* Plans to diversify economy away from oil
* Vows to protect local farmers from land grab
By Henrique Almeida
LUANDA, March 24 Angola's parliament on
Wednesday approved a new law to regulate the production of
biofuels, opening the way for multi-billion dollar investments
in the sector.
The African nation, which rivals Nigeria as the continent's
top oil producer, hopes the move will help lessen its dependence
on oil and develop a farming sector wrecked by an almost
three-decade long civil war that ended in 2002.
Oil Minister Botelho de Vasconcelos said several foreign
firms were interested in investing in sugar and ethanol
production in Angola and dismissed fears that the land used to
grow biofuel crops would displace small-scale farmers.
"This new law will help us attract foreign investment. This
is a historical step for Angola," said Botelho de Vasconcelos
shortly after the law was approved by parliament. "We need to
diversify our sources of energy."
Last year, Angola's state oil company Sonangol, Brazilian
construction firm Odebrecht and private Angolan group Damer
began planting sugar cane in a 30,000 hectare (74,000-acre) site
in Malange in the country's first ever biofuel project.
With the new legislation, the ethanol produced by the
project can be used in cars. Other sub-Saharan African nations
like South Africa and Mozambique are also ramping up their
The trend has raised fears in rural communities all the way
up to the United Nations that private and foreign ownership of
African farmland could displace farmers and threaten access to
food, water and other resources.
Agriculture Minister Pedro Canga also brushed aside such
fears. He told members of parliament his government would only
allocate marginal land to the production of biofuels while the
more fertile land would be used to develop agriculture.
"There is no incompatibility between food production and
biofuel production," he said, adding his government was working
hard on developing agriculture in Angola to lift millions of
people living in rural areas out of poverty.
Angola was a top coffee, banana and sugarcane exporter
before a 27-year civil war after independence from Portugal in
1975 led to a mass exodus of farmers to the cities.
The country now relies on imported food to satisfy most of
its needs, which has helped drive inflation to close to 14
percent and also contributes to making Luanda one of the world's
most expensive cities for foreigners.
Under the new law, foreign companies which invest in
biofuels must sell to state-owned oil firm Sonangol part of
their biofuels production to satisfy Angola's internal
It also states that foreign companies must provide local
people with medical assistance and access to water and other
basic resources in the land they are using to produce biofuels.
(Editing by James Jukwey)