Policies Affecting Rural Society
Prior to independence, most peasants engaged in subsistence farming and cattle herding, whereas commercial farms and plantations, which produced most of the cash crops, were owned and operated primarily by Portuguese settlers. Although most farmers and herders consumed most of what they produced, those who did market some of their output depended on Portuguese bush traders. A barter system developed through which agricultural produce was exchanged for agricultural supplies and consumer goods from the cities. This entire system collapsed with the sudden departure of the Portuguese farms and bush traders at independence.
The government acted immediately by transforming the abandoned commercial farms into state farms, all of which were large and understaffed. The lack of personnel with managerial and technical skills, the breakdown of machinery, and the unwillingness of peasants to work for wages soon eroded the experiment in nationalization, and by the early 1980s much of the land was appropriated for individual family farming.
The government proceeded cautiously in its dealings with the peasants, recognizing that productivity had to take priority over ideology. Thus, instead of immediately collectivizing land, the government formed farming cooperatives, but this too failed because of the government's inability to replace the function of the Portuguese bush traders, despite the establishment of a barter system managed by two state companies. By the early 1980s, most peasants, having never received from the state any promised goods, returned to subsistence farming and their traditional way of life.
A shift in agricultural policy began in 1984 that may have provided the basis for a fundamental change in rural life in the future. The goal was to restore a flow of farm surplus products to urban areas and reduce dependence on imports. Along with the dissolution of the state farms, the government began setting up agricultural development stations to provide assistance to farmers in the form of technical advice, equipment, and seeds and fertilizer. In 1988 these measures were gradually reversing the decline in agricultural production for the market in the few provinces unaffected by the UNITA insurgency.
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