The Irish Times -
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
for coconut oil presents way out of poverty for many of Mozambique's
Keeping factories in the bush, rather than by major roads, is key,
writes BILL CORCORAN in 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
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
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.