October 8, 2012 · 4:13 pm
Innovation. It was not covered in any of the training seminars, but it is a good way to describe the general mentality of the Belas Association- innovators. From my first day I can see that it exists in this group of farmers. As I tour the fields of Associacao 7 de Abril 1 I notice a smaller plot of beans.
I ask if it is also contracted to Vanduzi Company. Ricardo tells me those are his leftover beans. He is experimenting and trying to save seed because the only source of green bean seed comes from Vanduzi Company. Local seed suppliers do not carry it. I hate to ask, but I do- “Is this hybrid seed?” Ricardo looks confused. Perhaps it is my pronunciation of hybrid. One of the CARITAS staff members accompanying me for the day repeats the question. Someone else repeats it in Shona. “Yes it is.” I inhale and exhale and decide to give a straight forward response. “You know that hybrid seed won’t reproduce true to form.” Silence. A nod. Does it mean he knew that or is waiting for more?
“If you plant the seed from this who knows what kind of bean you will get and, well, it is also planted right next to your dry beans which could also confuse things due to cross-pollination.” He seems to remember hearing this some place before, but masks his disappointment. I say, “Well you have a great experiment going. Perhaps you will develop a new breed of bean that will be perfect for the Belas District. It will be called Ricardo I.” He laughs and says “I might be able to make a lot of money from that.” Determination. Next time I will bring Ricardo at least ten varieties of green beans for his experiment. Maybe some yellow and purple ones as well.
The group turns out to be great actors. I shouldn’t have been surprised given that I immediately picked up on their willingness to innovate. Turns out they also improvise. I give a general scenario for a sale.
One person plays the buyer, the other the seller. The goal is for the seller to close the deal to their advantage. Even when the role play takes place in Shona I understand what is going on. Rafael tries to swindle me at my market stand. He talks to me in a loud rude way. I ask him “senor why are you to talking to me in that loud voice.” At the end of the scene he claims he has no money and actually tries to walk off with the bags full of vegetables. I get loud applause for chasing him down and taking back the vegetables.
We take turns and change the scenarios. A whole sale buyer from the city calls Simao on his cell phone to buy cabbage. A buyer shows up at Lucia’s farm demanding a good deal. I play a lost city person who shows up at Ricardo’s farm and wants to buy lots of vegetables. We switch back and forth between Shona and Portuguese depending on who is playing the roles.
Many times Rafael volunteers to be the buyer. We start calling him “the swindler”. I learn a lot from him. Much of what he improvises is likely reality. “You need to lower your price because I arrived here late in the day and now it will be difficult for me to get a ride back to the city. I will have to wait all night”, he tells one woman playing the seller. At first she caves in until we all begin to shout at her “tell him that’s not your problem if he made a bad plan!” I love this afternoon. We laugh. We talk. We discuss. And in the end we dance, improvising without music.
October 5, 2012 · 10:15 pm
Antonio remembers the extraordinary multi-lingual street kid, Benedito, who lived in Quelimane in 1990. Sergio knows Abilio. The seed salesman lived in the same student pousada in Maputo that I did. This trip I even meet the daughter of the former ambassador to the US to whom I once wrote a letter and actually received a reply. But Elliot, the chef at the lodge where I am staying has no idea the Belas Association farmers exist and travels to Chimoio to buy his cabbage. He was shocked when I told him the cabbage he was buying came from nearby- that the guys he was buying from traveled out here to purchase the cabbage he bought in the Chimoio markets.
During the farmer trainings we brainstorm places for direct market sales. We talk about cutting out the middleman. We discuss how to overcome lack of transport to and from market. They love the Madison farmers’ market video. Ferai says he is ready to jump up and start a market like that right now.
One of the woman comments how much movement there is and if I ever get to sit down. Ricardo notices details like the bags in my back pocket and the fact the vegetables are transported in a refrigerated truck. Rafael, who turns out to be the star of the role-playing, likes that I am laughing with the customers. All of them even like that all the customers only walk in one direction around the capitol square.
But somehow after role playing various direct market sales scenarios an animated discussion begins. I’m lost. It’s all in Shona. I finally interrupt and ask for a translation. It turns out they are listing all the things that won’t work with every direct sales outlet on our list. Too small, too far, not enough people live or work there, we don’t know anyone there. I try to explain this is about creating a new future- that it is in fact more than that- it is about controlling their future. Collin, who is accompanying us for the day, tells the story of the women we gave a ride to in the morning. They were tobacco traders from Zimbabwe. One was carrying an infant. The both carried large sacks of dried tobacco scavenged from the harvest leftovers. Twice a month they crossed the border to Mozambique and traveled to the Belas District to trade the tobacco for vegetables. They were determined to change their life. They knew they had to do something and just could not sit back and discuss all the reasons they could not do something. If they can take risks, why can’t you? It had an impact. Heads nodded. The conversation then turned to how do we solve our transport problem? When we travel to the cities to sell how do we make sure we do not get ripped off? Who can we trust? How can direct sales benefit us? Do other more progressive wholesalers exist who would be willing to buy a wider range of product? Do we have to give up our Vanduzi contracts and sales to the wholesale buyers? Let’s make signs for the highway so that customers know we exist.
Diversification. Hope. A new future. I feel the connections being made in their minds. I see eyes light up.
I’m not a person considered a super-connector by Facebook or LinkedIn standards, but I remember things and I ask a lot of questions. I remember faces. I forget the names of streets, but I can still find my way around Maputo and guide the driver to my old student lodgings along the railroad tracks. I listen carefully. And here in Mozambique I talk a lot. I hope one day that my endless story-telling, questioning and listening leads me to discover Benedito’s story after he was taken from the Quelimane streets and adopted by a well-off man in Maputo. Does he still speak seven languages? Has he had a good life? I hope his eyes are still shinning the way I remember them. I hope he is still open and friendly to everyone. I hope he now speaks ten languages and has a PhD. I hope the farmers try something new.
October 4, 2012 · 4:59 pm
Most nights I am the only guest. I sit in an empty dining room. Every night the menu is brought to my table, but it only takes me one night to learn exactly what is available and what is not. I really want some soup. How hard is it to make soup? One night I succeed in ordering a cheese sandwich. It is not on the menu, but it exists in the computer system. I am charged 80 MT, or about $3. With a beer and a cabbage salad I feel satisfied.
Guests come and go- arriving before dusk and departing shortly after dawn. One night a lively German tour group arrives followed by an English family. The place is hopping. The Germans are on a 21-day driving tour beginning in Zimbabwe and traveling through Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Their trip will end in Kruger National Park in South Africa. I wonder if they ever have time to get off the bus. One of their tour guides tries to pick me up. It’s fun to have people to talk with, but I wish them good luck in three languages and say good night. One night I sit at the bar and tell the bartender that it is part of his job to talk with the guests. He laughs and plays along as all good bartenders do. When my food arrives, however, I am sent to my table. Another night I help out some fellow travelers by giving them 5 MT. They are extremely grateful and thank me, but then head to their own table. The next morning as I am waiting to be picked up one of them approaches and begins to chat. He is surprised that I’m from the United States and suddenly wants to talk about the upcoming elections. He regrets not talking with me the night before.
Most nights I fall asleep under my mosquito net with a book. Unfamiliar animal calls cause me to stir. I wake up just before dawn to familiar rooster calls from across the valley. I water the plants outside my house, sit on the front stoop and watch the mist rise. One morning someone is plowing along the river.
I ask the lodge managers when the water will rise and if he has a chance of getting a harvest. No chance I’m told. The water will begin to rise in October and by late November his fields will be completely covered. It makes great fishing for the tourists. Apparently the bass hang out in the flooded corn and and sweet potatoes getting fat and lazy. Yet at this time I year the local fisherman need to work and herd fish into their nets by slapping the water.
At 6 I walk to the main lodge to see if I can find my breakfast. Some days I’m immediately successful, others I’m not. I’ve bought yogurt, granola, cheese and juice which is locked away in the kitchen every night as white toast and marmalade doesn’t last when I won’t eat again until 7 or 8 at night.
I’ve given up asking for a pot to make cowboy coffee and instead drink the provided Ricoffee (instant coffee made with Chicory). The first day I was served sweetened condensed milk. I asked for fresh and it’s been out every morning since. I’m thankful. Sometimes I have to wait for someone to bring the key to open the kitchen. While waiting I drink my coffee, watch the bartender measure and count his stock. Once I tease him and say I know the count- one beer less than yesterday. No one else was here. He laughs. I talk to Rambo, the avocado-eating-scavenging young lodge cat. Sometimes I let him sit on my lap while I wait. I have to watch him as he is quick and will stick his entire head in my juice (or beer) before I can react. Sometimes I’m lucky and there is no waiting my plastic bags containing my special breakfast items are waiting for me at “my” table.
After breakfast I walk back to my “house” and prepare for the day. “Bom dia, tudo bem?”, I call, hoping for a conversation, but only getting a friendly greeting in return. I do the same when I return in the evening. Eventually my efforts pay off. I meet the head chef and ask him if he could possibly prepare a soup for me on the weekend. We speak in English. He is from Zimbabwe. I finally get my soup.
September 24, 2012 · 7:16 am
One thing the farmers (and market sellers) haven’t seemed to learn is market diversification. From my first day I heard about cabbage, saw cabbage and ate cabbage. Cabbage is spoiling in the Manica and Chimoio markets yet these market sellers say they could sell more. I found it so depressing I didn’t even take a photo of it. Beautiful cabbage is sitting in some farmer’s fields yet no one buys it. Yet they say they want to buy more and grow more. How come?
The farmers say they are able to make a good profit growing cabbage. This was confirmed by Bella, a PhD student from Zimbabwe who has been working with the Belas Associations and conducting some case studies. But I’ve begun to wonder. What about cucumbers, onions peppers, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach or potatoes? These twenty-something potato sellers in the 25 Junho Market in Chimio told me most of the potatoes they bought and sold were from South Africa.
They were unable to find a reliable local source for good quality potatoes. When they say good quality they are primarily talking about size, but they also value red potatoes which often are not found on the South African market. These guys also said they wanted to sell more then potatoes (unlike the cabbage sellers) and could sell almost anything. I believe them.
All they need is a local source. At least this case the young are moving faster than the older generations.
I’ve seen few new agricultural products for sale. In Manica I saw ginger, although I’m told it as been available for several years, mustard greens and broccoli rab and a few sad looking eggplant in Chimoio. Otherwise little has changed in the markets. There are perhaps more sellers and non- agricultural related business in Mercado 38. Mercado 25 de Junho has built a line of permanent stalls and cleared out a pathway for customers.
The farmers in four of the six Belas Associations have just completed four days of intensive business plan training from GAPI, a local microfinance organization. This week I’m planning to follow up on some of the theoretical concepts they learned last week- especially on the concept of diversification- why it makes good business sense and why it is good for production. Their other favorite crop couve, or Portuguese kale, is the in the same vegetable family as cabbage. Their fields are full of cabbage worms. I’m a bit worried that the photos and video of the Madison farmers market
will overwhelm them, but I’m hoping they will learn to imagine what more is possible. Growing petite green beans for Vanduzi Company is just one small step.
September 21, 2012 · 9:21 am
The scene is too perfect-even at the end of the dry season. Bird calls in the morning, frogs singing at night. I long for my hammock which is hanging empty in my backyard in Madiso. Somehow this time I’ve gotten lucky. I’m staying in a resort called Casa Mskia that caters to mainly to fisherman from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Travelers also use it as a rest stop as they travel through southern Africa often arriving no later than 5 pm and departing as soon as it is light- no later than 6 am.
My imagination runs wild with ways to improve the quality of accommodation and food. It has the potential to be an incredibly beautiful yet simple place, but the clients are here for the fishing, not the accommodation and atmosphere. I do, however, decide to water the plants outside my door everyday.
Originally the resort was a crocodile farm and sold both the meat and hides for a good profit. In more recent times it has become a small reserve that includes an animal rehabilitation program. The managers’ daughters were carrying two baby gazelles in a basket both around a month old. On my Sunday off I went for a two hour walk around the reserve in search of giraffes. Apparently, the day before they had been close to the main lodge. However, after fifteen minutes of walking it was clear they had moved.
After spotting track and scat from zebras, wildebeast, impala, mongoose, serval and even feral cat, we found the giraffe tracks. Finally I saw my first wild giraffe. The four are still quite young and haven’t yet reproduced and were brought here from South Africa on 8 October 2010.
Clemente and I spent quite a bit of time watching and photographing them. Later they watched us as we stood and talked.
Casa Msika is located on the Revue River which feeds into the lake created by the Chicamba dam built in 1968 and is only 5k from the main highway between Chimoio and Manica.
This dry season the lake is at an all time low after two years of drought and due to the fact that the dam has recently been releasing water in to the blank river that flows towards Chimoio and eventually the Indian Ocean. The managers explained that by December the lake will be as high as the main lodge and boats will be tied to the rail outside of the small house where I am staying. I can only imagine how gorgeously green it will be. Spring arrived with the rain last night.
As usual I have plenty of time to spare and can often be found sitting on my stoop reading, gazing at the scenery or observing people going about their daily routine.
Cats keep me company.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hammock- the perfect combination of work and relaxation. But I wonder if they even have hammocks here- perhaps in the surfing resorts around Vincolos- perhaps I should start a hammock making business. I can only imagine.