Angola was one the world’s fourth largest coffee producer. In 1975-1976, the country was producing one million bags of coffee annually and exporting the majority of it.
Thirty years of civil war have done extreme damage to the country’s people and economy, however. More than 4 million displaced people have been attempting to return to their communities and much work has been done to restore the livelihoods of rural residents including coffee farming initiatives.
The Famed Angola Robusta Coffee
The country of Angola is renowned for its exceptional Robusta coffee which provides a pleasant, rather neutral taste in the brewed cup. This coffee varietal has long been popular in Portugal and Spain in southern Europe.
This famed quality has become much less consistent in recent years due to the lack of stability in Angola and the various problems affecting Angola coffee farms. Current complaints about quality imperfections of Angola coffee include a distinctly old taste as well as an insufficient moisture content and yellowish color of the coffee bean.
If Angola could improve its coffee production and restore a consistent semblance of quality, there is a ready market for the product to be imported into North America and Europe, though it remains to be seen if rehabilitation of the Angolan origin coffee industry will come to fruition.
The Coffee Industry in Angola – Some Background
The country of Angola is located in southern Africa and borders the Congo, Zambia, Namibia and the South Atlantic Ocean. The size of Angola is about four hundred and eighty thousand square miles, about twice the size of Texas, and the population is about ten million people.
The Angola coffee industry was once dominated by large coffee plantations that produced about seventy percent of the country’s annual coffee crop. These large coffee farms included coffee processing facilities and were primarily managed by Portuguese settlers.
Many of the large coffee plantations of Angola were nationalized after the country achieved independence, and new farm managers lacked the expertise of the previous managers.
At the same time acquiring sufficient labor became a problem and inputs to the coffee (e.g., fertilizer) were in short supply, and consequently the yields of the coffee plants decreased significantly.
When many state Angola coffee farms were privatized in the 1990s, many coffee plantations were subdivided. Farmers had great difficulty rehabilitating the old coffee farms and also were hindered by the lack of security amid continuing civil strife.
Difficulties Farming Coffee in Angola
During the war many coffee farms were abandoned and some to this day remain plagued by land mines and are unattended, and the coffee crops are not harvested.
Many of the old Angola coffee plantations are also plagued by the poor care that has been given to the coffee plants, many of which are very old and may be affected by coffee diseases and pests. Also lacking is a banking system and credit as well as infrastructure to support farmers.
Coffee Industry Rehabilitation Projects in Angola
In March of 2006 the International Coffee Organization assisted in establishing pilot project to improve the country’s coffee industry. The project received funding from the Angola Government as well as the Common Fund for Commodities.
The goal of the project was to provide four thousand displaced families with coffee farming plots that had previously been abandoned. Also provided was assistance with home and school construction as well as clinics.
Transition to Small Farms as Basis of Angolan Coffee Industry
Small farms grow about ninety percent of Angola’s coffee, which is very different than colonial days when large plantations dominated. Farmers typically must sell their coffee crop as dried coffee cherry due to the lack of processing facilities. Everything from the processing to import/expert and roasting is done in other locations, removing jobs for farmers.
Coffee Nursery Established in Angola
Additionally a supplemental coffee plant nursery was established at an Instituto Nacional de Cafe research station, and more than 3 million coffee plant seedlings were cultivated. Extensive training has also been provided in the areas of coffee growing and processing as well as marketing.
While coffee was once Angola’s top export, but it 1985 the country’s coffee production was less than one tenth of what it was in 1973. There were about two thousand and five hundred large commercial coffee farms in Angola under colonial rule and employed about one quarter of a million peasants.
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However fighting began in 1975 and 1976 and the Angola coffee estates were largely abandoned. This included not just the labor force but also the skilled technicians and the owners and managers of the Angola coffee plantations, which then were nationalized.
Just 34 state coffee companies existed in 1985 in Angola and they suffered annual losses due to shortages of skilled management and labor. Eighty-nine hundred tons of coffee were produced in Angola in 1985 and this was largely due to government subsidies.
In 1985 about 4,700 tons of coffee were marketed by the Angolan government from peasant Angolan coffee farmers.
Improvements in Angola’s Coffee Industry
By 2005 the coffee crop harvest in Angola was recovering and averaged about 20,000 bags of coffee. Government investments in the sector were beginning to pay off. The harvest in 2004 was 15,000 bags. The country remains a long way from its pre-1975 coffee production levels.
An emergency program to help revive the Angolan coffee industry began in 1983 and state run coffee farms were put under the control of local companies rather than the National Coffee Company (Empresa Nacional de Cafe-Encafe) with the goal of improving overall efficiency.
Aid for coffee rehabilitation projects was provided by the French Central Board for Economic Cooperation as well as two United Nations organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the WFP (which provided $14.3 million in U.S. dollars and included a five year plan to pay coffee farmers with food instead of local currency.
The government of Angola was also turning over marketing of Angolan coffee to local interests. Still labor remained a significant problems hindering coffee industry recovery in Angola. Also hindering the industry was continued civil strife and insurgent damage to coffee farms as well as continuing degradation of infrastructure and lack of facilities.
Increasing Coffee Production in Angola’s War-Torn Areas
A more recent coffee industry rehabilitation plan involved US$8.5 million to cultivate approximately 17,000 hectares of Robusta coffee in the municipality of Amboim (an area ravaged by decades of war) with the goal of producing 650,000 60-kg bags of coffee (40,000 tons) annually.
Coffee production in Angola in 2005 was 75,000 bags, with their coffees being imported all over North America and Europe. This remains relatively small compared to some other African countries such as Kenya (one million bags), Ethiopia (4.5 million bags) and Uganda (2.75 million bags).
The 2009 coffee harvest in Angola was estimated at 12,000 tons which was a one hundred percent increase from the previous year, according to ANGOP, the country’s official news agency.
Coffee production in Angola is expected to continue to increase with governmental support of farmers assisting the industry. This has included a revitalization program in which the government grants micro-credits to coffee growers.