"Agriculture in Angola is very important, recovery of agriculture is needed quickly to enable vulnerable households to produce their own food and not depend only on general food distribution from WFP [World Food Programme]. We think that the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector will [take] two or three agricultural campaigns," Jean-François Dontaine of FAO in Angola told IRIN.
Since the April 2002 peace agreement, which ended Angola's three decade-long civil war, humanitarian organisations have gained access to hundreds of thousands of malnourished people who have been living in isolated parts of the country.
With Angolan refugees spontaneously returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia and internally displaced people heading to their home areas, over 1.9 million people were relying on WFP food assistance by the end of 2002.
Agricultural assistance programmes would allow many of them to sustain themselves through farming. The government of Angola has estimated that about 1.9 million families will need agricultural assistance this year.
During the last week of February, an agricultural coordination group - composed of representatives from the Angolan Ministry of Agriculture, national and international NGOs, donors and FAO - met for the first time this year to prepare programmes for the 2003/2004 agricultural season.
"By 27 February, a number of donors had already committed themselves to supply funding for agricultural inputs to 172,000 families. Further negotiations are occurring to assist 178,000 more families. Thus 160,000 remain, at this moment, without the promise of agricultural assistance for the agricultural season," an FAO statement noted.
Given that the 2003 Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for Angola was expected to be the last, it was critical that donors provided support to agricultural programmes. "A funding decision by donors needs to be taken during March. This is due to the fact that the average time required for ordering, transporting and distribution is about five to six months since the agricultural season starts in September 2003," FAO added.
Dontaine said that while the 2003 CAP was expected to be the last, "we will have to find others mechanisms to get funds to supply seeds and tools for vulnerable families in the country".
But the regional food security crisis, brought on mainly by drought, would affect agricultural assistance programmes in Angola.
"It will be a challenge to get all the seeds in time for the planting season, due to the crisis in terms of seed availability in the region. It is difficult at this time to avoid seed importation, the capacity to produce good quality seeds is low, FAO and other stakeholders are trying to develop seed multiplication at the community level," Dontaine added.
The agricultural coordination group would meet again in March to identify priority zones for intervention and assess the "required caseload" of beneficiaries for each province.
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