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Angola "re-launches" coffee production

afrol News, 15 May - Angola, which at one time was the world's fourth-largest coffee producer, is investing massively to re-launch its decimated coffee industry at a time when low world market prices are slowly increasing. With its current production being less than one tenth of the 1976 record, Angola plans to reach its production levels of the late 1970s within a few years.

The Angolan government has presented a pilot project for coffee production in the municipality of Amboim, in the Cuanza province, which is located just east of the capital, Luanda. The government says it intends "to re-launch the coffee sector in Angola," which at one time was the world's fourth-largest producer.

According to the government's National Agency for Private Investment (ANIP), Luanda authorities now plan "to do everything in their power to ensure the success of the coffee re-launching project, which involves approximately US$ 8.5 million."

The project plans to grow robusta coffee in an area of about 17,000 hectares, in the municipality of Amboim, where the Angolan government projects an annual production of 40,000 tonnes - or about 650,000 bags (of each 60 kg), as the coffee industry measures its harvest.

Currently, coffee production in Amboim totals around 900 tonnes or 15,000 bags per year, with just 1,900 hectares of land given over to its production. The coffee production in the municipality - which has a long tradition of growing the crop - thus currently is minimal compared to its potentials. The Amboin area was heavily victimised by the decades of war ravaging Angola.

In 2005, Angola's total coffee production reached a mere 75,000 bags, which is considered a drop in the ocean compared to Africa's major coffee producers such as Ethiopia (4.50 million bags), Uganda (2.75 million bags) and Kenya (1.0 million bags), according to statistics from the International Coffee Organisation (ICO). World production is now around 120 million bags annually, with Brazil and Columbia being the leading exporters.

Angola's modest 2005 coffee harvest even was a great improvement from the extremely poor results the years before - averaging 20,000 bags annually - indicating that government investments in the sector already are paying off.

The war-ravaged country however still has a very long way to go before it reaches production numbers at independence. In 1975 and 1976, Angola produced almost one million bags of coffee annually. Continued warfare, which in particular devastated rural areas, led to the slow but steady collapse of the industry. By 1985, harvests were at only 189,000 bags - in 2004, numbers even dropped to 15,000 bags.

Angola's "re-launch" of its coffee industry will not be enjoyed by competitors. World market prices for the cash crop have been very low since the onset of the new millennium, causing social crises among growers in large parts of the world. In particular East African farmers have struggled to make ends meet.

This year, world market prices are significantly recovering after a five-year crisis. Ironically, the price recovery is directly connected to the drought in East Africa and the African Horn, reducing crops in that region. Observers disagree on whether the rising coffee prices are signs of a new long-term trend or if they only reflect the East African drought.

Angolan aims to recover its historical position among coffee producers are a bad sign for other countries in several ways. Not only could a large Angolan coffee production influence the market at large, also the price of labour in Angola are a bad omen. Prices paid to growers in Angola per bag have been less than half of what Ugandan growers receive, ICO statistics show. The Angolans therefore effectively compete on prices on the world market.

For rural Angolans, which were deeply impoverished by the long war, even a poorly paying coffee industry means an important economic advance. The Angolan government has estimated that the Amboim coffee project will lift around 4,000 rural families in the region out of poverty, totalling approximately 30,000 people.

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