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April 30, 2009

Angola invests in agricultural revival

by Henrique Almeida

Angola's farming sector could finally resolve what its oil and diamond exports have for years failed to do: lift millions of Angolans out of poverty.

Thousands of kilometres of roads have been rebuilt after a civil war that ended in 2002, enabling farmers from banana plantations in the south to coffee producers in the north to bring their products to market on time and at affordable prices. More significant are government plans to invest $1 billion in 2009 in the sector and welcome in U.S. Chiquita Brands International Inc to its banana industry.

Other foreign companies and countries, including China have also said they plan to invest millions of dollars in the war-shattered nation's coffee, sugar, cassava and palm oil industries.

"It's a great solution," said Afonso Pedro Canga, Angola's agricultural minister. "Agriculture is the right bet if we want to boost jobs, fight poverty, hunger and increase the income of our people and the overall wealth of the country."

Angola aims to help an estimated two-thirds of the population who rely on small-scale subsistence-level farming to expand the area of cultivation, increase production and sales.
The move takes place against falling revenues from Angola's two main exports -- oil and diamonds -- as it struggles to bring down an unemployment rate that hovers around 40 percent.

Before the three-decade long war that began soon after independence from Portugal in 1975, fertile Angola was one of Africa's success stories. It was the world's fourth biggest coffee producer and a top exporter of bananas and sugarcane.

Seven years of peace have enabled it to reap billions of dollars from record oil and diamond exports, but the wealth has failed to reach to the majority of the population. An estimated two-thirds of the population who live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

Since Angola still imports over half of the food it consumes, Pedro Canga says he has little doubt that the solution lies in agriculture. "The government sees farming as a top priority that will enable us to solve our food problem," he said. "The country has great potential in terms of land and water resources and it is now rebuilding infrastructure like roads in order to create an environment that is favourable for investments in the farming sector."

"Major food producers have taken note. Chiquita Brands International should soon start growing bananas in Angola's southern province of Benguela, he said. "They will soon start this great project. They will partner with Angolan investors to start this project," said Pedro Canga. "There was a problem with land ownership rights but that has been overcome."

Brazilian building giant Odebrecht has also announced plans to invest in Angola's sugar and ethanol sector.

The Guardian

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