30 million to fund an agricultural project geared toward market production. But in the traditional farming provinces of Benguela, Bie, Huambo and Malange, local farmers still work on small plots of land to grow just enough to feed their families.

Dias dos Santos said efforts were underway to allow big companies to develop Angola's vast agricultural resources.

"We are pushing for more companies to invest in the sector. We will protect the self-sufficient agriculture but we are also going to bet on big companies that introduce new technology," he said.

Angolan farmers cultivate less than 10 percent of an estimated 35 million hectares of arable land due to lack of technology and financing, making Angola one of the most promising agricultural nations.

"With these investments we will surely do better than before," he said.


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