A colonial-era coconut plantation is being revived in southern Mozambique to provide small incomes to a largely cashless rural community, and is being viewed as a pilot project that could be rolled out across poor isolated communities to generate work for hundreds if not thousands of people.
A year after winning independence from Portugal in 1975 the country descended into a 16-year-long civil war, and emerged from the conflict as one of the world’s poorest.
Some colonial-era plantations have survived charcoal burners or other methods of destruction, but remain under-utilized through a lack of investment or the handicaps of poor road and transport infrastructure.
South African farmer Graham Ford has teamed-up with US NGO TechnoServe, with the consent of the Inhambane provincial government - as all land in Mozambique is owned by the state - to revive an abandoned coconut plantation, about 10km from Maxixe.
A small processing factory in the community extracts the meat and oil from coconuts collected by local people and is then transported to the highway by 4WD vehicles where it is loaded onto trucks bound for South Africa.
Coconut products have a ready market in the food and healthcare sectors.
The factory accepts two sacks of coconuts - stripped of their husks - from one person a week, which translates into a monthly income of about 1,000 meticais (US$33.50)
"Until now the local people have not really availed [themselves of] the natural resources around them on a commercial level because they had to take them all the way to the highway [about 10km away]. Here they were only given small sums of money by men who took the coconuts to Maputo," TechnoServe agricultural consultant Rizwan Khan told IRIN.
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 long-term plan was to support the establishment of similar factories across Inhambane Province that would mirror the Maxixe pilot programme - such is the international demand for coconut oil.
A 2002-2003 government survey identified Inhambane as the poorest of the country’s 11 provinces, with about 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. However, a survey conducted in 2008-2009 found poverty levels had decreased to 60 percent in the province which was rated as the seventh poorest.
Mozambique's cashew nut industry was severely affected by the civil war and outbreaks of fungal infections among its ageing cashew tree population led to a decline in both quality and quantity.
NGO CARE International is attempting to revive the cashew trade in Inhambane Province through its SEED (Sustainable Effective Economic Development) programme.
CARE's acting project manager based in the Inhambane coastal town of Vilankulos, Michaela Cosijan, told IRIN cashew nut production was one of the focus sectors, as the resource was being under-utilized.
In partnership with the provincial authorities, a campaign has been launched to plant a new generation of cashew trees across the province, and an insecticide programme introduced to protect the remaining productive trees.
The NGO is also organizing cooperatives for farmers to achieve greater value for their products.
Paulo Johaui Murrouibe, a cashew nut farmer in the Inhambane village of Tsumbo, which has about 3,500 residents, told IRIN: "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 organized 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."
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