Tag Archives: markets


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.

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Filed under Mozambique 2012, Uncategorized

Something Different…

Huambo October 24, 2010

There is something different happening here in Angola, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. Is it the fat and happy dogs? Is it the multitude of new cars, plethora of motorcycles and lack of overloaded bicycles?

Motorcycle Advertisement

Is it that I haven’t yet been hassled to buy anything and everything? Is it the lack of beggars? Am I crazy for thinking that in general people are better off here? Am I observant or just extremely tired? I’ve had a long trip to get here and this is the first morning I’ve woken up completely refreshed. Is it simply that Angolans drive on the right? Is it that I did not hear any complaints during my first meeting with the agricultural association members in Bailundo?

Is it that during my first trip to the largest regional market on Saturday my simple “Bom Dia” response to stares resulted in the largest smiles ever? Is it that people actually talk about and remember the war, but don’t dwell on it? Is it that there are so many trees left standing in the city?

View of Humabo

close up of bullet holes

Is it that my Portuguese language skills are actually improving and I am feeling more comfortable with my verb tenses and am learning to use some calão (slang)? Whatever it is I’m not exactly sure, but something different is happening here.

Saturday at the Kutatu Market in Chinguary I took no photographs. This market is about one and a half hours from Huambo and located in a region that has traditionally supplied the country with vegetables. Trucks come from as far away as Luanda to buy produce on Fridays and Saturdays. At the time I thought my lack of interests in photographs was because it looked like any other market I had seen in Mozambique and that I simply did not feel like drawing even more attention to myself than I was already receiving. This morning I am certain that it was because I was completely absorbed in observing the differences. If I had the chance to go back and take photos I would take one each of the fat dogs lying in the shade under the ox cart, the small Toyota pickup truck already overloaded with 50 kilo sacks of potatoes with more being loaded on, the black pig being tied up for sale, the wild fruit called Losha

that I purchased and the woman who sold it to me for 10 kz (about $0.10), the young boys pushing wheelbarrows full of items for sale with a mini-mega phone on top of the pile that was playing an advertisement for the products, the Obama T-shirts, and the boy in the superman t-shirt staring at me who grinned and gave me the thumbs-up when I called out “Oi, Superman!”


Filed under Angola 2010

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.


Filed under Mozambique 2010, Uncategorized

Profiles of Vegetable Wholesalers- Chimoio, Day 10

Eliza and Elaida have been in the tomato and cabbage wholesale business since 1997 and buy and sell year round.

Eliza and Elaida at Mercado 25 junho

December and January are they best months for business. In order to start the business they asked their husbands for a 500 mt. (about $17) loan. In the beginning they could only afford to purchase two boxes (about 30-35 kilos each) at a time. Now they purchase 20-30 boxes at 130-150 mt/box three or four times a week and sell them for 400-500 mt/box.

Fernando only buys and sells onions (both dry and green) and runs his business year round.

Fernando at Mercado 25 Junho

Unlike Eliza and Elaida he has a fixed space at market, but it is unclear how he got permission for this space as he only pays the 5 mt/ daily vending fee. He built a shelter over his vending space. This year he is working with five farmers in Nampula. To get there he takes a chapa, and then transports the sacks (80-95 kilos each) of onions to the main road using the farmer’s ox cart.   He waits on the road until a large truck comes along and picks him up. This is a side-business for the drivers so he usually does not have to wait very long. According to another wholesaler it takes two days to get to Nampula and two days to get back. He pays 80 mt/ 80 kilo sack for transport which cost him 600 mt. each. He sells these sacks for 1,500 mt/sack or in smaller amounts for 20 mt= 1 kilo.

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Filed under Mozambique 2009

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.


Filed under Mozambique 2009