Feeding Mozambique

February 09 2018 | by

THE TOWN of Mapinhane, Vilankulo district, in the Inharnbane Province of Mozambique, is situated along the Estrada Nacional n. 1, about 45 kilometres from the town of Vilankulo and 7 kilometres from Maputo to the south. The town, which is near the coast of the Indian Ocean, has a tropical dry and humid climate with two seasons: a rainy season from October to March, and a fresh or dry season from April to September. Temperatures range from between 18 and 40 degrees Celsius and average annual rainfall is between 500 and 1000mm. The land is characterised by rough and permeable land, which is very favourable to agriculture, but the high temperatures frequently cause water shortages. The local population survives from agriculture, with the most widespread crops being cassava, peanuts, vegetables and beans, destined exclusively for self-consumption. At the time this project was submitted by Barbara Hofmann, ASEM Founder and Project Manager, it had not rained in the district of Vilankulo for two years.


A better tomorrow


ASEM (a French acronym for Association Pour Les Enfants de Mozambique, Association for the Children of Mozambique) was founded in 1991. It is dedicated to helping the marginalised children and youth of Mozambique by investing in ways to improve and empower these children for a better tomorrow. “To date, ASEM has helped over 50,000 children, welcoming them into our centres, providing education, health care, psychological support, professional training and a lot of love,” says Barbara. “Currently, ASEM follows over 5,000 beneficiaries directly, and about 25,000 beneficiaries indirectly each year.”

ASEM Mozambique proposed a project to provide the town with two very fertile plots of land, one of 3 hectares and the other of 5, located near to the Govuro River. The 5 hectare plot would be used for agriculture while the other for fruit farming. The agricultural staff would consist of unemployed people of working age from the village, and would offer them a regular work contract. Future agricultural staff would also be trained by ASEM by providing practical agricultural exercises also involving women and young people from the town. “A strategic aspect of particular importance concerns the network between the local stakeholders involved,” says Barbara. “Public and private bodies, although very different to each other, are engaged in this important social challenge. In fact, in addition to the rural beneficiary families interested in the socio-economic development of their community, numerous secondary schools, the National University of Agriculture, two micro finance institutes, and numerous hotels and tourist lodges are also involved.” This networking action would also show the economic potential of the project and the advantages derived, thereby consolidating the future sustainability of the project.

“An agricultural surplus of 25 percent is expected annually,” Barbara continues, “which will potentially increase exponentially from year to year.” This surplus would partially be reinvested in the purchase of new plants, and partially sold on through markets. Training in fruit growing is expected to take longer for several reasons: “The traditional production systems classify fruit growing as merely harvesting of forest products – work entrusted to women and children,” Barbara explains. “Training is therefore aimed at understanding crops, reproductive techniques, and simple commercial skills – this is particularly important because it will act as an economic stimulus for the beneficiaries who will learn to recognise the added value which can be obtained from the fruit trees. Training also includes the importance of hygiene and proper nutrition.” The total cost of the project was just under €74,000 with a sum of €30,800 requested from and granted by St. Anthony’s Charities.


Gravity irrigation


The project began in June 2016. The first task was the realisation of the first vegetable plot. An area of 2 hectares was cleared of trees, shrubs and stubble, followed by the removal of stones to make the land suitable for cultivation. A further 3 hectares were also prepared in readiness for the planting of fruit trees. During the same period, materials were bought to enable the installation of an irrigation system to both fields. Seeds were bought for tomatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, peppers, lettuce, onions, cucumber, carrots, green beans, yams and potatoes. Further equipment and materials such as machetes, sprinklers, shovels, rakes, fertilisers and fungicides were also purchased. Over the coming weeks and months, fields were ploughed using animal traction, and the vegetable seeds were sown. All was good, with the only difficulty faced being skyrocketing prices resulting in the irrigation system envisaged no longer being affordable, but by adapting needs to the changing circumstances a ‘gravity irrigation’ system was installed.

A second tranche of funding was received in October 2016, and a further 3 hectares were prepared for cultivation. From November 2016 to February 2017, 2000 banana plant seedlings, 500 papaya and 100 mango trees were purchased and planted. “In November, a small warehouse was built to house tools and materials,” reports Barbara. “But one of the motor pumps broke down making it necessary to rent one for a week in order not to affect the areas already cultivated. In December, it had further problems, but it was not necessary to replace it immediately because the rainy season was already starting.”


Unfavourable circumstances


There was bad news regarding some of the crops: “Although there was good germination of the tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and green beans,” Barbara explains, “unfortunately, due to the high temperatures between September and December, these crops did not grow well. The situation was exacerbated by serious pest and disease attacks resulting in the loss of all these crops. We decided to increase the area sown with maize as it is a crop that adapts well to high temperatures and is not attacked by pests and diseases.”

But things went from bad to worse: “Although we had had rainfall below normal levels in November until mid-December, the fields were well maintained thanks to the irrigation system,” Barbara explains. “In the second half of the month the rains normalised, but then continued into January causing floods, with considerable damage to the maize crops and the bananas. Crops were submerged in the fields for a week, creating root decay and subsequent death of the plants, so part of the crop was lost. At the beginning of February another storm worsened the situation and created even more damage.” The loss at harvest was estimated to be 1.5 tonnes of bananas and 4.25 tonnes of maize.


Skills acquired


In spite of the difficulties the project is regarded as a success as even the reduced harvest provided much needed food to the town, and thereby contributed to alleviating the serious hunger crisis across Mozambique. Additionally, agricultural workers have acquired technical skills, and families have been able to sell products on a small scale at local markets.

“We still have some challenges ahead of us, including ensuring continuity in the cultivation of fruit trees, cereals and vegetables, spreading our production of sweet potatoes, and continuing to plant fruits such as papaya, mango and citrus fruits,” concludes Barbara. “We thank the staff of St. Anthony’s Charities for their support and availability, and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony for enabling the success of our project. We are very optimistic about the current season and the next one, as current meteorological conditions are favourable. We send you our warmest greetings.”

Updated on February 09 2018