Update on Rotary's Million Dollar Dream

A year into the project, Rotary and World Vision had so far established 31 irrigation projects and 33 seed banks versus goals of 50 each, and work continues. The initial rounds targeted 1,350 smallholder farming families, with 1,375 actually enrolled and work continuing to reach the ultimate goal of 4,000 families. Annual family income was raised from $250 to $1,600 in just the first year, with the final goal of $3,500 appearing to be achievable. The full, final report submitted to the Rotary Foundation can be downloaded here.

Notes from our first meeting with John Yale, Angola country director for WorldVision...

Map of Angola, with Huambo Province circled

The objective of the program is to develop the economy in Huambo by building self-sustaining enterprises. Right now, those enterprises are small farms, referred to as smallholdings, which support one family on a handful of acres.

Huambo Province

The Rotary Club of Luanda (D-9350) and District 5230 are providing, literally, seed money for the project. The $250,000 we raised is going towards seed and fertilizer, which will be distributed as part of a comprehensive development program. That program includes organizing smallholders into associations, providing agricultural expertise, developing a market for produce and arranging access to credit.

Market access makes the program work, access to credit keeps it self-sustaining. We're providing one piece of a larger project. Another partner in the effort is the Gates Foundation, which is working on developing a market for agricultural produce from Huambo. The capital, Luanda, is eight to twelve hours by truck from Huambo, and there's evidently no reliable source of real-time information about prices and demand for any given commodity there. Most food is imported, the internal agricultural market is very poorly developed.

Supermarkets and restaurants in Luanda are being targeted right now as potential customers for Huambo's produce. In order to make that happen, the smallholders and their associations have to be able to promise a reliable, steady supply. They can't just show up with 12 truckloads of produce at the usual harvest time. They have to be able to supply one truckload a month for an entire year. Or even smaller lots weekly or better. That's one piece of the puzzle to solve.

Another is transportation. There is a rail line that runs from Huambo to the Atlantic coast, and from there up to Luanda. Some traffic is apparently moving on it, but it needs work and, according to Yale, the Angolan government is working on upgrades.

If Huambo smallholders can just get their produce to the coast, and sell it there, they could well succeed in building a sustainable business. Yale said that a smallholder might be able to sell produce at, say, $175 per tonne directly off the farm -- "gateside", as he puts it -- but that same tonne would fetch $500 on the coast.

A typical smallholder might be able to produce 2.5 tonnes in a single harvest. That's worth about $400 gateside, but $1,250 on the coast.

That's a huge difference, a three-old increase in income. And the numbers themselves are critical. In order to produce that 2.5 tonnes, the smallholder needs to start with about $375 worth of seed and fertilizer. $400 of revenue leaves just $25 to support a family until the next harvest, $1,250 puts $850 on the family's table.

Having that money available also allows the family to invest in their home, maybe put on a zinc roof or build a cookstove. Quality of life goes up.

Credit is piece that makes it self-sustaining. If a smallholder can borrow $375 for seed and fertilier, then he or she is assured of being able to plant again. The major government-controlled bank in Angola is beginning to loan seed money directly to smallholders in Humabo, through our joint project. The bank makes the loan, WorldVision guarantees the loan and provides training and other assistance to smallholders and their associations, so that the loans can and will be paid as promised.

Part of that involves developing individual business plans for each smallholder.

Yale also talked about how the Green Revolution, the biotech miracle of the second half of the 20th Century, never happened in Africa. Through better technology, the Green Revolution is credited with vastly increasing agricultural production in both the developed and developing worlds. Countries that were once on the brink of mass starvation are now self-supporting in terms of food, or have even become food exporters. Not so in Africa, according to Yale.

He said that WorldVision has had a lot of success around the world with agricultural technology programs. They've been very successful in boosting production. The market access and agricultural credit side is a work in progress, but it's work that's now being done in partnership with Rotary, the Gates Foundation and others, such as the Angolan Government, Chevron (Angola is a major oil producer), and the U.S. government's AID program.

The Gates Foundation is also focusing particularly on improving agricultural technology adoption, in Angola as well as elsewhere in Africa. Another, larger agricultural technology program is being run in Angola by the Rockefeller foundation. Both are trying to tackle the problem from both the supply and demand side, by developing markets and business acumen along with increasing production.

Yale believes the project in Huambo should be a success. While Angola was a Portuguese colony and before it was wracked by nearly 30 years of civil war, Huambo was a major agicultural producing region. During the war, Huambo was Ground Zero for the fighting, and was devastated. But the history and the natural resources are still there. Critically, Huambo has ample water for irrigation.

Africa in general is a relatively dry continent, with very little in the way of developed, or even developable, water resources. Because of its location in the highlands on the edge of the Congo basin, Huambo is wetter, with plenty of accessible ground water. That ground water is now being tapped to provide reliable, year round irrigation for crops.

We have lots more to see and learn. Yale said we'll be going to the villages where the Rotary seed and fertilizer will be distributed. We'll be learning exactly how our contribution will be put to use in this comprehensive development program, and we'll see the distribution chain from beginning to end. We'll also see some villages and local agricultural associations that are further along in the process.

Several members of the Rotary Club of Luanda will be going to Huambo with us on Wednesday. The president of the club is already there, having made the overland drive today. Tuesday, we'll see some of Luanda and the Worldvision operation here, and tonight we go to the RC Luanda meeting.

Kristin Pires (Rotary Club of Tulare Sunrise) and I are leaving today, flying out of SFO this evening. We'll be meeting Nina and Steve in Luanda next week. Here's our trip plan...


In Huambo
1. See co-op(s) that will distribute and manage Rotary seed and fertilizer
2. Verify Rotary branding and public awareness re Huambo project
3. Verify seed and fertilizer distribution chain
4. See warehouse with seed and fertilizer earmarked for Rotary
5. Establish ongoing communication and reporting process
6. Future needs assessment for second half of project
7. See a smallholding that will be receiving Rotary seed and fertilizer
8. See co-op that has been in operation for a longer time


Itinerary for Steve Blum & Kristin Pires


Tuesday 9 June 2009
United Airlines 930
Depart: 7:17pm San Francisco, CA San Francisco International (SFO)
Arrive: 1:35pm (Wednesday 10 June 2009) London, United Kingdom London Heathrow (LHR)

Wednesday 10 June 2009
Virgin Atlantic 8221, operated by South African Airways -- SA 221.
Depart: 9:00pm London, United Kingdom London Heathrow (LHR)
Arrive: 10:10am (Thursday 11 June 2009) Cape Town, South Africa Cape Town International (CPT)

Monday, 15 June 2009
South African Airways 302
Depart CPT at 06:00
Arrive JNB at 08:00

Monday, 15 June 2009
South African Airways 54
Depart JNB at 09:45
Arrive LAD at 12:25

Saturday, 20 June 2009
South African Airways 55
Depart LAD at 14:10
Arrive JNB at 18:25

Saturday 20 June 2009
Virgin Atlantic 602
Depart: 8:40pm Johannesburg, South Africa Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB)
Arrive: 6:50am (Sunday 21 June 2009) London, United Kingdom London Heathrow (LHR)

Thursday 25 June 2009
United Airlines 93
Depart: 2:10pm London, United Kingdom London Heathrow (LHR)
Arrive: 5:11pm San Francisco, CA San Francisco International (SFO)


Cape Town:
The Village Lodge Portfolio
Tel: +27 (0)21 421 1106
Web: www.thevillagelodge.com
49 Napier Street
De Waterkant
Cape Town
South Africa 8001

Hotel Alvalade
Avenida Comandante Gika
Phone: +244-222-327470
Fax: +244-222-327480

Hotel Roma Ritz
Avenida da Republica
Phone: 244-241-223816/7/8
Fax: 244-241-223820
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