30 June 2009

Most of the smallholder farmers in the village of Cariamamo are women, mostly widows supporting their families by themselves. We visited with them and listened to their stories on 17 June 2009.

Women's microfinance group and agricultural association at Cariamamo

Farming in Huambo requires fertilizer, which must be purchased for cash. Rotary is providing a first round of fertilizer for 25 village associations, but after that, they're on their own.

The solution is microfinance, where small groups of villagers, typically all women, band together to guarantee small loans for each other.

Small loans are made to, and within, "solidarity groups" of about 20 women who meet regularly to make payments, receive training and, typically, guarantee each other's loans

The women in Cariamamo went through three weeks of training, to learn about borrowing money and other financial basics. Then, they each took out a loan of about $275, planted a commercial crop, and repaid the loans in four months, at an interest rate of 2% per month. Every single loan was repaid in full.

Donna Dominguez, president of Cooperative Agrocalenga Caála, the microfinance solidarity group in Calenga. She is using the money she has earned through potato farming financed by the group to send her children to school.

The source of the loans is a microfinance operation sponsored by the European Union, World Vision and a bank controlled by the Angolan government. This World Vision-led program has already established ten community banks serving a total of 500 women. Four more banks are in the formation stage, looking for financing. Two days later, in Calenga, we saw how the microfinance process actually works.

The members of the Calenga microfinance solidarity group, all women, meet regularly to make payments on their loans. The payments are made in cash, in front of everyone.

The women's group in Calenga began with a program very similar to our Rotary project. At first, loans consisted of bags of fertilizer, just as we're doing with 25 other village agricultural associations throughout Huambo province. As we found, though, there's more to building a sustainable commercial farming operation than seed and fertilizer. Basic tools are lacking, transportation is a constant challenge and expertise is needed to fight plant diseases.

Everyone in the solidarity group is guaranteeing everyone else's loan, so all the accounting and other group business is conducted in the open. If there's a problem, everyone knows about it immediately and can pitch in to help fix it.

Meeting those needs requires cash. Banking and other financial services in Huambo are rudimentary, and generally available only to the relatively small wealthy and middle classes. There are no banks in the small villages targeted by Rotary and World Vision.

The answer, in Huambo as in developing countries around the world, is microfinance. The approach World Vision used in Calenga was to recruit a group of women from the local agricultural association to form a microfinance solidarity group. This group has 24 members, which is typical, although solidarity groups can range from ten to forty members.

Fingerprints certify that payments have been made. Technically, microfinance is considered informal lending, but that doesn't mean business is conducted haphazardly. Books are kept and checked at least as rigorously as consumer banks do in developing countries. Tight and transparent accounting helps produce high repayment rates. It also adds to overhead, which is a major reason microfinance interest rates tend to be high.

In this case, a bank controlled by the Angolan government agreed to participate. The bank made small loans, typically a few hundred dollars, to members of the group and charged an interest rate of 2% per month, which is actually low by microfinance standards.

As is common with successful microfinance programs, the Calenga group has gone through several rounds of lending, each round generally higher than the last. At this point, the average loan taken out by a member is $720.

Initially, the government-owned bank put up $1.2 million in capital and World Vision backed the loans with a $120,000 guarantee fund. This financing package was enough to begin the program in 42 villages, representing 4,390 families.

As the Calenga group began borrowing and repaying loans, they built their own guarantee fund. Starting with a 10% contribution in the first round, the women built the fund and their contributions into to 20% of the outstanding loan amounts. Half of that money is set aside to cover bad loans, the other half is used to fund additional loans for non-agricultural purposes.

Members borrow money from the solidarity group's own funds, and use it to start small businesses, which in turn can pay for educating children or for basic necessities. When the group lends its own money, they charge 5% interest per month, which is more typical of microfinance operations. The overhead costs of managing and servicing small loans in rural communities are high.

Evarista Maria Tesou (standing, center), a member of the Calenga microfinance group, took out a micro loan that was financed from the savings of other women in the group. She used the money to start a small business making and selling clothes, paid it back in full, with interest, and continues to grow her business through ongoing micro loans. Jonathan White (left), World Vision Angola operations director, translates.

The risk is not as great as you might think, however. In the bank-funded program, loans are made to members of the agricultural association as well as the solidarity group. The association's membership includes both men and women, and the repayment rate is about 80%. But when the solidarity group lends its own money, it is only to other women, and the repayment rate has been 100% so far.

There are a couple of reasons for the difference. First, women, in Angola and elsewhere in the developing world, tend to be more responsible with money. They will spend it on supporting their households with very basic necessities and, as income grows, on education, health care and home improvements. Men typically spend cash on what are politely called consumables and, in Angola, on a second wife.

Women, most of whom are heads of households and mothers of several children, usually have flawless credit histories within their microfinance solidarity groups

Second, membership in the agricultural association is determined by a number of factors, including traditional social and leadership roles. On the other hand, the members of a microfinance solidarity group decide who can and can't be a member. Because they have to repay bad loans out of their own pockets, members are very particular about who they let in. Because it's a separate entity, affiliated with outside organizations such as World Vision, the members can sustain this high degree of control.

Microfinance is about more than just making small loans. The objective is to offer a full range of financial services to people who would otherwise not have access to the formal economy. Savings accounts, insurance and other consumer financial services are offered by microfinance institutions elsewhere in the world.

Paula Alves, an Angolan microfinance expert working for World Vision, explains the new passbook program, which will open the door to more and better financial services for the women who belong to the Calenga solidary group and several dozen other groups she has helped organize.

Savings accounts are also a part of microfinance programs. Saving money is not generally part of the culture in Angola, but the women in the Cariamamo program have already saved about $50 each. In Calenga, these savings fund small business loans for now. Ultimately, the solidarity group hopes to grow its assets to the point that it can finance capital projects, such as building a potato seed warehouse. It is also introducing passbook accounts, where members pay about $2 for a passbook, then use it to manage their loans and savings accounts themselves, just as someone in California would do at a traditional consumer bank.

At this point, the microcredit groups started by World Vision are associated with what are generally called microfinance institutions, or MFIs. Instead, World Vision is, in effect, mediating between the solidarity groups and the government run bank, while the groups expand their activities on their own initiative. In the future, the program might be integrated into a more typical MFI, which would allow even more services, such as insurance and school finance schemes, to be offered.

The progress made by the women's groups in Cariamamo and Calenga is typical of successful microfinance programs across the developing world. The Grameen Bank, an MFI founded by Mohammed Yunnus in Bangladesh, pioneered many of these concepts, and won the Nobel Peace prize as a result.

The Rotary Foundation will back microfinance projects, and Rotarians from around the world have organized the Rotary Action Group for Microcredit. RAGM was well represented at the recent Rotary International convention in Birmingham, England. Microfinance was cited by many speakers as a key to future world prosperity. Most notably, Jane Goodall took time during her keynote address to the convention to emphasize the effectiveness of microfinance, giving it a place of prominence and importance alongside fighting climate change and living in harmony with the natural world as global priorities.
Four of the twenty-five smallholder associations receiving Rotary seed and fertilizer are located near the village of Cantao 4. When we visted on 18 June 2009, we saw one of these groups planting seed potatoes that are intended to produce even more seed. The process is called seed multiplication, and requires a higher degree of technical skill and resources than producing and selling potatoes for human consumption.

Women working the fields with infants tied to their backs are a very common sight in Angola

One plot had already been planted during the previous season, and was nearly ready for harvest. That plot belonged to the leader farmer for the village, who had gone through World Vision's training program. Using other seed and fertilizer, he had run tests, determined which seed variety and fertilizer application level was optimal, and demonstrated proper cultivation techniques to others in his group.

Gravity-driven irrigation is essential to dry season potato cultivation in Huambo. Only villages located near a year-round source of water -- usually groundwater from a natual spring -- can participate in the Rotary program.

Now, it was time for the rest of the group – 24 smallholders in all – to plant their crops. The ground on the first plot was already prepared, neatly furrowed by smallholders working mostly with sharpened bamboo sticks. There's no money yet for steel hoes or other basic farming implements.

All 24 smallholders work as a team at planting and harvest time. About half the group moves through the plot, applying fertilizer. In the dry season, when the fields are irrigated, fertilizer is applied once. But when they plant in the rainy season, additional applications are sometimes necessary.

The men of the association move through the first 10 meter by 10 meter plot, spreading Rotary fertilizer

Then the rest of the group lays the potato seeds and closes the furrows. Working together, it takes them about half an hour to finish the first plot. Then, they move on the second, and third, an so on until everyone's plot has been planted.

The women follow up, carefully placing the potato seed, and later closing the furrows

Each smallholder recieves 100 kilograms of potato seed and 50 kilograms of fertilzer from Rotary. That's one sack of fertilizer and about four milk crate-sized containers of seed. Logistics are daunting in Huambo, where only major highways are paved and few secondary roads are even properly graded or maintained. World Vision used SUVs – Toyota Land Cruisers, mostly – to bring in the seed and fertilizer. It's not the most efficient way to do it, but sometimes it's the only way available.

There are three limiting factors to development work generally, and to our ongoing joint project in Huambo in particular: transport, trained personnel and resources. The Rotary Club of Luanda (District 9350) and 34 clubs from Rotary District 5230 in California are providing some of the necessary resources. The European Union and World Vision are providing training and a core team of expert staff. Transportation to and from the villages is managed by the associations where they can and by World Vision staff where they can't.

The plots in this village are ten meters by ten meters, something like the size of a tennis court. In other villages, the typical smallholding might be twice as big. Size depends on soil fertility: the more fertile and productive the soil, the smaller the plots and the more people can make a living at farming in a given village. In Cantao 4, the soil is more fertile than usual, so more smallholder associations can be supported.

The first village association in Cantao 4 to receive seed and fertilizer from the Rotary Club of Luanda (D-9350) and clubs from District 5230 in California

For the next few months, each association member tends to his or, more commonly, her plot. Come harvest time, they'll work more as a team again, both for harvesting and marketing the produce. Although Rotary is providing the potato seed for free, the fertilizer is a loan. Half the yield from this first round of planting in Cantao 4 will be paid into a community seed bank. Each smallholder, on average, will produce enough seed to fund two more new farmers in the next planting season. The other half of the crop belongs to each smallholder individually, with most of it sold for cash, but some held back for their own use.

Rotary potato seed and fertilizer means cash crops for sustainable commercial farming

Smallholders who have generated some cash will be able to buy more fertilizer the next time around. Others will have to depend on microfinance projects backed by the Angolan government, the European Union and World Vision. The objective is to make commercial farming sustainable for the 75 village associations (25 in the first round, and 50 more in the second) that Rotary is backing.

27 June 2009

You can't transform traditional village agriculture into sustainable commercial farming just by providing improved seed varieties and fertilizer. Training and testing have to come first.


Rotary is working with several major partners in Huambo. The overall project – which includes water infrastructure, health services, microfinance, education, and agricultural training and market development – is led by World Vision. They've organized a consortium of major donors and government agencies, including the European Union.

Florinda Carneiro (Rotary Club of Luanda, D-9350) and PDG Nina Clancy (RC Visalia County Center, D-5230) make a new friend at the EU/World Vision training center in Dango

World Vision and the EU are training the 25 village agricultural associations that are receiving Rotary seed and fertilizer. They've established a training center and they're working in the villages, helping leaders demonstrate farming techniques and running tests to determine the best potato varieties and fertilizer levels for local conditions.

At Quinze, in the Bailundo municipality on 18 June 2009, we saw the testing program in action. The village association there had set up a series of test plots they are using to decide which, if any, of Rotary's offered potato seed varieties they want to plant, and to see how those varieties respond when different levels of fertilizer are added to their soil.

Test plot for the Romano variety in Quinze shows expected low yield with no fertilizer (right), lush production with maximum fertilizer use (center), and nearly identical results with minimal fertilizer application, leading to an interesting debate

In the first round of testing, the village association planted the Romano variety in three patches: zero, maximum and minimum fertilizer application. With no fertilizer the result was small and uneven plants. However, there appeared to be little difference between yields in the minimum and maximum fertilizers patches.

Eliseu Calito is the lead farmer in Quinze. He went through an earlier training course and is now in charge of running the seed and fertilizer tests. He and his village association have already concluded that they want to use the improved varieties, but the question of how much fertilizer to use is still under investigation.

Eliseu Calito (left), lead farmer in Quinze, and John Yale (right), World Vision country director for Angola, debate field test results

World Vision staff were hoping that Sr. Calito would conclude that minimum fertilizer application was optimal, but he isn't prepared to support that finding yet. Pointing out that the minimum patch was down slope from the maximum patch, he said they haven't ruled out the possibility that fertilizer was washed from one to the other when the field was irrigated.

A second round of testing, using the Fontane variety, is already scheduled. They'll change the layout of the test patches to try to eliminate irrigation effects as a factor. Then they'll decide how much fertilizer they'll actually need to apply.

Kristin Pires (RC Tulare Sunrise, D-5230) with some of the children at Quinze

The "Best Practices" training is done at an EU/World Vision in Dango, which is near the city of Huambo, at the center of Huambo province. About 250 local farmers, nearly all women, were attending when we visited.

Avelina Cihiiula, spokeswoman for the class, describes the training

They are going through the first phase of the course, which is about seed production and storage. Eventually, a second phase will be offered, which will focus on animal husbandry.

A critical factor in producing potato seed is keeping it in a proper storage facility, the training includes proper construction and operational techniques

As part of the training, they've constructed a warehouse, where potatoes intended for seed are kept in diffuse light so buds will develop properly. Potatoes intended for human consumption are kept in the dark. Initially, families will share a central warehouse, but as production grows, each family will build its own.

A budding potato seed, ready to plant

The area around the training facility tells a lot about recent history and current events in Huambo. A former Cuban military base is nearby. Cuba sent troops to Angola during the Cold War to support the MPLA, which was the Marxist group which eventually prevailed after 27 years of fighting.

Former UNITA headquarters in Huambo, which was destroyed by MIGs. The UNITA flag still flies over the building. After finally surrendering in 2002, UNITA became a political party in Angola.

Huambo was ground zero for that conflict. UNITA, which was the group initially backed by the U.S. and later supported by South African troops had its headquarters in Huambo. The city changed hands more than once during the conflict, and still bears the scars of light arms fire and heavier weapons, such as artillery and tanks.

Nowadays, it's the Chinese who have established the heaviest presence. They've built an agricultural school near the EU/World Vision training facility, and are frequently seen working on major construction projects, such as the rail line that will eventually link Huambo to the coast.

Saying goodbye

25 June 2009

The Rotary Club of Luanda (District 9350) and the clubs of District 5230 in California are literally providing seed money for more than 4,000 families in Huambo. They can now begin to produce potatoes on a commercial basis, and lift themselves and their villages out of extreme poverty. The objective is to create a self-sustaining agricultural economy by offering training, technical assistance, access to markets and two essential and basic inputs: seed and fertilizer.

Potatoes are grown and sold in Huambo, but production and quality levels are low. A primary reason is that the local variety of potatoes -- Boa Nova -- works well enough for subsistence farming, but is ill-suited for commercial production. Endemic plant disease has decimated local stocks as well. As a result, most of the harvest is too small for market. In field trials, with no added fertilizer, the local Boa Nova variety yielded only 400 kilograms of marketable potatoes per hectare, compared to 1,890 kilograms per hectare for the improved Romano variety.

Locally grown Romano potato seed from the Chilela warehouse

Another reason for low yields is the lack of fertilizer. We were told many times that fertilizer is gold in Angola. The field trial results tell why: with fertilizer, local variety production increased to 3,190 kg of marketable potatoes per hectare, while the marketable yield of the improved variety jumped to an amazing 9,360 kg per hectare.

Planting the local variety of potato without fertilizer produces poor results

Rotary is providing Romano seed and that of a second improved variety, Fontane. Both varieties have been tested in Huambo, and are open source. In other words, the varieties are not owned by any particular company, and can be re-grown and multiplied freely.

World Vision has selected 25 local agricultural associations to receive it. To qualify, association land had to be suitable for gravity-fed irrigation, members had to complete training in planting, growing and storage techniques, and storage facilities had to be available or built.

A total of 1,350 smallholder farmers were selected from these 25 communities. Each are now receiving 100 kg of the improved seed and 50 kg of fertilizer on average, with harvests expected to begin in October. The seed is provided free, but the fertilizer is technically a loan. Come harvest time, these smallholders will repay the loan by giving half of their crop to their association's seed bank. Of the remaining half, they'll keep some for their own use and sell the rest, generating money that can be used to support their families and buy more fertilizer.

Fertilizer is good as gold, and more needful, in Angola

World Vision purchased the seed and fertilizer locally, through the "Club of Potato Seed Multiplies of Ekunha." These are farmers who were trained in an earlier program in potato seed multiplication techniques. They receive certified seed from Europe, multiply it on a commercial scale on their local farms, and store it in purpose-built warehouses. The Ekunha club was the winning bidder for a seed and fertilizer contract that World Vision advertised competitively in the Huambo area. The club sourced the fertilizer from an Angolan manufacturer on a wholesale basis, and re-sold it to World Vision.

On Wednesday, 17 June 2009, we visited the fertilizer warehouse in Caala, and one of the club's seed storage facilities in Chilela. The fertilizer is neatly stacked in a separate, locked area. It is controlled, distributed and tracked using inventory control procedures required by the European Union and the U.S. government for their aid programs.

Rosalino Neto (RC Luanda, D-9350) reviews fertilizer inventory control with Horacio Sicola, warehouse owner and member of the seed multipliers "club" which was contracted to provide the fertilizer and seed for Rotary's Million Dollar Dream

Rotary purchased 61 metric tons of fertilizer for $87,027. Half was paid up front, and the other half was paid when World Vision accepted delivery at the warehouse. About five tons have already been distributed to smallholders in two project villages. We did not do an item by item hand count, but with the fertilizer stored in 50 kg bags, and the bags stacked, on average, seven high, thirteen across and thirteen deep, the inventory checks out in rough terms.

PDG Nina Clancy and Steve Koobatian (RC Visalia County Center, D-5230), and Steve Blum (RC Monterey Pacific, D-5230) check the fertilizer in the warehouse at Caala

We then moved on to the seed storage facility in Chilela. It is located in the nearby hills, where the climate is a little cooler and better suited to maturing and storing potato seed. It's also a good distance away from any potato farms, to prevent contamination of the seed by mold, disease or other pests. To get there, we had to drive several kilometers over extremely rough roads, crossing a couple of log bridges in the process.

The road to the potato seed storage facility in the hills of Chilela

The seed multiplier club is providing Rotary with 124.4 tons of seed for $155,500. That seed is stored in a total of 4 warehouses, which also contain seed grown for other customers. The warehouse we visited had what appeared to be more than 70 tons of seed all together, of which 47.5 tons are earmarked for Rotary. Unlike the fertilizer, World Vision doesn't accept delivery of the seed until it is actually drawn for distribution to a village association. Half of the money was paid up front to the seed multiplier club, the other half will be paid on completion of the contract.

The leadership of the seed multipliers club tell us how they store potato seed, and show us their stock

The books don't quite balance. World Vision has accounted for the $242,527 spent on seed and fertilizer. The balance of the $250,000 (about $7,500) was apparently eaten up in money transfer costs. The biggest cost was for bank transfer fees. Banks in Angola charge a 1% fee to put money into a dollar account and another 1% to take it out again, which likely accounts for most, if not all, of the difference. The final accounting will detail those charges.

When the next planting season comes around in March 2010, 2,700 more smallholders in these village associations will be selected, and provided with seed for free from their local seed bank. However, they will have to purchase their own fertilizer. At this point, the details of how that's supposed to happen haven't been worked out. The fertilizer that Rotary has purchased will all be used in the current round of planting. One possibility is to access cash loans through a microcredit program that World Vision already runs in several communities.

In total, our Million Dollar Dream project will give 4,050 families a chance to start a self-sustaining commercial farming operation, and begin to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. More than 22,000 people in 25 villages in Huambo province will benefit directly, with tens of thousands more benefiting as their money is spent in a growing local economy.

22 June 2009

The key to making our Million Dollar Dream sustainable is to develop consistent, high value markets for the crops produced by the 25 village associations in the Rotary project.

A flow chart showing the overall plan for developing sustainable commercial agriculture in Huambo (click to enlarge)

The Gates Foundation, ACDI VOCA (another US-based NGO) and World Vision are working in Huambo and in major markets such as Luanda and Benguela to do just that.

The five person leadership council of a village association in Cangala was made up of four men and one woman, all senior members of the village smallholder's association, and included the traditional "king" of the region. High on their list of concerns: access to markets for their produce.

According to World Vision, potatoes sold "gateside" -- at or near a smallholder's patch of land in Huambo province -- might be worth $175 per metric tonne. But transported a few hundred kilometers to Luanda or Benguela on the Atlantic coast, that same tonne will net $500, maybe more.

Smallholders selling potatoes "gateside" at the Chinguar market. No way of grading, weighing or even displaying the produce. These smallholders are selling an improved variety of potato, similar to those in the Rotary program. The follow-on project, led by the Gates Foundation, World Vision and others, provides training in marketing techniques as well as working on improving access to coastal markets.

With good seed and adequate fertilizer (which costs about $375), the typical smallholder might expect to grow 2.5 tonnes of potatoes for market. The math looks like this:

Sold in Huambo: (2.5 tonnes x $175/tonne) - $375 expense = $62.50, x 2 crops/year = $125
Sold in Benguela: (2.5 tonnes x $500/tonne) - $375 expense = $875, x 2 crops/year = $1,750

That's a better than 10 times increase in annual income. On the one hand, it's not knowing if you and your family will survive the year (no exaggeration: life expectancy in Angola is 38 years and 1 in 4 children die before age 5). On the other, it's buying a zinc roof for your house, sending your kids to school, and being able to buy some nutritious food and medicine.

President Manuel Correia (Rotary Club of Luanda, D-9350) discusses Rotary project plans and village association needs with the leadership council in Cangala. President Manuel is from Huambo originally and speaks Umbundu, the local language, fluently.

On Thursday, 18 June 2009, we visited the Chinguar market in Huambo province. It's a vibrant market, with a variety of goods and agricultural produce on offer. But it's still doing business the old way, and the range of goods is relatively small and completely unpredictable.

Unmanaged production and no market price information give buyers the upper hand. When several sellers show up with the same, perishable produce, they either have to take what little they're offered, or go home with nothing at all.

The Chinguar market is due to be completely transformed next year. It's located next to a rail line that's scheduled to be rebuilt and active by 2010. And a refrigerated warehouse has just been completed. With modern storage and transporation technology, local produce can be transported to the coast, and on to Luanda, where four million people are eating food imported from other countries.

Even potatoes quickly degrade under tropical storage conditions. This warehouse, built by an Argentine company and owned privately, will keep perishable crops fresh for transport to distant markets. Refigerated rail cars and even trucks are expected to complete the distribution chain.

Rotary is providing seed and fertilizer which will allow smallholders to grow high quality crops on a consistent, scheduled basis. Others, such as the Gates Foundation and World Vision, are building better access to markets and providing the training smallholders need to maximize the value of that access. Every piece is absolutely essential to making our Million Dollar Dream sustainable. Rotary is literally providing seed money. Combined with market access and expertise provided by our partners in the project, we have more of the pieces needed to turn a one-time contribution into a growing, self-supporting local economy.

So many stories to tell, pictures to show and experiences to share. We spent spent 48 hours in Huambo, spread over three days. We saw the seed and fertilizer project that the Rotary Club of Luanda in District 9350 and 34 clubs from District 5230 in California made possible.

We arrived in Huambo province just before noon on Wednesday, 17 June 2009, after a quick flight from Luanda. Huambo is the second largest city in Angola, located in the central highlands at about 1,800 meters (5,500 feet) of elevation.

We arrive in Huambo. Left to Right: PDG Nina Clancy (RC Visalia County Center, D-5230), WorldVision Rotary liason Kim Lorenz (RC Seattle), Dustin Koobatian, Florinda Carneiro (RC Luanda, D-9350), and Kristin Pires (RC Tulare Sunrise, D-5230).

Our delegation was comprised of six Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Luanda, District 9350 (including John Yale, World Vision's country director in Angola), four Rotarians from three clubs in District 5230 in California, and several World Vision staff members. Kim Lorenz, a member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, is on World Vision's staff and serves full time as their liaison with Rotary.

Our first stop was a meeting with Ex.ª Senhora Lotii Nolika, the vice governor of Huambo province. Her first question was "why only certain communities?" President Manuel explained that potatoes -- the chosen crop for our project -- need water, which means that only villages where gravity-fed irrigation is possible can take part in our current project.

President Manuel Correia and President Elect Manuel de Sousa (RC Luanda, D-9350) brief Ex.ª Senhora Lotii Nolika, vice governor of Huambo Province, on our project.

The vice governor was also concerned about logistics, saying that transportation to Luanda, the primary market for the crop, is difficult. She wanted to know what we're doing about that problem. He explained that others are working on transporation solutions, and we are focused on improving production by improving the quality of the seed. Better seed means higher and more consistent yields, and more predictability in getting a crop to market. Making the crop more predictable also helps ease the transporation problem, because associations and cooperatives can make arrangements well in advance of need.

Right now, the only way to move the produce the 600 kilometers (about 400 miles) to Luanda is by truck. The road is constantly being worked on -- Portuguese and Brazilian companies have made considerable improvements -- but it is still a difficult drive. The real answer should come next year, when railroad service is scheduled to resume between Huambo and the coast.

Dinner back at the hotel. In the foreground are Jonathan White, operations director for World Vision Angola, and Steve Koobatian (RC Visalia County Center, D-5230)

Our next stop was a quick check in at our hotel, and then we went into the field. Those pictures and stories – the real purpose of our trip – will be posted soon.

President Manuel, PDG Nina and President Elect Manuel departing Huambo

We were in Huambo about half a day on Wednesday (17 June 2009) and Friday (19 June 2009), and a full day on Thursday (18 June 2009), going from early morning to well after dark each nights.

Nina, Steve Koobatian and Dustin flew back to Luanda on Friday. They were joined by Florinda Carneiro, PN Arlete de Sousa, PE Manuel de Sousa and John Yale from the Rotary Club of Luanda. President Manuel Correia stayed on in Huambo. He is originally from there and does business there regularly.

Rosalino Neto from the Luanda club, Kristin Pires from RC Tulare Sunrise and Steve Blum, RC Monterey Pacific chose to drive back to Luanda. The trip took about nine hours and went through some spectacular scenery.

The 600 kilometers between Huambo and Luanda has amazing views

The Kwanza River serves Luanda with hydroelectric power, and provides a source of water for drinking, washing, transportation and waste disposal, a common situation in the developing world and the reason Rotary focuses so intently on water projects

John Yale (RC Luanda, D-9350), World Vision country director for Angola, Nina Clancy and Steve Koobatian at the World Vision office in Luanda

Steve K, Kristin and PDG Nina at the Luanda airport, heading home on Saturday, 20 June 2009

21 June 2009

We spent a last, fun night in Luanda, then headed for the airport about 30 hours ago. Long wait there for a quick flight to Joburg, where Kristin Pires stopped over to see friends. She'll be flying out tonight, and then going on to Germany.

Nina Clancy, Steve and Dustin Koobatian and I continued on to London. Fine flight on Virgin Atlantic, and smooth sailing when we hit the ground. Steve and Dustin were met by friends from California at Heathrow, and they'll be staying on in London.

Nina and I took the bus to Birmingham. I jumped off at the National Exhibition Centre, which is where the Rotary International convention is going on right now. Nina continued on to central Birmingham, where Mike is waiting to meet her.

Lots of great stories to tell about Angola, a ton of great pictures and videos. I'll start posting pictures, I hope, tonight (I'm looking for a pub with WiFi -- I wonder if such a thing exists?).

20 June 2009

We leave for the Luanda airport in a few minutes, but I've finally managed a usable Internet connection for a few minutes at least. Pictures and all the stories we have to tell will have to wait for when we get to London tomorrow morning, although time permitting we might be able to post from Johannesburg, when we change planes there this evening.

We'll all well, tummy trouble not withstanding. Kristin Pires and I drove from Huambo to Luanda yesterday -- a great trip through 600 kilometers of spectacular scenery. Nina Clancy, and Steve and Dustin Koobatian flew back, and had some time to do a little shopping.

Our fellow Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Luanda were with us the entire way. They are, of course, taking the lead on implementing the project for Rotary here in District 9350, and they are as excited about it as we are, if not more so. May, many thanks to

President Manuel Correia
President Elect Manuel de Sousa
President Nominate Arlete de Sousa
Rotarian Rosalino Neto
Rotarian Florinda Carneiro

We have to leave early for the airport this morning. It's a 9:00 am check-in for a 2:30 pm flight -- that tells you a lot about some of the challenges of working in and getting around Angola. But the challenges are more than justified by the benefits, and more importantly the results.

Here's a quick recap of our time in Huambo:

Wednesday (17/06/09)

Meeting with Ex.ª Senhora Vice Governor Lotii Nolika.

Visit Demonstration Area for “Best Practices” at Dango - training for Rotary community leaders. It's located next to a new agricultural school, built by the Chinese, who are very active here.

Visit Caala warehouse for Rotary fertilizer. The fertilizer inventory checked out, and we saw how they manage thier inventory controls and distribution process. We also learned there, and later on as well, that fertilzer is gold in Angola.

Meeting with a women's group at Cariamamo – seed banks and rural credit.

Field visit toSr Ambrosio, Treasurer of the Seed Multipliers Club at Chilela - potato seed production and warehouse (Ekunha municipality). This was one one of a couple seed warehouses for the project. Its potato seed, which requires special handling, and it looked good.

Thursday (18/06/09)

Visit potato trading and varieties at the Chinguar market. It's an active and vibrant market, with a variety of goods and agricultural produce on offer. We also saw a modern refridgerated warehouse, next to railroad tracks that are scheduled to become active next year.

Meeting with the Representative of the Institute for Agrarian Development and visit potato planting by the seed bank at Cantão 4. The timing for our trip was perfect, and it was honestly coincidental, but you take your luck where you find it. The Rotary seed and fertilizer distribution is just starting, and we saw one of the 25 local agricultural associations that we're working with begin to plant their field.

Visit seed bank at the community of Cangala. We met with the leadership of another agricultural association that Rotary is working with.

Visit Rotary beneficiary community at “Quinze”, in Bailundo. This association will receive seed and fertilizer in a few weeks. Right now, they're running controlled experiments with the two potato varieties we're distributing, confirming that the varieties work in their soil, determining which one to use, and experimenting with different application levels of fertilizer to determine the optimum amount. It looked to me like it was right out of the Uuniversity of California Agricultural Extension handbook.

Friday (19/06/09)

Visit the Cooperative Agrocalenga Caála – Womens Credit Group – Rotary impact on final beneficiaries. You hear about microcredit and microfinance, but you don't really appreciate it until you see it in action. A "solidarity group" made up of a couple dozen women are taking small loans, building their own "bank", and making more loans. Some of the money borrowed goes to seed and fertilizer, some of it goes to small businesses, like making and selling clothes.

16 June 2009

Great meeting with our companheiros at the Rotary Club of Luanda. It's a small club with a proud history. During the civil war in Angola, and afterwards under a Marxist government when Rotary was effectively banned, a handful of members kept the flame alive by meeting where they could and sharing meals, sometimes with as few as three members in the club.

Rotary Club of Luanda welcomes District 5230 team

Not only are they spearheading the Million Dollar Dream in Huambo, they've organized the National Immunization Day for Rotary's Polio Plus program, which happens to be tomorrow, the day we fly to Huambo.
We're all here at the hotel with John Yale, getting ready to head out for a look around Luanda.

Left to right: John Yale, Seve Blum, Kristin Pires, Steve Koobatian, Dustin Koobatian, Nina Clancy
We just heard that PDG Nina Clancy, PP Steve Koobatian and his son Dustin have landed in Luanda and are making their way to the hotel

15 June 2009

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.