Angola: drought and commercial cattle farming causing devastating hunger -new report

67% of land now occupied by commercial farmers

Hunger and sickness rife, with some families eating wild leaves to survive

‘Traditional cattle farmers have lost their best grazing land and now watch helplessly as their children and families go to bed on empty stomachs’ – Deporose Muchena

Tens of thousands of pastoral farmers who have been driven off their land to make way for commercial cattle ranches are at huge risk of hunger starvation as drought grips southern Angola, Amnesty International said in a new report published today [15 October].

The report - The end of cattle’s paradise: how diversion of land for ranches eroded food security in the Gambos - includes evidence from research missions, first-person interviews and satellite imagery analysis across the Gambo province in southern Angola. It shows that hunger and starvation are rife among the Vanyaneke and Ovaherero people living in the area, who are struggling to produce food for themselves after communal grazing land, which once mitigated against the impact of drought, was allocated by the government to commercial cattle farmers.

According to the government, there are now 46 commercial livestock farms occupying 2,629km2 of the most fertile land, leaving only 1,299km2 of grazing land for the traditional cattle breeders. This means that 67% of the land is now occupied by commercial farmers.

Amnesty is calling on the Angolan government to immediately provide emergency food assistance to the communities facing hunger, declare a moratorium on land grants, and appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate how 46 commercial farms ended up with two-thirds of the best grazing land in Tunda dos Gambos and Vale de Chimbolela since the end of civil war in 2002.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, said:

“The current drought in Angola has exposed the devastating impact of commercial cattle farming on communities in Gambos.

“Traditional cattle farmers have lost their best grazing land and now watch helplessly as their children and families go to bed on empty stomachs.

“The government has failed to protect the rights of these communities - in particular, their right to food. They have been left to scratch a living from infertile, unproductive land – and now as the drought tightens its grip - they have simply been left with nothing to eat.”

Forced to eat leaves to survive

Pastoralists, for whom milk, cheese, yoghurt and meat production is the main source of their livelihoods, have been left with insufficient and unproductive land for growing food and grazing their cattle.

Families told Amnesty that the situation is now so dire that they had resorted to eating wild leaves. Many said they suffer with sickness and diarrhea and have also developed skin conditions such as scabies due to water scarcity and poor hygienic conditions.

One pastoralist told Amnesty: “There is not enough milk anymore. So, we the grown-ups have given up drinking milk so that the children can still have some. As you can see, we do not look healthy and strong as we used to be. We are skinny and weak.”

Another pastoralist said: “These days many people are becoming very sick because of hunger. Sometimes we go to Chiange to sell firewood so that we can buy some food. There is someone who died here because of hunger.”

Grazing and farming land taken away from communities

Under the country’s constitution, there must be full consultations with affected communities before their land is taken away. However, Amnesty found that land used for centuries as communal grazing land by pastoralists from southern Angola’s Cunene, Huila, and Namibe provinces was taken away from communities without due process. Commercial livestock farmers have occupied the Tunda dos Gambos and Vale de Chimbolela without local communities being given any form of compensation - a clear violation of the country’s law.

Amnesty is calling on the Angolan government to issue reparations to affected communities, and to take immediate steps to address food insecurity in the Gambos province.

Research mission: 

The report is the result of two research missions to the Gambos in February 2018 and March 2019 and interviews with dozens of women and men who have been directly affected by the diversion of land for commercial cattle farming, as well as local civil society groups. Amnesty also analysed satellite images to determine the progressive increase of the land’s use for commercial livestock farming and the resulting shrinking of grazing land for the pastoralists’ livestock at Tunda dos Gambos, between 1990 and 2018.

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