Fighting the Drought or Learning to Live With It? By Fernando Pacheco (ADRA)

Guest post. This text was written by Fernando Pacheco, and was originally published in Novo Jornal, in the May 23, 2019 edition (republication revised and authorized by the author). Fernando Pacheco is an agronomist and founder of ADRA (Association for Rural Development and Environment), a non-governmental organization that has developed projects in support of rural communities throughout Angola for decades. He is one of the most qualified people to debate the issue of drought and its challenges in the country. The text offers a historical perspective and a reflection on the strategies followed in response to the drought.

Rural lanscape in Huambo. Photo © Ruy Llera Blanes, October 2020.

One of the most cherished aspects of the Faculty of Agronomy where I studied in Huambo, between 1969 and 1974, was the concern of young teachers, almost all Portuguese, to help students, also mostly Portuguese, to get to know the Angolan territory and the particularities of farming and of the rural population of Angola. Study trips to the most agronomically important regions were mandatory.

It was in this condition that I had my first contact with the region called “Complexo do Leite” or “Ordenha” (Milk or Milking Complex), in the South and Southwest of Angola, due to the fact that the breeding of cattle and the extraction of milk was the most important activity in the local economy, livelihood and culture of the inhabitants of the region.

Professor Carlos Portas, who was later Secretary of State for Agrarian Reform in Portugal after the 25th of April revolution (1974), explained on this trip the importance of the region, the need to explore human and environmental conditions without harming the culture of the inhabitants and of the importance of learning how to take advantage of the potential of the soils of the valleys of the Bero and Giraúl rivers, in Namibe, compared to the poverty of the soils of Huambo – which even today represent a myth revealing our ignorance.

It was in the South that the first transport revolution in Angola began, one of the biggest obstacles to its economic growth, with the appearance of ox carts brought by the Boers from the territory that today is Namibia. It is one of the best studied regions in the country, by researchers ranging from Father Carlos Estermann to veterinarian Adriano Gomes – “forgotten” and unused by the Ministry of Agriculture there in Lubango -, and including Júlio Morais, José Correia, Joaquim Santos, Ruy Duarte de Carvalho and also Eduardo Cruz de Carvalho, in addition to studies carried out for many different plans, from the renowned Plan of Cunene in colonial times, to others during the time when Lopo do Nascimento was governor of Huíla province.

Being a semi-arid region with rainfall normally concentrated in two or three months, which does not allow the best growth of herbs and shrubs that serve as pasture for cattle, despite its good quality, this determines that the type of human settlements is very dispersed, almost boiling down to an extended family in the known ehumbo [Note: enclosed household settlement] as there can be no concentration of animals beyond a certain limit. In dry weather, shepherds take their cattle to the evanda zones, that is, the banks of rivers that are flooded with rain and where the pasture rises and grows quickly when the river returns to its normal course. These transhumances, that is, the mobility of animals, which in years without rain become more necessary and more distant, appear as one of the very few solutions whom the preservation of their livestock is almost everything in life.

Ehumbo located in Gambos (Huíla). Photo © Ruy Llera Blanes, November 2020.

What scholars in the region have shown is that the increase in farms, starting in the 1960s, with a modern cattle breeding system that makes use of wire parking, preventing such mobility, has introduced a powerful disturbance factor, affecting the amount of pasture available and forcing more extended mobility. The clearing of extensive areas of the farms to allow the growth of the grasses only added to this disturbance.

In view of these difficulties, as in the old Cunene Plan, the Angolan government seeks solutions “Soviet style” solutions, that is, using large engineering projects, as I have criticized so much because they generally imply risks of corruption, management problems and effects negative environmental effects.

These options are more difficult to understand in a situation of enormous crisis with the size of the debt and the lack of foreign exchange, and also with the institutional weaknesses in terms of human resources, the lack of understanding of regulations and procedures and the devastating effects of corruption that has taken over the country.

Today there are experiences in southern Huíla, inspired by projects in the Brazilian Northeast, which indicate cheaper solutions, easier to implement and manage and more in line with the ongoing decentralization processes in the country. When preparing the implementation of municipalities, this would make perfect sense, as it allows local development and job creation, and a greater inclusion of the population and consequent sustainability. Such solutions are more in line with the idea put forward by President João Lourenço to “work with the people and not for the people”. Especially because the solutions that will absorb the largest share of the 200 million dollars allocated by the President will only favor a very small part of these people.

President João Lourenço has been ill-advised in his options in the field of economics and social protection. He remains very popular, but must think about the effects caused by decisions that cast doubt on many of his supporters, such as the construction of a new political-administrative center when the city of Luanda is full of unfinished buildings that could solve more urgent problems; the poorly explained cases of the purchase of airplanes and the tender for the fourth telecommunications operator; the nominations for important positions of people whose recent past is not to be commended and who puts them on the same level as the marimbondos, “hornets” [Note: popular reference to parasitic politicians in Angola’s elite] that we intend to fight, among others. The President must take into account the old saying that “It is not enough for Caesar’s wife to be honest, she must appear to be honest too”. And to think of a phrase I heard a long time ago from one of his supporters: “the President has done good things, but he spends too much money on things that may be important, they may be necessary, but they are certainly not a priority”.

PS. The proposal to revise the OGE [Note: Annual State Budget] for 2019 presents a significant cut in expenditure for Agriculture. Not only in the amount, but also in the percentage in relation to the total amount of the expenditure. The attention to agriculture, again, seems to be one in theory and the other in practice.

Original text available at Novo Jornal’s website.

Humpata (Huíla). Photo © Ruy Llera Blanes, October 2020.

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