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The changing face of Huíla Province

Article - June 2, 2015

With fertile soils, a favorable climate, and large-scale projects to improve irrigation, Huíla is at the heart of Angola’s agricultural revival. Investments in ports, roads, schools and clinics also form a vital part of the provincial government’s transformation agenda 

In southwestern Angola lies the province of Huíla, which boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. It serves as a natural setting for agriculture and cattle ranching, two of the main industries the province is developing as the basis for sustainable growth.

“The province of Huíla has great potential for agriculture, industry and tourism,” says Governor João Marcelino Typinge. “Developing these areas will help address job creation and help solve the problems of hunger by providing food reserves for the whole country.”

Huíla’s fertile soil and climate ranges make it ideal for growing, and farmers produce a wide variety of crops including strawberries, potato, cotton, grains and wheat. Cereal production in the municipality of Chicomba exceeded expectations achieving record quantities earlier this year. The harvest produced surplus quantities of maize, millet, sorghum, soy, and sweet potatoes.

“We have good arable land,” remarks Mr. Typinge. “What we need is the support of advanced agricultural techniques in order to solve one of the great evils (hunger) that still plagues our country and reduce the need for imports.”

But because the lack of rain in some areas has inhibited agricultural development, the government has launched a dam project that will help replenish water reserves.

The multi-million dollar project announced in September 2014 will support the construction of three hydraulic dams in the municipalities of Gambos, Chibia and Lubango, areas particularly hard hit by drought.

“People complain a lot about the lack of water, but the little rain that falls is wasted,” says Mr. Typinge. “The dams will retain water and offer a definitive solution to the problem.”

The governor goes on to say that improving water supply to the province’s 3 million inhabitants is a critical component of its program for sustainable growth. Outdated systems inherited from the colonial era and the lack of maintenance due to conflict have left urban areas in dire need of adequate water and sanitation. The Lubango Water program is aimed at ensuring water delivery to urban and peripheral areas, by restoring and extending pipelines, creating a home delivery network, installing water meters, and constructing reservoirs. The plan is expected to improve water delivery to 80% of Huíla’s rural areas by 2017.

Additional public works aimed at supporting the region include the newly constructed mini hydroelectric Gangelas Dam located in Chibia. The plant has a capacity to produce 1.2 megawatts of power and consumes 6.5 cubic meters of water per second, relying on the force of the river flow to drive its turbines.

The hydroelectric plant will serve the energy needs of more than 200,000 residents, mainly farmers, in the area.

Entrepreneurs will also see improved access to domestic markets with the rehabilitation of the Namibe Port, in the neighboring province of Namibe.

Businessmen have long complained of the port’s crumbling infrastructure. Fortunately, in recent years the port has been undergoing renovation and modernization. The improvements have helped to expedite the import and export of goods in the region.

Animal husbandry

Farming and cattle ranching are critical to the country’s overall economic strategy of reducing poverty and diversifying its economy to make it less sensitive to fluctuations in the price of oil, which is still the mainstay of the national economy.

The Southern Angolan Cattle Breeders Cooperative was founded in 2004 to develop the livestock industry by providing technical assistance and administrative support to the region’s ranchers. Vaccination programs and new government regulations to improve safety and standards in the industry will help expand beef production and reduce the country’s dependence on pricey imports.

“Huíla has been holding livestock fairs for many years, long before it won its independence,” says Mr. Typinge. “After it gained independence it continued the tradition of breeding traditional and pedigree livestock. We believe we can one day produce meat for the whole country.”

Huíla province is fast becoming a national livestock hub, yet Mr. Typinge says more work is required before inroads can be made into international markets.

“We have signed an agreement with the National Institute of Italy for technical assistance and animal vaccination precisely, so that we can start treating our animals with the best possible techniques,” he explains. “Unfortunately we are still considered an ‘endemic’ area, this means that the foreign community still does not believe in the quality of our cattle. And this is the reason why we are fighting to eliminate the main livestock diseases so that our meat can be exported.”

Still the industry is growing at a brisk pace with tanneries, mills and sausage-making businesses sprouting up to complement livestock production.

“Our population has always raised cattle in the traditional way but a more modern sector is also beginning to arise in territories with large farms throughout the province,” adds the governor.

The federal government is also taking proactive steps to stimulate the industry by making it easier to procure commercial licenses for butchers. The aim is to encourage businesses in the cities to open fresh meat and fish markets, thereby increasing demand for beef products.

Social and road infrastructure projects on the rise

To keep pace with the growing economy, social initiatives to improve the quality of health care and education for the province’s 3 million residents are being implemented. 

The province allocated $400,000 in funding to build five new schools in the capital city of Lubango last year. Each school will house six classrooms, and are expected to serve up to 2,100 students. The schools will include administrative offices, a canteen and storage.

“We are investing in every level of education: primary, secondary, technical vocational, and higher education,” says Mr. Typinge. “In the health field we are investing heavily in health centers in district hospitals and we have managed to expand the network in almost all municipalities.”

Mr. Typinge recently oversaw the construction of a 100-bed medical center in the municipality of Caluquembe, and announced a partnership with Cuba in staffing the facility with personnel who will also assist in training local staff.

The Mandume Ya Ndemufayo University in Lubango will see its first class of medical students graduate this year as part of an ongoing effort to provide better access to health care in Huíla.

Meanwhile, the Polytechnic Independent Institute has been in operation for three years and has been offering a variety of curriculums, including construction and engineering courses to better train students to meet the skill demands of the country’s emerging economy and reduce its dependence on foreign workers.

In a recent speech to a class of 102 graduates with degrees in areas ranging from nursing and psychology to civil engineering and the environment, Mr. Typinge highlighted the province’s diversity and commitment to unity in working toward regional and national goals.

“We, the Huílanos, we have a rich tradition of being promoters of peace and reconciliation. We are a welcoming people and as workers do so with rolled-up sleeves, committed in a selfless manner to the transformation of our province,” he said.

“The Huíla province with a diversity of linguistics, races, and cultures should be preserved and valued. The secret of our victory is the reconciliation of unity in diversity and lies in the respect and appreciation of difference.”

Nearly three decades of civil war has left the country’s road network battered and badly in need of repair and replacement. About $3 million in federal funds are dedicated to various road projects in Huíla, as part of a countrywide road construction project to link the provinces through national and inter-municipal roads with a view toward boosting the social and economic development of the communities.