LUANDA – A drought is threatening Angola’s already modest food production, in a setback for efforts to revive once-vibrant farmlands abandoned during decades of war.
The dry season that normally lasts only about three weeks in December has stretched to three months in parts of the southern African country where most regions are used to abundant rainfall almost year-round. The government has promised to help farmers, mostly smallholders producing for their own survival, but most of that aid has yet to materialise.
“Production has collapsed throughout the central and southern regions,” said Belarmino Jelembi, national coordinator of the Association for Rural and Environmental Development. That means a loss of revenue, but also “a threat of famine for families”, he said. During Portuguese colonial times, plantations and family farms made Angola a leading exporter of coffee, bananas and sisal, while growing enough food to meet most of its needs.
Most of the nation’s farms were abandoned during decades of liberation battles and then a bloody civil war that ended only 10 years ago. During the conflict, Angolans fled the countryside for the relative safety of the cities, leaving behind fields littered with landmines. In recent years, some areas have been cleared enough for farming to resume. Government wants to increase domestic food production to ease Angola’s dependence on expensive imports - one of the main factors in the country’s sky-high cost of living that makes life in Luanda more expensive than Tokyo.
Global risk consultancy Maplecroft last year ranked Angola as fifth in the world for unstable food supplies, placing it among troubled nations like Somalia.
The main opposition party Unita faults the government for failing to invest enough in Angola’s farms. Since the end of the war, Africa’s second-largest oil producer has emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
But that wealth hasn’t reached the majority of the population, who still live in poverty. Regional guidelines “recommend spending 10 percent of the national budget on the agricultural sector,” said Unita Secretary General Vitorino Nhany. Government figures show the amount is actually five percent, and Nhany claims the true figure is only 1.2 percent.
The drought could make life even more difficult for Angola’s poor, as production drops for staple crops like cereals, beans and sweet potatoes.