As drought overwhelms parts of southern Angola, many have had to resort to eating lombí – green leaves that grow wild in the bushes. Kalela described how the excessive consumption of these leaves affected her family, saying, “The only thing we eat is lombí… these leaves that you see here. We do not normally eat some of these leaves. Animals usually eat them. When we eat these leaves by themselves without porridge (pap, ugali, shima) or rice we get sick. But now just to survive, we eat them. Lombí causes stomach ache and children get diarrhoea; they cry because they cannot handle it. But there is nothing else to eat. It is so tough on the children and the elderly. That grandmother you saw there is also having stomach pain because of lombí. She gets sick all the time she eats lombí.”
Kalela is just one of many who spoke to Amnesty International about the hunger crisis that has dogged the region. As commercial cattle ranches prosper, tens of thousands of local farmers have been pushed off their land to make way for the bigwigs, thereby creating a vacuum of starvation and poverty. Forced out of their best grazing fields, traditional cattle farmers have been left helpless as their families go hungry daily.
Amnesty International’s report, The end of cattle’s paradise, goes into detail about how land diversion for commercial cattle farmers has ruined food security and violated the right to food among local cattle breeders in the Gambos municipality in southern Angola. In 2002, the government redirected 67% of the land for commercial use, while leaving just 33% to local pastoralists. As a consequence, the pastoralists have lost their grazing reserve; sanctuary pastures; and had their food security eroded. And since they no longer have access to their grazing land, their cattle are hungry, thirsty, and dying.
Known for being a semi-arid and dry region with cyclical droughts, for centuries, the pastoralists remained economically, socially, and culturally resilient with the ability to withstand the impact of the droughts. As beef is the second biggest agricultural product, Angola’s livestock farming is hugely dependent on natural pasture grazing. Pastoralists from all over have used the Gambos as a grazing reserve in which they took refuge in times of prolonged droughts, and in so doing they were more resilient and self-reliant.
David Matsinhe, Lusophone Research Specialist for southern Africa at Amnesty International said, “Someone once said the worst form of death is to be forgotten. These are forgotten places, forgotten people, forgotten communities – kept dead. Here in the countryside, far away from the controls and scrutiny of central authorities, media and civil society in Luanda (the capital), local government officials are feudal lords who enjoy unbridled power, and do and undo as they please. As long as the story of suffering, poverty, misery, and strife in the south of the country remains untold, obscure, and hidden, the problem will continue.”
According to UNICEF, about 2.3 million people are affected by drought, hunger, and starvation in provinces of Cunene, Nambe, and Huila, and nearly 200,000 children have dropped out of school as a result. Teachers have abandoned schools and the schools have closed. And in some parts of the Gambos, parents do not allow their children to go to school anymore for fear they might faint and die on the way.
The government needs to take more responsibility
Matsinhe believes that more “global moral indignation” is needed and that local and international civil society and the media have a responsibility to address this issue.
“In the short term, the government must immediately address the worsening humanitarian crisis in the south through emergency food aid; and the international community must work to design and implement food and nutrition programs,” he added.
“In the long-term, the government and international community must fund the building of water retention and distribution systems in the south. While the region is in drought, it is rich in underground water. The robust and powerful Cunene River traverses the region.
“And finally, the government must declare a moratorium on land granting for commercial ranching in the Gambos; must undertake prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into how 67% of the Gambos grazing land ended up in the hands of commercial ranchers without due process and hold those responsible accountable; must declare the entire Gambos municipality as a special grazing reserve for traditional cattle breeders because this is how the pastoralists have used this area for centuries; and must compensate the pastoralists for all the damages incurred.”