Friday, December 13, 2013

Drought Contributes to Cholera Outbreak in Southern Angola

DECEMBER 5, 2013 (IRIN) A protracted drought followed by the onset of the rainy season in southern Angola has triggered a sharp increase in cholera cases, mainly concentrated in Cunene province, around the provincial capital Ondjiva, where over 1,000 infections and 48 deaths were recorded during a two-week period in November, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
Cholera is a highly contagious disease associated with poor sanitation and access to safe drinking water. It is endemic in Angola, where nearly half of the population live in conditions conducive to the spread of the illness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  A year-long outbreak that started in the slums of the capital, Luanda, in February 2006 and spread to 16 out of 18 provinces, resulted in over 80,000 reported cases and 3,000 deaths.
So far, the current outbreak has remained almost entirely confined to Cunene, although neighboring Huila province has also recorded some cases. Since January 2013, the country as a whole has recorded just over 5,600 cholera cases and 190 deaths, about 70 percent of them in Cunene.
A drought that started at the end of 2011 is now affecting over 1.8 million people, with five provinces in the south worst affected, among them Cunene. Acute malnutrition rates as high as 25 percent in areas experiencing food shortages due to the drought have left children highly susceptible to waterborne illnesses including cholera, notes a November statement from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Protecting Angola's Cherished National Park

The Angolan government has endorsed a $10 million project to further protect the 1.5 million hectare Iona National Park, a conservation area shared with neighboring Namibia.

The Park, (Parque Nacional do Iona) is situated in the south-western corner of the Namibe province, about 200 km from the city of Namibe.  Iona National Park was proclaimed a national park in 1937, and it covers an area of 15,150 km2, or 5,850 square miles, making it the largest national park in the country.  Iona National Park has natural borders - the Atlantic Ocean in the west, perennial Cunene River in the south with the Curoca River forming both northern and eastern borders.  

Before the Angolan civil war, Iona National Park was known as an animal paradise, rich in big game. Unfortunately, illegal hunting and poaching, as well as the eradication of infrastructure have caused considerable damage to Iona, as well as most other national parks in Angola.  The wildlife in all the parks have been almost completely wiped out after the devastation wrought by decades of war.  However, efforts are now underway to replace most of the lost wildlife. The “Big Five” of Iona National Park now include: Springbok (Gazelle), Kudu, Ostrich, Oryx and (very rare) cheetah. Other animals in the park include mountain zebra, impala, klipspringer, and the quelengue.  Although the landscape is empty, many animals (especially Springbok) can still be found inside and outside the park.

Iona National Park is also home to over 15,000 indigenous peoples such as the Mucubal and Himba, as well as many Kimbundu groups. Most are subsistent farmers and herders who remain isolated and oblivious to the outside world.  The indigenous people of this region have been studied by anthropologists, who say they are the most culturally intact on the African continent.

In the new agreement, the Ministry of the Environment will work with the Global Environment Facility, the European Union and the UN Development Program to monitor the size and dynamics of plants and animals and ward off the continual threats, such as poaching. (Sonangol Universo Magazine)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stirring Initiatives: Angola's Coffee

Thanks to a number of new initiatives, there is a resurrection in Angola's fortunes in the world's most valuable farm commodity, coffee.

Angola was formerly the industry's fourth-largest grower, but its coffee output plummeted in the 1980s and 1990s as farmers abandoned the land to seek the safety of towns because of the civil war. The country produced a quarter of a million tons of coffee beans at its peak in 1973, but it sank to a low of point of just 3000 tons in 1992.

A farming project in the Porto Amboim region of Kwanza Sul province is in the vanguard of efforts to reinstate Angola's past coffee glories, but this time with added incentive of ensuring better prices and conditions for the producers.   The project has the financial support of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the Angola and US governments and sales assistance from US Aid and the Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA).

The Porto Amboim project started in 2008 when the government and NGOs encouraged 4,917 families to farm 8,000 hectares of neglected plantations covering three types of farming areas; low-lying savannah, cool forested highlands and an area of transition between the two.

The lower areas could grow the more resilient yet less valuable coffee variety, Robusta, while the highlands were suitable for the more sought-after and thus pricier Arabica variety.  Arabica is milder tasting, while Robusta gives higher yields and is used more in instant coffee and in stronger roasts.

Each family was given $500 in credit, around two hectares of land and 2,000 coffee plants in plastic bags from a stock of 10 million.  The families had to nurture these young plants in home-made nurseries and then replant the mature bushes on their plots.  So that the families could survive during this process, they also received help to farm a mix of subsistence crops such as bananas and cassava.
Replanting of the coffee saplings had an excellent success rate of 87-90%.

Coffee production rose steadily thanks to local model farms which served as examples of best practice.  Here growers were taught the importance and benefits of pruning and adding organic fertilizer made from coffee husks to add yields.  In order to improve coffee flavor, farmers learned to use simple, raised drying tables to reduce the earthy taste of the coffee and thus gain higher prices.

Because the previously abandoned coffee plantations had not used mineral fertilizers nor industrial insecticides for over 40 years, the Angolan coffee farms had the right to claim in their marketing that they had been organic for longer than most.

The Porto Amboim project also addressed the wider development issues of education and healthcare. Project workers and coffee-growers in areas with difficult access have communally constructed 17 classrooms from local materials to serve almost 1,700 pupils.   Community health centers and small-scale infrastructures such as bridges have been developed with the government providing teachers and health workers.

Over the next five years, Porto Amboim farmers are expected to produce 6,000 tons a year, double the low point for the whole country in 1992.  Amboim coffee can be the reference point for all of Angolan coffee and in fact the high quality of the Amboim's Robusta variety is very similar in taste to the region's much higher-valued Arabica variety.  (Sonangol Universo Magazine)