Angolan refugees boost agriculture for camp and their Zambian hosts

News Stories, 22 February 2007

© UNHCR/J.Redden
UNHCR has encouraged Angolan refugees at Mayukwayukwa settlement to become self-sufficient through agriculture, which will make this monthly distribution of food rations unnecessary.

MAYUKWAYUKWA, Zambia, February (UNHCR) Angolans relocated by UNHCR to this refugee settlement are on their way to becoming self-sufficient and even producing surplus crops to help feed the local Zambian population.

A total of 4,971 Angolan refugees opted to move to Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement in western Zambia rather than repatriate with other refugees to Angola when the UN refugee agency and the government of Zambia closed Nangweshi Refugee Camp three months ago.

The move to the more fertile land of Mayukwayukwa, where about 5,000 Angolan refugees were already supporting themselves and selling surplus crops, presented the new arrivals with a possibility of becoming self-sufficient through agriculture.

"Our focus as an agency is to enhance the productive and economic capacity of refugees: enabling them to improve their crop production and increase their incomes so that they are less dependent on humanitarian assistance," said Vedasto Mwesiga, UNHCR's Deputy Representative in Zambia.

Upon arrival in Mayukwayukwa, each refugee family received seeds, farm implements and plots of land to construct houses. Using basic farming methods, the refugees have engaged in intensive agricultural production, planting crops such as maize, cassava, beans, vegetables and sweet potatoes. Most of the maize will be harvested next month.

The crops will be for both domestic consumption and sale to fellow refugees and the host community.

"For us, agriculture will be our main way of survival here. When we arrived, we were given a plot per family, including seeds and hoes," said Antonio Kawanda, a father of four who arrived in Mayukwayukwa in November.

Asked about their self-reliance strategies, refugees placed agriculture top of their list, followed by small-scale trading. Agriculture accounts for about 90 percent of the refugee community's economic life.

The good agricultural prospects this year for the relocated refugees, who now constitute half the population of the settlement, are attributed to plentiful rains and the supply of agricultural inputs and implements by UNHCR and its partners.

However, Augusto Kapaka, a 54-year-old Angolan refugee who has been in Mayukwayukwa for the past 15 years, called on UNHCR to continue giving support to improve agriculture and self-reliance in the camp. "There are years when the farming season has not been very favourable, resulting in low yields. We appeal to UNHCR to continue assisting in such cases," he said.

Rather than being a burden, the refugees of Mayukwayukwa have long been a benefit to Zambia because of their involvement in agriculture. Camps hosting Angolan refugees had some of the most productive agricultural in Zambia, benefiting both refugees and their host communities.

It should be noted that the repatriation of most Angolan refugees since peace was established in their country in 2002 drastically reduced the area under cultivation. The new arrivals at Mayukwayukwa, which has more fertile land than the closed Nangweshi, have helped restore the production lost by repatriation.

UNHCR has now ended its programme of assisted voluntary repatriation for Angolans in Zambia wishing to return home, although refugees can still return on their own. Those remaining are becoming increasingly self-sufficient. Some of the 5,000 previous residents of Mayukwayukwa had ceased to need food rations and the new arrivals will become completely self-sufficient in food as their agricultural production increases over the next two years.

Across Zambia, UNHCR cares for more than 64,000 refugees in four sites: Meheba and Mayukwayukwa settlements in the west, where agriculture is making them self-sufficient; and Mwange and Kala refugee camps in northern Zambia, where a lack of farm land makes food rations necessary.

In addition, UNHCR estimates 5,600 refugees live in urban areas of Zambia and a further 50,000 refugees including 24,000 Angolans and 15,000 Congolese have settled outside the camps among the Zambian population.

By Kelvin Shimo in Mayukwayukwa, Zambia