Daily News  :: Southern Africa

Angola to focus on farming
Manuel Muanza
Published: 18-DEC-06

Luanda - Angola, whose once buoyant agriculture sector was devastated by a 27-year civil war, is looking to revive farming production with a major program of government spending and private investment.

Some 200,000 jobs should be created thanks to the input of around $163mn into the farming sector alongside a similar level of investment from the private sector, Prime Minister Fernando Dias dos Santos told MPs last week as he unveiled the government's 2007-08 economic programme.

Much of the money will go to small land-holders which will enable them to invest in machinery and pesticides, according to sources in the agriculture ministry.

"The revival of [agricultural] production is a fundamental factor for the creation of employment...and improvement in living conditions," the government underlined in its programme.

Four years on from the end of the civil war, Angola's economy is booming - thanks mainly to a rapid expansion in oil production which has made the country the second biggest exporter in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria.

However the benefits have largely failed to reach rural areas in a country where some 70 percent of the population earn less than a dollar a day.

The millions of landmines left over from the civil war and devastation to the infrastructure over the last three decades have combined to hamstring previous attempts to revive farming.

While agriculture was the leading export sector prior to Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, it only accounted for 8.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006.

Before the start of the war, Angola was self-sufficient in food, except for wheat, and was one of the world's largest coffee exporters.

That situation was rapidly reversed by the conflict and the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme currently helps feed some 700,000 Angolans, although a cash crisis has led it to announce an end to food aid operations at the end of the year.

In contrast to the collapse of farming, the oil industry now accounts for 57 percent of GDP. Angola, which was last week admitted to the oil cartel OPEC, currently produces 1.4 million barrels per day and is on course to up production to two billion per day by the end of 2007.

The main goal of the government is to bring about a sustainable revival of cereal production and reverse a trend which saw the level of production fall to 626,000 tons in the last year against 881,000 tons in the previous 12-month period.

The government has attributed the slump to a lack of rainfall in 10 farming provinces since December 2005.

"As a result of the lack of rain, production of cereals and vegetables has been affected," said the government's annual report on the farming sector.

But apart from climate considerations, a real turnaround in the performance of the agriculture sector will not be achieved without an accelerated drive to clear the estimated eight million mines which are still dotted across rural areas more than four years after the end of the civil war.

On Friday, Japan announced it was establishing a four million dollar fund to help finance the de-mining programme in a country which spans an area of 1.2 million square kilometres and is home to 15 million people.

According to the director of the United Nations Development Programme in Angola, Gita Welch, "at least 2.2 million Angolans, which represents 16 percent of the population, are still exposed to mines and other explosive ordnance".

To date, only 38 percent of the mined land is thought to have been cleared, the government said in its economic programme.Sapa-AFP

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