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Source: Irin News
A colonial-era coconut plantation is being revived in southern Mozambique to provide small incomes to a largely cashless rural community.
The initiative is viewed as a pilot project that could be rolled out across the country’s poor isolated communities to generate work for hundreds, if not thousands of people.
A year after winning independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique descended into a 16-year-long civil war, and emerged from the conflict as one of the world’s poorest nations.
Some colonial-era plantations have survived destruction at the hands of charcoal burners and others, but remain under-utilised through a lack of investment, or can’t be developed because of poor road and transport infrastructure.
Now, the southern province of Inhambane is about to be revitalised. South African farmer Graham Ford has teamed-up with US NGO TechnoServe, with the consent of the provincial government – as all land in Mozambique is owned by the state – to revive an abandoned coconut plantation near the coastal town of Maxixe.
Inhambane, with its tropical climate, is known as a prolific producer of cashews, coconuts and citrus.
A small processing factory in the Maxixe community extracts the meat and oil from coconuts collected by local people. These two commodities are then transported about 10km to the highway, where they are loaded onto trucks bound for South Africa.
Coconut products from virgin oil to dried flakes have a ready market in the food and healthcare sectors, and gatherers may deliver two sacks of coconuts, stripped of their husks, to the factory every week. This translates into a monthly income of about 1 000 meticals (US$33.50).
“Until now the local people have not really used the natural resources around them on a commercial level because they had to take them all the way to the highway. Here they received meagre sums of money by men who took the coconuts to Maputo,” said TechnoServe’s agricultural consultant Rizwan Khan.
He said the key to replicating such an initiative, so the poor derived greater commercial benefit, was to situate factories in or near communities.
Khan said the international demand for coconut oil was driving the long-term plan to establish similar factories across Inhambane province. With the Maxixe pilot programme serving as a model, and the abundance of coconut trees in the area, the scheme has the potential to lift residents of the province out of poverty.
A 2002-2003 government survey identified Inhambane as the poorest of Mozambique’s 11 provinces, with about 80% of the population living below the poverty line. However, a survey conducted in 2008-2009 found poverty levels had decreased to 60% in the province, which was subsequently rated as the seventh poorest.
Reviving the cashew nut industry
Mozambique’s cashew nut industry was severely affected by the lengthy civil war, outbreaks of fungal infections, and insect invasions among its ageing cashew tree population. These factors led to a decline in both quality and quantity.
Humanitarian agency Care International is attempting to revive the cashew trade in Inhambane province through its Sustainable Effective Economic Development programme.
Care’s Michaela Cosijan, the acting project manager based in Vilankulos on the Inhambane coast, said that cashew nut production was one of the focus sectors, as the resource was being under-utilised.
In partnership with the provincial authorities, a campaign has been launched to plant a new generation of cashew trees across the province. An insecticide programme will protect the remaining productive trees.
Care is also mobilising farmers to form cooperatives for farmers that will give them a stronger bargaining power for their products’ prices.
Paulo Johaui Murrouibe, a cashew nut farmer and one of 3 500 residents in the village of Tsumbo, Inhambane, said :”Previously we sold things as individuals at a low price, and had no ability to negotiate a better deal with the buyers. But now, with Care’s help, we have become organised as a community, negotiating better sales prices and using better farming techniques.”
Filomena Maiopue, director of the Mozambican Cashew Institute, told local media recently: “Over the last five years, the average amount of cashew nuts marketed has fluctuated between 70 000 and 90 000 tons. But this year’s figure of 112 000 tons is a great victory for the country, since it is the highest figure attained since independence.”
Maiopue also noted that because this figure only takes into account nuts sold through formal channels, the real figure may be even higher. Many farmers hold back a portion of their crop for their own consumption, and there is also an informal market.
About half the country’s cashew industry is located in the northern province of Nampula, followed by Zambezia in the centre of the country and Inhambane in the south.
“But Inhambane is increasing its production considerably,” said Maiopue, “and in the next campaign we expect it to overtake Zambezia.”