Category Archives: Angola 2010

Driving through a Baobab Forest

On the road between Huambo and Luanda November 6, 2010

Somewhere between Huambo and Luanda we drove through a baobab forest. I am certain it was after Dondo and the modern busy rest stop.

Rest stop soon to open

Perhaps it was during the sixth hour of the drive. I was mesmerized. Many were scared by termites, all were old. Some had fallen and were being burned for charcoal. All were giants. Once again I forgot to take photos as I was busy just looking.

The scene by this time had changed from the mountains and valleys closer to Huambo.

More people were moving along the road. More cars were heading to Luanda. Sometime we could see the train tracks, or Caminhos de Ferro de Luanda (CFL), built in 1885 that run towards the Democratic Republic of Congo. Only a couple of freight trains a week make the journey between Lunada and Dondo, but the Angolan government is planning to open a weekly passenger service between Luanda and Malange, a town beyond Dondo, in 2011. Dondo was a bit of a shock as everything appeared covered in black soot. The drive through Dondo to reach the other side of town and the Chinese built highway completed in 2005 was slow and I had time to wonder if the soot was from the train, just the dirt of rough living or if there was actually a coal mine somewhere nearby. As far as I know no coal is mined in Dondo much less anywhere in Angola and I have been unable to find out if another type of mine exists in the town. Perhaps the black soot was simply from charcoal production and use. On the other side of town, the highway with its four unmarked lanes, construction barriers, and roadside markets were a clear signal we were heading towards madness in Luanda.

Until this point I had been having a lovely day watching the scenery change, sharing the Portuguese bakery items I had purchased with my fellow travelers, joking, and taking photos from the bouncing front passenger seat of the CNFA truck.

I imagined what Fazenda Marcos must look like, which important MPLA members got to stay in the beautiful guest house located in the mountains before Quibala, and if there were any undeveloped hot springs near Alta Hama as the roadside development that looked soon to open was not so appealing- at least not yet. I wondered out loud if the Ekelelo Association farmers could be brought to the agricultural valleys to visit some of the large scale vegetable farms in the valleys to see what a well-organized rotation and succession plan looked like. I thought about the black soil on Ekelelo Associations land and the red soil just across the way.

I thought about how lucky they were and how I hoped they would be able to protect that soil and keep it fertile as that was by far their greatest assert and gave them a comparative advantage to others growers in the region.

Ekelelo Association's black soil

As we crossed the Kwanza River I spotted a beach and longed to stop and swim.

I wondered what the young men in Quibala who sold us gas would do for money once the new rest stop opened up outside of town. All I knew for sure was that they would never again have a problem writing a receipt. The guy in charge was sharp and a refreshing change from those who will unwilling to take risks and too often said “I can’t”.

I cheered when we passed the Cuca truck as the Huambo-made beer had made many a meal more appetizing. How I wished the large mushrooms for sale along the road had been served in the restaurants in Huambo.  I did not like canned mushrooms before this trip and I still have nothing positive to say about them whatsoever.

After questioning several people about the healthy good-looking dogs I came to the conclusion that while the dogs may slim down by December they are generally well treated and well loved. They are working animals guarding houses and animals, and as I witnessed on the drive, used for hunting when two teenage boys suddenly appeared on an isolated stretch of the road with long sticks, a game sack and their dogs.

At some point during the drive I asked about landmines, but much to my surprise everyone seemed to think they were no longer much of a problem. I made a mental note, however, to follow the advice I was given years ago in Mozambique. If the car breaks down do not step off the road. If you need to pee do it next to the vehicle instead of walking around behind the abandoned house in the nearby field. Since returning home I found a photo on the internet taken in the past few years of landmines recovered along the road between Quibala and Dondo and found an ex-pat group offering training in what to do if caught in a land mine field. According to the Angola Mine Impact Survey from May 2007 eight percent of communities in Angola are still affected by mines and anywhere from 500,000 to 20 million mines were laid during the war. Land mines are quite clearly still a problem.

Before reaching Luanda we stopped in Catete, the birthplace of Agostinho Neto independent Angola’s first president, to stretch. A small town outside of Luanda, there wasn’t much to see except roadside trash and a small statue of Neto. It wasn’t much compared to Neto’s massive Soviet-style mausoleum in Luanda, but I was happy to get out of the car and move around, kick a can and jump and down. It gave me time to reflect on the days drive, and honor the green mountains, the black soil and full rivers, and to wonder just how much those baobab trees had witnessed in their lifetimes; elephants, village life, Portuguese colonialists, horses and the conscripts from West Africa and India brought to build the railroad, war, Cuban soldiers, landmines manufactured in every part of the world, peace, war again, Chinese road workers and now me speeding by in a white Ford pickup hoping to be able to buy Angolan National Team football jersey’s for her niece and nephew somewhere in Luanda.

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No Words. Only Photos from Angola

Huambo and Bailundo Angola October 31- November 3

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So Little Time, So Much to Learn

Bailundo October 26 and 28, 2010

I’ve decided to take it slow and only conduct four training sessions with the Ekelelo or Hope Association. Besides the fact that it is the beginning of the planting season and everyone is busy, there is only so much new information that can be absorbed. I’m hoping that by focusing on less more is remembered and thus used and passed on to others.

working hard with only one hand

I’ll probably never find out if my strategy has worked, but at least I will get to check during the second practical training if the Ekelelo Association has completed their homework and finished the compost pit system and filled the first hole.

I’m also going to do my best to make sure they know their vegetable familes and understand the concept of crop rotation especially for the important Solanaceae Family that includes some of their major crops: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers.

Mulching eggplant

As in Mozambique I’ve heard some complaints about how they don’t have enough money to buy chemical fertilizer and there is no possible way they can grow good vegetables without it. Since they have no money to buy these chemicals anyway it seems like the perfect opportunity to introduce organic growing methods. Some are skeptical but most appear to be enthused. Some already know about compost and manure, but I’ve been unable to determine why they aren’t using these techniques if they know about them.

I’m hoping that by giving them options that only require hard work and organization rather than cash they will adopt them.

the president of the association also works hard

Although the complaints and the “we can’t do that” comments are far less than in Mozambique I know they are there and I’ve tried my best to keep things positive. I’m wishing I had spent some time to locate and scan old photographs of my farm in New Hampshire so I could show them how I spread manure by hand over one hectare using only a wheelbarrow . I can tell them this again and again, but I am sure some have doubts. A picture would be remembered.

So far we’ve had one classroom session and one hands-on training covering topics such as using manure as fertilizer, compost, green manure, mulching, crop rotation, and succession planting.

We’ve pretended to be different vegetable plants and sorted ourselves into families.

We’ve discussed how to estimate distances and measured our hands and feet and found where one meter is on our body so that there are no excuses for why the crop spacing is irregular or completely inaccurate.

Estimating depth

Tomorrow I will present specific crop information on four of the crops they are currently growing- tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage and kale and attempt to introduce new ideas such as small scale machinery options such as rototillers as opposed to tractors, including animals such as chicken or goats in a field rotation (for example pastured poultry),

creating fencing with a nitrogen fixing tree such as Leucaena, and show them pictures of a bamboo bicycle cart they could build as a first step to solve their market transportation issues. As they are only 3.5 kilometers from a main paved road and only 9 kilometers in total to the Bailundo market they should easily be able to get their produce to the customer. Last week we did not have electricity during the classroom session. For tomorrow’s session it will be crucial as I have many pictures to show which I am simply not talented enough to draw. At this point all I can do is keep my fingers crossed for electricity and hope that the things I show them give them new hope and energy.

Collecting compost material


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Something Different…

Huambo October 24, 2010

There is something different happening here in Angola, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. Is it the fat and happy dogs? Is it the multitude of new cars, plethora of motorcycles and lack of overloaded bicycles?

Motorcycle Advertisement

Is it that I haven’t yet been hassled to buy anything and everything? Is it the lack of beggars? Am I crazy for thinking that in general people are better off here? Am I observant or just extremely tired? I’ve had a long trip to get here and this is the first morning I’ve woken up completely refreshed. Is it simply that Angolans drive on the right? Is it that I did not hear any complaints during my first meeting with the agricultural association members in Bailundo?

Is it that during my first trip to the largest regional market on Saturday my simple “Bom Dia” response to stares resulted in the largest smiles ever? Is it that people actually talk about and remember the war, but don’t dwell on it? Is it that there are so many trees left standing in the city?

View of Humabo

close up of bullet holes

Is it that my Portuguese language skills are actually improving and I am feeling more comfortable with my verb tenses and am learning to use some calão (slang)? Whatever it is I’m not exactly sure, but something different is happening here.

Saturday at the Kutatu Market in Chinguary I took no photographs. This market is about one and a half hours from Huambo and located in a region that has traditionally supplied the country with vegetables. Trucks come from as far away as Luanda to buy produce on Fridays and Saturdays. At the time I thought my lack of interests in photographs was because it looked like any other market I had seen in Mozambique and that I simply did not feel like drawing even more attention to myself than I was already receiving. This morning I am certain that it was because I was completely absorbed in observing the differences. If I had the chance to go back and take photos I would take one each of the fat dogs lying in the shade under the ox cart, the small Toyota pickup truck already overloaded with 50 kilo sacks of potatoes with more being loaded on, the black pig being tied up for sale, the wild fruit called Losha

that I purchased and the woman who sold it to me for 10 kz (about $0.10), the young boys pushing wheelbarrows full of items for sale with a mini-mega phone on top of the pile that was playing an advertisement for the products, the Obama T-shirts, and the boy in the superman t-shirt staring at me who grinned and gave me the thumbs-up when I called out “Oi, Superman!”


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On my way to Huambo, Angola

Tonight I’m on may way to Angola for another assignment with CNFA and USAID’s Farmer to Farmer Program. This time I’ll be training farmers in vegetable production techniques. I’m looking forward to actually demonstrating tomato trellising, mulching and crop rotation and teaching about soil health and organic production. Emilio, from CNFA-Mozambique has provided me with some wonderful materials that include plenty of photos and text in Portuguese. These materials will make my job so much easier! I’ll be based in Huambo, to the south west of the capital, Luanda. Huambo, the second largest city in Angola, is over 5,000 feet high so the days will be quite hot and the nights cool.

For those of you who don’t know Angola, like Mozambique, is a former Portuguese colony, gained independence in 1975 and suffered through a civil war. Unlike Mozambique the war lasted ten more years, until 2002. Like Mozambique, Angola was a net exporter of agricultural products prior to independence and civil war. However, these days an entire generation has lost significant knowledge of agricultural production due to the war and the inability to produce during this time.  Yet nearly a third of the population depends on subsistence agricultural for survival. Unlike Mozambique, Angola is the second largest producer of petroleum on the African continent. Diamond mining also plays a significant role in the economy. In fact, these two industries account for nearly all Angolan exports and more than 50 percent of GNP. These industries tend to significantly skew the economy and I’ve been warned not to be shocked by outrageous hotel and restaurant meal pricing.


Angolan Flag


I’m looking forward to seeing a new part of the world, yet being able to build on all I’ve learned in Mozambique over the years. Many people have asked me if Angolan Portuguese is like Mozambican Portuguese and well the answer is “I’ll find out”. While in Mozambique in September I listened to quite of a bit of popular Angolan music while driving along bumpy dusty roads. Hopefully, I’ll get to hear some more in what appears to be a thriving music scene. Look for my next post from Luanda late on Wednesday or early on Thursday.

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