Notes from our first meeting with John Yale, Angola country director for WorldVision...

Map of Angola, with Huambo Province circled

The objective of the program is to develop the economy in Huambo by building self-sustaining enterprises. Right now, those enterprises are small farms, referred to as smallholdings, which support one family on a handful of acres.

Huambo Province

The Rotary Club of Luanda (D-9350) and District 5230 are providing, literally, seed money for the project. The $250,000 we raised is going towards seed and fertilizer, which will be distributed as part of a comprehensive development program. That program includes organizing smallholders into associations, providing agricultural expertise, developing a market for produce and arranging access to credit.

Market access makes the program work, access to credit keeps it self-sustaining. We're providing one piece of a larger project. Another partner in the effort is the Gates Foundation, which is working on developing a market for agricultural produce from Huambo. The capital, Luanda, is eight to twelve hours by truck from Huambo, and there's evidently no reliable source of real-time information about prices and demand for any given commodity there. Most food is imported, the internal agricultural market is very poorly developed.

Supermarkets and restaurants in Luanda are being targeted right now as potential customers for Huambo's produce. In order to make that happen, the smallholders and their associations have to be able to promise a reliable, steady supply. They can't just show up with 12 truckloads of produce at the usual harvest time. They have to be able to supply one truckload a month for an entire year. Or even smaller lots weekly or better. That's one piece of the puzzle to solve.

Another is transportation. There is a rail line that runs from Huambo to the Atlantic coast, and from there up to Luanda. Some traffic is apparently moving on it, but it needs work and, according to Yale, the Angolan government is working on upgrades.

If Huambo smallholders can just get their produce to the coast, and sell it there, they could well succeed in building a sustainable business. Yale said that a smallholder might be able to sell produce at, say, $175 per tonne directly off the farm -- "gateside", as he puts it -- but that same tonne would fetch $500 on the coast.

A typical smallholder might be able to produce 2.5 tonnes in a single harvest. That's worth about $400 gateside, but $1,250 on the coast.

That's a huge difference, a three-old increase in income. And the numbers themselves are critical. In order to produce that 2.5 tonnes, the smallholder needs to start with about $375 worth of seed and fertilizer. $400 of revenue leaves just $25 to support a family until the next harvest, $1,250 puts $850 on the family's table.

Having that money available also allows the family to invest in their home, maybe put on a zinc roof or build a cookstove. Quality of life goes up.

Credit is piece that makes it self-sustaining. If a smallholder can borrow $375 for seed and fertilier, then he or she is assured of being able to plant again. The major government-controlled bank in Angola is beginning to loan seed money directly to smallholders in Humabo, through our joint project. The bank makes the loan, WorldVision guarantees the loan and provides training and other assistance to smallholders and their associations, so that the loans can and will be paid as promised.

Part of that involves developing individual business plans for each smallholder.

Yale also talked about how the Green Revolution, the biotech miracle of the second half of the 20th Century, never happened in Africa. Through better technology, the Green Revolution is credited with vastly increasing agricultural production in both the developed and developing worlds. Countries that were once on the brink of mass starvation are now self-supporting in terms of food, or have even become food exporters. Not so in Africa, according to Yale.

He said that WorldVision has had a lot of success around the world with agricultural technology programs. They've been very successful in boosting production. The market access and agricultural credit side is a work in progress, but it's work that's now being done in partnership with Rotary, the Gates Foundation and others, such as the Angolan Government, Chevron (Angola is a major oil producer), and the U.S. government's AID program.

The Gates Foundation is also focusing particularly on improving agricultural technology adoption, in Angola as well as elsewhere in Africa. Another, larger agricultural technology program is being run in Angola by the Rockefeller foundation. Both are trying to tackle the problem from both the supply and demand side, by developing markets and business acumen along with increasing production.

Yale believes the project in Huambo should be a success. While Angola was a Portuguese colony and before it was wracked by nearly 30 years of civil war, Huambo was a major agicultural producing region. During the war, Huambo was Ground Zero for the fighting, and was devastated. But the history and the natural resources are still there. Critically, Huambo has ample water for irrigation.

Africa in general is a relatively dry continent, with very little in the way of developed, or even developable, water resources. Because of its location in the highlands on the edge of the Congo basin, Huambo is wetter, with plenty of accessible ground water. That ground water is now being tapped to provide reliable, year round irrigation for crops.

We have lots more to see and learn. Yale said we'll be going to the villages where the Rotary seed and fertilizer will be distributed. We'll be learning exactly how our contribution will be put to use in this comprehensive development program, and we'll see the distribution chain from beginning to end. We'll also see some villages and local agricultural associations that are further along in the process.

Several members of the Rotary Club of Luanda will be going to Huambo with us on Wednesday. The president of the club is already there, having made the overland drive today. Tuesday, we'll see some of Luanda and the Worldvision operation here, and tonight we go to the RC Luanda meeting.
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