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Knowing Where You Are and Planning for the Future

Mogovolas District, Nampula Province

September 16-22, 2010

Bit by bit I am starting to learn about the system of government organization and am now better able to pinpoint exactly where I am at any given time. Of course I often get quite mixed up as there is always a shorthand way to refer to these places or nicknames that I don’t quite catch. I am also easily confused when a few names of Agricultural Associations are thrown into the mix. Last week for example I was in Localiadade Muvuruta, Posto Muatua, Mogovolas District, Nampula Province, Mozambique. Today we stayed in the Posto de Nametil,

but we could have been almost anywhere in the Mogovolas District as far as I could tell. Sometimes we come upon a surprise such as this abandonned mission.

One day we drove at least 60 kilometers to reach an agricultural association, the final 18 kilometers of which were quite rough and included several washed out bridges. We do most of our driving on what my map says are secondary roads, but some are nearly impassable.

Today we had to walk a kilometer or more after the road, or track, became impassable.

During this assignment I’ve tried my best to frame my questions to the farmers in a positive manner in an attempt to avoid the endless string of complaints which I spent a month listening to last year in Manica Province. After I am given a tour of the vegetable production area and explanations for what they are doing in the fields which often include details about the spacing of their neatly laid out rows we retreat to the shade to talk. At this point I try to steer the conversation by asking “what kinds of things would you like to learn about that you think would help you to become better farmers” and “what are your plans for the future”. Sometimes the response is complete silence, and I need to keep asking questions, other times they are far ahead of me. Today as soon as we reached the shade Jose Mario, the president of the association, began explaining how he would like someone to come and teach him how to build a proper dam.

During the rainy season his dam often collapses and needs to be rebuilt. With Jose Mario and the other members of Ndowe Naphavele, or Let’s See Association, we discussed how to transport their produce to market in Nametil nearly 20 kilometers away. I asked them to describe what they are doing now and they described the typical overloaded bike seen on every Mozambican road. I asked if they had ever considered building a cart for their bicycles and this began a animated conversation among the members, some needed to know what a cart was, others thought there would be no materials to build it, others thought they needed to know what it looked like and then Jose Mario spoke up once again and said something that surprised everyone “I saw those types of carts in Macao and in India when I was in the military. I think we could build them”.

So if anyone reading this knows of plans to build a simple bicycle trailer please post a link in the comment section and I’ll see they get to Jose Mario and the Let’s See Agricultural Association of Localiadade Mecutamala, Posto de Nametil. This conversation was encouraging as many farmers tell me they could grow more and would like to grow more, but they have a difficult time getting their produce to market. This might be one simple solution.

Mainly farmer’s ideas for the future have included expanding production areas and creating and improving irrigation systems.

Things they’d like to learn more about include crop rotation, insect and disease identification, how to use a plow and care for oxen, seedling production, and specific crop production information.

Often they seem skeptical when I talk about organic soil improvement techniques, “The plants need food in order to grow well” I’ve begun to exclaim in Portuguese, but they do listen carefully and seem willing to soak up any knowledge and ideas that are offered. My impression is that in general the farmers and extension agents in Mogovolas District would take off if given training in basic organic production methods as they all recognize that something needs to be done in order to improve and that they simply can not afford chemical fertilizers and pesticides much less travel to Nampula City to o\purchase them.  Because of the cost of fertilizers and lack of knowledge about other methods many simply choose to not use any regular or systematic soil improvement methods. Overall my impression is that these farmers are much more open and less jaded than the majority of the farmers I met last year in Manica Province. At times I wonder if this is due to less contact with NGO’s or if it is simply how Macua people are. Right now there is no way for me to know. One farmer when I commented that 20 kilometers on a bike hauling vegetables to market was a lot of work he said well I get it there “poco a poco”, little by little or bit by bit. Later in our conversation when we were talking about compost, he exclaimed “how could I possibly do that on 6 hectares of land!” and I replied well you already told me the answer, “poco a poco”, and he cracked up.

I’m not sure if this more positive attitude is actually true or if it may partially be attributed to my new method of asking questions and the slightly different nature of this evaluation. However, my gut says yes the people here are still excited by farming. They see the opportunity to increase their income since vegetables are not readily available in the markets and are expensive. They haven’t forgotten how to work hard, don’t expect handouts and want to learn as much as they can as market vegetable production is not a traditional income earning activity. This positive vibe is having a good effect on me as well so that when hearing a complaint such as “the pigs around here keep getting into my land and eating everything what should I do?” I am able reply easily and naturally, “I think you should go to those people and tell them ‘if you keep letting your pigs get fat on my vegetables I have the right to eat your pig!’”  Don’t worry. The local extension agent gave the proper answer before mine “go to the chefe de posto and tell him what is happening and make him tell the people to keep their pigs in a corral”. Anyway the chuckles all around made my day as we laughed about little pigs growing so rapidly in the vegetable fields that they could not make it home.


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Mogovolas District, Nampula

SEPTEMBER 13, 2010

I was warned there would be dust. And yes, there is no question about it my first impressions are of dust. At times during the drive from Nampula a passing vehicle created blizzard conditions, with smoky red dust blocking our view. I held my breath as we drove on and braced myself in case we needed to swerve to avoid a cow, a bicycle, or another car. I was thankful for the drivers’ skill and patience and the light traffic. No crazy swerving roller coaster ride this time!  I congratulated myself on refilling and remembering to bring my new asthma inhaler which I usually only need in polluted cities. The cashew trees are close to fruiting, but every river we crossed was dry. No houses in sight, I caught a glimpse of women with buckets clustered around a deep hole in the ground. Without irrigation can vegetables grow here? For a moment I unreasonably pout, and think “does anything grow here?” I know the rains will begin in November, but what happens over the next two months? It is clear why farmers don’t grow tomatoes at this time. Without irrigation I wouldn’t either. If the seeds even managed to sprout in August, the seedlings would shrivel by September. My host would like me to train farmers on the increased profits to be gained by growing tomatoes out of season. As I learned in 2009, in December, January and February very few tomatoes are available on the market. But I wonder if the profit would simply be lost due to the necessary increased costs of production and if irrigation is feasible at all. I remember the dry season in Maputo, but in my twenty year old memories there is just not this much dust. Perhaps this is because back then I was lucky enough to swim in the ocean nearly everyday after work. I’m already dreaming of a trip to the beach at Angoche next weekend and a dip in the salt water to clean the blackness from my nose.

Inside the government guest house I can escape the dust,

Entrance to government guest house

but the over head light bulb does not give my 40 something eyes enough light to read. I can’t figure out how to flush the toilet much less turn on the light in the bathroom. Perhaps both are impossible. There is no one to ask. Two other people are staying here but their rooms are dark. A small motor cycle is parked in the hallway. The smell of oil drifts into my room. At least my empty room wasn’t as empty as the room in Mexico. Upon arrival there were curtains on the window and a bed with a mattress.

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In the few hours since then I have received a plastic chair, some sheets and a towel. I’m glad I packed my own little green travel pillow which I had taken in and out of the suitcase several times before allowing it to stay. If I had known that I was coming here I could have been and absolutely would have been much more prepared substituting my nice, proper city meeting clothes for my sleep sack and other camping gear. I would have at the very least brought a roll of toilet paper. I wonder if I will be able to grit my teeth and stick this out. I wonder if I can make my vague assignment clear and useful for the people here. I wonder if I have lost my sense of adventure and simply gotten old. Music is playing somewhere outside. I’m thankful it isn’t too loud, seems to be mostly soft African Reggae, and at the moment not too many people are singing along.

Morning view from my window

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New assignment in Mozambique

September 9 I will travel to Mozambique for the fourth time. I will once again be working along the Beira Corridor and be based in Chimoio. It looks like I’ll  get to travel to Manica near the Zimbabwe border and to Gondola back in the direction of Beira fairly frequently to visit the production areas. This trip I will be working with two agricultural associations, Macate and Mahene,  on their marketing plans for processed food products. As during my last trip I spent so much time talking about the potential of processed food products and spent much of my time in Mexico bemoaning the loss of Sapotes rotting on the ground I’m excited to see where this project can go. I;m curious to see what if any products they have developed, hoping reconnect with and visit the processed fruit project at Gorongosa, and see how much spending three months in Mexico has screwed up my Portuguese.

I’ve also promised my friend Stephanie not to write  about Africa, the way so many others have done, as brillently described in the article from Granta, How to Write About Africa. Please pardon me in advance if I do write about the view or the sunrise/sunset if I finally get to climb Cabeça do Velho, which according to the article Who Will Save  Cabeça do Velho? in Moçambique Magazine, is slowly being destroyed by people mining rock from its face. As this article was published in 2005 I’ll have to find out if the local government has managed to stop or at least curb this practice. If you would like to have a tour of the town of Chimoio see this You Tube video. However, be warned Cabeça do Velho only makes an appearance at the beginning despite its billing in the title of the video. I’ll do my best to get photos of it this trip and of course post them here.

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