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%.
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)