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July 27, 2009

Angola focuses on coffee

by Louise Redvers

Angola, dependent on its oil and diamond exports, is working to revive its moribund coffee plantations to diversify its economy and revive a farm sector shattered by decades of civil war.

Once the world's fourth-biggest coffee exporter, most of Angola's colonial-era plantations were destroyed during three decades of civil war which followed independence in 1975.

Seven years into peace, the southern African country is now spending millions of dollars reinvigorating its coffee industry.

"Angola's robusta (coffee) bean is the best robusta in the world," said Mayimona Romulo, an engineer from the National Coffee Institute. "We have excellent conditions for growing coffee here in terms of climate and rainfall. As well as robusta varieties, we're starting to grow arabica in the central highlands. This year's harvest has just started and we think it is going to be a good one."

At its height in the 1970s, Angola was producing 228 000 tonnes of coffee from 2 500 large commercial farms and 250 000 smallholders.

By 1985, just 34 state-owned companies produced less than 9 000 tonnes and by 2007 production was down to around 2 000 tonnes. While production fell, global coffee prices were soaring. Last year, robusta prices jumped 45% to 2 650 dollars a tonne. That focused Angola's attention on coffee, now seen as a central plank of the plan to reinvigorate farming.

"Coffee is very important for the future of Angola," said Economy Minister Manuel Nunes Jnr on the sidelines of a farm trade fair. "Coffee and all agro-industry is fundamental to the development of our society because it creates jobs, a lot more than the oil industry does."

Agriculture Minister Pedro Canga was unable to give specific figures but said the government "was determined to create the best conditions for Angola's coffee sector" through a mix of public and private investments.

Among the private investors are BelaNegra, which prides itself on its 100% organic robusta beans.

"There is a lot of potential here. We are in the process of finalising paperwork for some export deals to the Czech Republic, Portugal and Spain, so we hope in the next few months Angolan coffee will be available in these places," Luiz Gonzaga, the firm's commercial manager, told AFP

On a smaller scale, the US government and oil giant Chevron are funding a $6m scheme called Pro-Agro to increase yields and boost sales from banana plantations and coffee smallholders.

News 24

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