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Taking CARE in Mozambique

The fields of smallholder farmers in Africa are invariably small, less than a hectare, with a mix of crops, maybe some maize and cassava with a patch, perhaps, of groundnuts. Spacing is often irregular and it is difficult to distinguish one plot from another. But in Inhambane province in Mozambique it is not uncommon to find fields of several hectares with only one crop, grown in neat lines and evenly spaced. Communities in the province are being provided not only with initial planting material, for crops such as bananas and pineapple, but also with extension advice, and the influx of information and inputs is producing results. One farmer has earned over five hundred US dollars from his last harvest of pineapples grown on one hectare; the crop is still relatively new in the province and prices are good.

Olga Vilanculos in cassava multiplication field
Olga Vilanculos in cassava multiplication field

The advice and support given to farmers throughout five districts of the province is provided by CARE, the largest NGO active in Inhambane. In this particular region of Mozambique, government extension is not available so CARE is the 'partner of choice', selected by the government, to provide appropriate agricultural advice. CARE has worked in Inhambane since 1998, is well trusted by the communities within which it works and is building on these established relationships to introduce health and sanitation initiatives, community management projects and schemes for women's savings and business planning. The organisation initially used different teams, all trained in gender issues, to provide advice on, for example agriculture, water and sanitation, and health. But teams are now becoming more integrated in order to reduce the number of people coming into contact with each community.

The agricultural extension teams consist of one supervisor per district and, on average, three other advisors. According to Claudia Futterknecht, CARE co-ordinator for Inhambane province, most of the team members are men and she is aware that, working predominantly with women farmers (65% of those they work with are female), they do not have enough women agricultural advisors; women with an academic background in agriculture are hard to find. However, Olga Vilanculos (see photo) is one of the agricultural officers for Inhassoro District where one community is growing pineapples, cassava for multiplication, sesame, as well as groundnuts in association with a certified seed company. Since 2003, the community has benefited from the installation of a water pump - built by CARE in partnership with the government. The community, as with all water services provided by CARE, contribute to the cost of the pump and its maintenance. The pump serves about 50 families, who no longer have to walk several kilometres to collect water. Consequently, with more time to work in the fields, the women have been encouraged to diversify their crop production to include two hectares of pineapples, for instance, which are drought tolerant and well suited to the dry conditions of Inhambane. The pineapples have proved popular, not just for home consumption, but also in the local market and, providing that the produce is not stolen, as one woman reported, the women are able to generate enough income to pay for food and to send their children to school.

Frying sweet potato chips
Frying sweet potato chips

Although the Mozambican Government delegates the extension services in Inhambane to CARE personnel, extension advice is in line with government objectives for improving food security in the region. With only one supervisor and three to four other agricultural advisors covering each district, the distances to be covered are quite extensive and it often requires the team to camp out in the field. A schedule of activities is planned on a monthly basis to provide contact with communities that need assistance at that time but the CARE team will also respond more immediately if urgent assistance is required. And advice is not only provided for which crops to grow and how best to grow them but also guidance on post-harvest production and accessing markets. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, for instance, are another crop that CARE is introducing to communities. During a recent demonstration session, Olga was on hand to provide advice to the women on how to make a refreshing juice from cooked and pressed sweet potatoes, water, sugar and lemon juice, as well as making sweet potato chips. White-fleshed sweet potatoes are more common in Mozambique but, as elsewhere, in Africa, promoting the introduction of orange-fleshed varieties helps to increase vitamin A levels within the communities. The sweet potato juice has yet to prove its popularity but with a double dose of vitamin A and C, it is a simple and beneficial drink to give to children.

Vulnerable households make up over half of the population in Inhambane Province and CARE currently works with 12,000 families on food security interventions within the four districts where they work. Claudia Futterknecht admits that whilst CARE is happy to provide the extension services required in the region, the Mozambican Government will have to decide on its approach when and if CARE is no longer active in Inhambane. So far, during the six years of contact with these communities, CARE's approach has clearly worked well. Farmer to farmer learning has increased, farmers have been encouraged to diversify their crop production and yields and incomes have increased. For those households adopting a range of interventions, poverty has been reduced and, most importantly, the on-going activities are managed by the communities themselves.

Date published: May 2004

 

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