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World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: Matteo - Angola

Since 2008, recurrent cycles of droughts and floods have affected the southern provinces of Angola. Successive years of drought has meant that most rural communities have lost their stocks of seeds and food, and increased their vulnerability to climate shocks. The 2015-2016 El Niño drought caused the May/June harvest to fail and now it is estimated that 1.25 million people are currently food insecure.

Matteo TONINI has worked for FAO since 2012 and is the Emergency Coordinator in Angola. Previously Matteo worked in the private sector as a farm manager, but it was always his dream to work for FAO and to work closely with local communities to build more sustainable agricultural production systems. We spoke to Matteo about his work helping drought-affected farmers and pastoralists in Angola.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
Currently I coordinate FAO’s emergency projects in Angola. I work in the field, with the community, but I also work at the institutional level.

Can you give an overview of the scope of the El Niño emergency and what you’ve seen on field missions throughout the country?
Drought is affecting six provinces of Angola, four of these are in southern Angola. The situation in the southern municipalities is most worrying. Households have no food reserves or reserves of seeds, while their livestock, are struggling to find water and pasture.

Cunene is the most affected province, with 800 000 people affected, which represents 56% of the affected people. Given the lack of rain, herders have had to move their herds to the east of the municipalities of Gambos and Chibia in Huila Province, and there have been periodical transhumance restrictions along provinces due to the outbreak of the foot and mouth diseases due to increased movements and interaction with game animals. Similarly, the lack of groundwater means that almost all water points are dry and the yields of food crops have been adversely affected resulting in the reduction of sources of livelihood and household income.

Can you describe how El Nino has affected food security in the country?
In the past four years, Cunene, Namibe and Huila provinces have not registered satisfactory rains which has affected the production of the main food crops and pasture for the animals. In many areas of the provinces, pasture is practically nonexistent. As a consequence of the effects of the climate irregularities, the livelihood systems have been seriously affected. Households are short of food reserves, which drastically worsen the hunger and livelihoods scenario, particularly in the rural areas. With the losses of production and major sources of income, households have also lost the ability to acquire basic seeds and agricultural inputs (animal-drawn ploughs) for the resumption of production.

Malnutrition rates are now reaching 14%, leading to a humanitarian crisis due to the El Niño effect. There is a food deficit and livestock, which is the main survival pillar for many families, are dying due to lack of water and pasture. Malnutrition is particularly affecting young women who are breast-feeding. Lack of adequate food to mothers means they can’t breastfeed and this has an impact on the nutritional status of the children.

How is FAO responding to the El Nino emergency?
FAO will be providing seeds to restore food production by the affected pastoralist and agropastoralist communities, especially women and children, who bear the blunt of the food insecurity. This will complement the ongoing food distribution by the Government; It will increase the availability of food for mothers in order meet and to satisfy needs of breastfeeding children. On the other hand the distribution of veterinary medicines and supplements will help to reduce mortality of animals, particularly of cows and goats that provide milk, the main source of daily survival of children.

Our main priority areas of action include:
- distribution of agricultural tools;
- distribution of vegetables seeds
- introducing micro-garden practices;
- construction of drinking troughs for animals; and
- distribution of basic veterinary kits

What motivates you to work in the agriculture and food security sector?
I have always loved the rural area and Africa. And working with communities gives me immense gratification when I see results that change people's lives

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian (FAO) work? i.e., in terms of work achievement in the country where you are, what have you been most proud about?
There are many beautiful moments experienced during the past 14 years in Angola. From 2008-2012 we created a food security project in Namibe. We started irrigated agriculture and we worked with 44 communities to do this. After five years, these communities are now totally independent in terms of humanitarian aid. When I visit these community, I’m overjoyed.

What is it like working in an emergency environment?
Working on emergency projects means working long hours – you are working in the field during the day and working in the office during the night.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
For us the biggest challenge is to incorporate more resilience activities in emergency projects. Many donors do not want it, they want to do simple food assistance, however it’s important that we work with communities to build more resilient agricultural livelilhoods.

What are the biggest challenges facing FAO in the location where you are?
The biggest challenge of the FAO in the southern region of Angola is to mitigate the effects of climate change and the land degradation.