Demand for coconut oil presents way out of poverty for many of Mozambique's rural poor


Keeping factories in the bush, rather than by major roads, is key, writes BILL CORCORANin Inhambane Province

ONE OF the last things a person expects to find at the end of a track that twists through Mozambique’s mosquito-infested bush is a factory employing 20 people that makes high-quality organic products.

But after an hour-long drive inland from the town of Maxixe in Inhambane Province, the walls of Coconut Oil Organics’ factory emerge from behind a group of trees that stretch up into the forest canopy.

The brainchild of South African farmer Graham Ford and the American non-profit organisation TechnoServe, Coconut Oil Organics aims to feed South Africa’s food and healthcare markets with a range of coconut products: from the highly sought-after virgin coconut oil to dried fruit made from its flesh.

For TechnoServe’s Rizwan Khan, the long-term plan is to support the establishment of similar factories across the province, such is the abundance of coconut trees and the demand for oil. The potential to create employment for hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed rural Mozambicans is significant.

The agriculture consultant explained the key to growing the industry is to ensure the factories remain in the bush rather than near the highway. This means that locals have far less distance to carry the coconuts they harvest and sell to the factory for processing.

“About 50 locals take two large bags of cleaned coconuts each a week to the factory. From the sale they make an extra 1000 meticais (€25) a month for their family, which is significant here. Inhambane is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique but there is potential to alleviate the poverty. Until now the local people have not really availed of the natural resources around them on a commercial level. At the highway they were only given small sums by men who cashed in by taking the fruit to Maputo [the capital],” said Khan.

“Coconut oil is a high-value product that needs to be exploited. With the right socially conscious investors you could establish operations like this throughout Inhambane.”

Ford’s business venture is one of a number of pioneering projects that have been established in Mozambique in recent years to help improve food security for local Mozambicans in addition to making a profit.

Indeed, the Inhambane authorities have made steady progress in their efforts to reduce poverty levels in the country’s drought-stricken region. A government survey from 2003 revealed that Inhambane was the poorest of the country’s 11 provinces, with nearly 80 per cent living below the poverty line.

However, a follow-up survey in 2009 showed that figure had been reduced to 60 per cent, and the province had risen from 11th to seventh poorest.

The director of the provincial agriculture department, Pedro Daniel Dzucule, said that aside from focusing on the provision of irrigation systems to help tackle the drought, the local authorities were trying to focus on job-creations schemes.

“We have local crops like the coconut and cashew nut trees that are resistant to drought. These trees grow everywhere in the province, but villagers did not know how to operate commercially,” he explained.

While TechnoServe has partnered with the private sector to improve food security, non-governmental organisations such as Care International take a different approach.

Based in Vilankulos, a coastal town about 300km north of Maxixe, Care has developed a programme called Seed (Sustainable Effective Economic Development) with financial assistance from overseas donors including Irish Aid.

Seed’s acting project manager Michaela Cosijan said it tried to identify the value-chain gaps in local economic sectors and provide solutions to improve output. “We have chosen a number of local economic sectors – like the cashew crop and livestock in agriculture – and analysed them. We look to see what was been stopping people from making a sustainable living out of these sectors.

“Once these assessments are done we develop solutions. Trying to create sustainable local industries that people can make a living from is our main priority,” she said.

When they analysed the local livestock sector in Mabote district, an arid region 150km inland from Vilankulos, they identified a number of areas that needed to be improved. The negative impact disease was having on animal health was a major problem, as was the lack of a proper marketplace. The former was negatively impacting farmers’ incomes because the animal mortality rate was too high. In addition, the surviving animals sold for a much lower price because of their poor health.

Care is helping to train 45 community vets whose job is to administer basic drugs and to protect livestock against disease and parasites. “Buyers are now prepared to travel here all the way from Maputo to purchase livestock because they know the quality of the animals is high. The locals are also getting a better price for their animals and the para-vets can make a couple of thousand meticais a month in income.

“We have also established a regular fair that takes place once a month, which has improved livestock farmers’ access to the market and formalised the sector. We have introduced a weighing system so farmers now sell their animals by the kilo. And we ensure the price keeps up with the rate of inflation,” Ms Cosijan said.

This article was researched with the support of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund


ANOTHER LOCAL industry the provincial authorities are trying to revive on a commercial level in conjunction with development agencies is the cultivation of cashew nuts, an indigenous crop that fetches a high price on the international market.

Cashew nut trees grow throughout Inhambane, but local communities have been unaware of their value outside of using cashew nuts and the fruit in traditional dishes and drinks.

In the drought-stricken village of Tsumbo, home to 3,500 residents, the introduction of Care’s SEED programme has helped commercialise their approach to the crop. This has led to a remarkable turnaround in the locals’ fortunes.

Farmer Paulo Johaui Murrouibe said that in the past, he and his colleagues had lacked the knowledge to farm using the most up to date agricultural systems, which meant their crop yields were small.

“Because of the drought there has been a lot of suffering, but we did not know how to profit from our cashews.

“We made juice and alcohol for ourselves, but never thought of harvesting and selling the nuts and fruit in large quantities.

“Previously we sold things as individuals at a low price, and had no ability to negotiate a better deal with the buyers,” Mr Murrouibe added, “but now with Care’s help we have become organised as a community and we can negotiate better sales prices.”