Category Archives: Mozambique 2009

A Month of Farmers, Food and Vegetables in Mozambique

International Farmers’ Day- Chimoio Day 8

Apparently April 17 is International Farmers’ Day. This morning while working on the laptop in the back courtyard I heard singing and drums. I hurried to the front of the house to see what was going on a just caught the end of a small procession passing by the corner along one of the main roads. Margarinho said I would be able to see many more groups in the town plaza during the morning, but when I walked into the center of the town there were no signs of more signing and dancing farmers’ groups. I’m not sure where they went, but perhaps from now on I will celebrate International Farmers’ Day.

The days are passing both slowly and quickly. Yesterday I spent the morning tracking down various agri-dealers and seed companies and interviewing them about their businesses and views on gaps in the horticultural value chain.

Small agro-dealer and local seed company

These talks made it quite clear that laws and regulations are often hampering businesses as is the total lack of locally produced vegetable seed. For example, one agro-dealer imports vegetable seeds from Zimbabwe which are actually produced in Europe and the United States. He thought it would be more cost efficient both for him and the farmers if he purchased bulk seed, imported it from Zimbabwe, and then paid a worker to package it in Mozambique. However, in addition to the normal 2.5% agricultural duty on the seed, he would have to pay a 25% import duty plus a 17% VAT on the empty seed packets. He decided it was best to just import small prepackaged vegetable seed from the company.

prime-seeds

As for food, the work schedule has not left much time for lengthy meals, although I have had the chance to eat Matapa twice. I’m also still searching for the best bakery in town as I have many good memories of good Portuguese-style pastries that are not too sweet. Otherwise the locally produced products I’ve been consuming are mainly drinks- plenty of Vumba bottled water and some Manica beer. The water is from Vumba, or Mist, mountain near the town of Manica,

vumba bottled water

while the beer is from the town of the same name. The bottle says it is for special export, but I keep wondering to where….manica beer

Since writing this post I’ve been able to do my own shopping at market

my-shopping

and have found a delicious Mozambican produced, processed and packaged product- piri piri cashews.

piri-piri-cashews

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Photos from Manica Province

Two kids and a cat enjoying the sunshine on the porch of an old colonial house in Manica.

kids and cat

An soapstone artist’s workshop.

soap stone carvings

A house in Macate, a hilly district near Chimoio.

house_kubtana

Organic Corn

organic corn

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Farm Visits- Chimoio and Manica Days 5 and 6

For two days I’ve been outside of Chimoio visiting farming associations and interviewing farmers in rural Manica Province. On the second day I traveled close to the Zimbabwe boarder, which can be seen at the top of the mountains in the photo below.

zimbabwe-boarder

On the first day I met Pai de Paulino, 78, who has farmed his land since at least 1975.

pae-de-paulino_4oct

His association quarries rocks by hand as an alternative income generating enterprise. The work is hard and most of his children have left the land.

Micro Enterprise: Rock Quarry

Probably the greatest challenge faced by this association is their isolation. The road is in extremely poor condition, thus traffic to and from the main road is nearly non-existent.

road-to-farm

They would like to take produce out to the main road where it could be more easily purchased by wholesalers from Chimoio and Beira. Although they own a few oxen, they do not own a cart. Finally, their isolation also means they lack market price information, putting them at the mercy of the wholesalers who do manage to make it out to their farm. Pai de Paulino, however, is hopeful as he has already seen improvement in his production levels and quality after receiving technical assistance from UCAMA.

While in the field I’ve been hosted by farming associations who operate with technical assistance from UCAMA (Manica Farmers Union).

view-of-work

The associations are not cooperatives, but rather growers who often farm on adjoining parcels of land and work together to have their land legally certified with the government. Sometimes the associations function as loose cooperatives, but I’ve learned not to use that word as it for some nearly a dirty word due to Mozambique’s socialist past. Each association functions a bit differently and is in varies stages of development. At times members purchase inputs together, but rarely do they market their produce jointly. The associations could benefit greatly from forming a true cooperative structure and I find myself struggling not to bring up the topic directly.

elizabeth's lettuce

The primary vegetable crops are tomatoes, lettuce, onions, carrots, cabbage, sweet peppers, cucumbers, okra, beans (both green and dry), greens, and garlic.

onions

During my visits I was given tomatoes, greens, bananas, sugar cane, tangerines, and papaya.

bananas

According to growers, tomatoes are generally the most lucrative crop, despite the fact that the market often faces overproduction and large price fluctuations. I already witnessed many rotting tomatoes in the Beira market and my mind can barely stop spinning with endless possibilities for processed tomato products. A tomato canning factory existed in Chimoio prior to 1975, but just this morning I heard a rumor that it had recently been sold to someone who dismantled all the equipment and took it to Zambia. Home processing is also unknown, but from my own experience I know how easy it is to home dry Roma tomatoes (the most common variety grown here). The problem, of course is that both and if growers and consumers would need to be convinced that it is a good idea. Even Elizabeth, the CNFA Horticultural Value Chain project manager, is skeptical about the taste. I’m hoping one of these days to find an expensive imported package of sun-dried tomatoes from Italy in the local Shoprite from which I can offer some taste test samples.

gift of sugar cane

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Vegetable Markets, Curry, Beer and the Indian Ocean- Beira Day 2

This morning I visited the two main markets in Beira to informally interview sellers in order to begin to grasp how vegetable markets are operating.  What first struck me was the diversity of activities. People are very creative despite their limited resources and lack of infrastructure. Everyone is doing what they can to make money. Many times while farming in New Hampshire I made jokes about running a nickel and dime business, and clearly recall refusing to lower the price of my cucumbers to the $0.29 a grandmother-type declared was the grocery store price. I told her she could buy mine for $0.40 each or 3 for $1.00. From the stories I’ve heard so far, here in Mozambique vegetable markets are operating even closer to the margin.

The first market was primarily a wholesalers market. These wholesalers travel as much as four hours to Manica Province to buy large quantities of vegetables, often renting a car or truck, and then travel four hours back to Beira, the second largest city in Mozambique.  The majority of these sellers sell in large quantities. Others are re-sellers who buy from the wholesalers and often sell only a few feet away from the wholesaler from whom they bought their produce. We spoke with a woman from Zimbabwe who was in Mozambique for one month to change the meticais earned by re-selling vegetables in to US dollars and take that back to Zimbabwe. I wondered about the profitability of this wholesale/re-sell system and how long the selling chain actually went. Sellers also varied widely their marketing approach. Some pick the best produce and make attractive displays and pre-measure small portions so that buyers do not have to purchase an entire kilo of carrots or beans (not much because they could not eat that much but rather because they can not afford to buy so much at one time), others simply display the produce as is. The market was quite chaotic, but not too crowded. No one has an assigned space, although it seemed that there had been some attempt to organize the market by vegetable. There were large quantities of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Eventually we came across some carrots, beans, eggplant, peppers, and ginger. We even found one woman who was reselling garlic purchased from a Chinese shop in town.  The final group of wholesalers purchase sacks of potatoes and onions grown in South Africa and sell them as is. This was the poorest quality produce in the market. Near an entrance we found an actual grower from Manica Province, who was operating what in the US we would call a truck farm. Today he was selling cabbage. He told us he owns and operated 10 hectares, sells in Chimoio and Beira, does not belong to an agricultural association or cooperative, and grows a wide variety or produce. We took his cell number as I’d like to spend more time interviewing him about his operation as we did not expect to find an independent grower at market.

The quality of produce at market varied widely. Some tomatoes were nearly rotting, while others looked acceptable for and American or European Farmers’ Market. This was especially true at the second market where venders paid for permanent stall space. One woman explained that she picked the best produce from the wholesalers market, and had a receipt book which meant that restaurants often purchased from her. She was able to charge 25 to 40% more for her produce.  After some questioning we learned that this receipt book was not government controlled, but rather a book that could be purchased at any stationary store. She just had the combination of knowledge, foresight and education to enter this market.

In the afternoon I enjoyed a relaxing meal of Chamuças de Caranguejo (crab samosas) and Cora de Arroz com Caril de Gamboas (coconut shrimp curry with rice) along with two Mozambican beers (2M) followed by a small espresso. One thing I’ve noticed is how lovely service is here; attentive and pleasant without being overbearing. I’m not sure how to explain the difference from 1990 (perhaps more relaxed and confident) but it is honestly quite amazing. I hope it stays this way as tourism continues to pick up. Although at home I am usually a generous and fair tipper, I often feel that I am empathizing with and supporting some struggling waiter or waitress rather than actually enjoying giving a good tip for a job well done. After eating my meal I stayed to read and write notes for my assignment in Chimoio. This afternoon I had so many new ideas about how to approach the project. I’m not sure if it was the breeze from the Indian Ocean, the delicious food, or the fact that I’m doing what I love, but the ideas would just not stop flowing.

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Impressions of Beira- Day 1

• I saw rice paddies in all shades of green as the plane descended to Beira.
• I remember the trees- acacia, vermelho and acacia amarelho, jacaranda, eucalyptus, luecana, and casuarinas.

the tree outside my hotel window
• I remember the smells- diesel, burnt charcoal, sea salt…
• I remember Portuguese and managed to talk for 1 ½ hours to CNFA’s driver as he showed me around town.
• I remember run down colonial era buildings, although Beira’s seem almost more run down than Maputo’s or Quelimane’s buildings of 19 years ago.
• I remember what it feels like to drive on the left side of the street and am looking right-left-right before I cross a street, but cannot remember to get in the passenger side of cars.
• I don’t remember advertisements. Instead of Freelimo slogans such as “A luta continua” on walls, Mcel advertisements are painted on walls. They also have large billboards advertising their mobile services.
• I don’t remember cell phones and have already had four conversations on the one that has been given to me to use for the next month.
• I don’t remember using computers. My hotel has wireless but am having some problems connecting which should be frustrating but isn’t at all since I am still so surprised that I might be able to use the internet for even a minute.
• I don’t remember large chain grocery stores. I visited one called Shop Rite (yes same name as the chain in the US) this afternoon and mainly found products from South Africa and European countries such as Portugal and Denmark. The produce in this store was of very poor quality.

Produce at large grocery store chain, Beira

Produce at large grocery store chain, Beira

• I remember the taste of the cashew candy that was given to me at the hotel reception desk. I did not remember the packaging so I was surprised by the familiar taste.

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Tree of Life

Before starting my journey later today I want to share this video that says a lot about Mozambique both then and now and for me, personally, why I went there in 1990 to plant trees.   The video is a brief piece describing the work of four artists who work together to create a Tree of Life out of decommissioned weapons left from years of war.  In 2007 I saw the actual sculpture on display at the British Museum.  If you are interested in Mozambican history, art, and people’s approach to life take 4:36 out of your day to watch it.

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Photos from 1990 and 1994

marimba1990

Quelimane 1990

School Near Queimane 1990

REady To Plant 1990

Tree Planting April 1990

Working in the tree nursery 1990

mozambique_1008-copy

mozambique_1012-copy

Polling Station, Cabo Delgado 1994

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Preparing to return

In twelve days I leave for Mozambique to work as a volunteer for Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs Farmer-to-Farmer Program.  I’m excited to see the country after so many years of peace.   In 1994 I was an election monitor for Mozambique’s first multi-party elections and was based in Pemba, Cabo Delgado.  In 1990, I worked on an urban agro-forestry project in Matola Rio just outside of the capital Maputo.  At this time I also traveled to Quelimane and saw some of Zambezia province. mozambique_map_cities2

This time I’ll be based in Sofala and Manica provinces, places I’ve never been.   When I first learned I had been chosen for this assignment I was hoping to track down old friends and colleagues in Maputo and was disappointed that I would not even spend a day there.   However, when I learned that the current average life expectancy is 42 I decided it was just as well that I wouldn’t be able to look for old friends.

Earlier this week I bought a Lonely Planet travel guide to Mozambique.  To me it seems strange, but wonderful that a travel guide even exists!  If I can find some free time I’m hoping to see Gorongosa National Park.  In 1990 it was completely impossible to travel there as RENAMO had its headquarters in the area.  In Chimoio, where I’ll be spending the majority of my assignment,  I’ll be able to see Cabeca do Velho, a large rock formation that looks like an old man.  I had forgotten that in 1994 I brought friends t-shirts featuring a picture of The Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire and everyone mentioned a similar formation in Chimoio.  Unfortunately I will never again see the Old Man in New Hampshire as he fell down in 2003, but I am looking forward to meeting Cabeca do Velho.

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