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Danielle Nierenberg Headshot

1,000 Words About Mozambique

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Cross posted from Border Jumpers.

We love the energy of Maputo.

It's the good kind of energy where we never felt like people were trying to hustle us like in the tourist traps of Arusha and Zanzibar, Tanzania. We also felt safe to wander in the evenings unlike in Nairobi, Kenya or Johannesburg, South Africa where we would jump into cabs after evening meetings (or linger in the suburbs).

Maputo's vibrant, entrepreneurial, positive, and alive. It reminded us of Kampala, Uganda where the youth are bursting with energy, from the buzzing music scene, to the street and informal economy, and small upstart businesses.

Mozambique is not without its problems. Real poverty is everywhere, drug use rampant, many schools are dilapidated and deteriorating, and there is lots of evidence of environmental destruction and deforestation. But Maputo is clearly on the move, transforming itself and melding some of the best parts of its rich and diverse cultures.

We arrived by an Intercape bus from J'burg on an all night ride that spent an extra five hours on the road due to a closed highway from a chemical spillage and accident. And after pulling an all-nighter we jumped right into a series of meetings for Dani's research for Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

We checked into Base Backpackers largely because it was in walking distance to the Intercape bus station and twenty dollar a night for a private room. We'd be lying if we told you it was a perfect situation: we were in the lower basement (it wreaked of mold), had to walk two flights of stairs and across a hallway to go to the bathroom (twenty people were sharing the one working toilet), cold water showers, and internet so bad that old school AOL dial-up would have felt like luxury. With that said, the hostel was in the heart of the city and across the street from vegetarian friendly Chinese and Indian food. The hotel staff was extremely friendly, and the "guard" -- a mutt resembling a bijon frise named Spudd -- made for a warm, tail wagging welcome when we came home.

We spent the day visiting a workshop organized by Prolinnova, the Spanish NGO Centro de Iniciativas para la Cooperación/Batá, and the National Farmers Union of Mozambique, UNAC, about different agricultural innovations. The workshop brought farmers together from across the country to share with each other different innovations each farmer was practicing in her or his community. What I loved about the workshop was that it wasn't some NGO preaching about what should be done, the farmers led the meeting, they drove the discussion, they presented their own findings. It was really refreshing to hear from the people who know best what is working and what needs to be scaled-up across the country. Throughout the morning, farmers presented other innovations and practices--including how to prevent diseases that affect their crops and fruit trees and how to raise farmed fish. Batá/Prolinnova/UNAC plans to identify 12-14 innovations and practices identified at the workshops for a book which will be translated into three of Mozambique's languages, allowing these different innovations to spread throughout the country.

The next day we spent an awe-opening couple of hours with Dr. Rosa Costa at International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation in Mozambique. We know all too well how avian influenza, H1N1 and serious diseases can ravage livestock and rural communities. Newcastle disease, which can wipe out entire flocks of chickens and can spread from farm to farm, is especially devastating for rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Vaccines for Newcastle used to be hard to come by in Africa. They were imported and usually expensive, putting them out of reach of small farmers. And even when they were available, they required refrigeration, which is not common in many rural villages. Today, however, thanks to the work of the Kyeema foundation in Mozambique, villages have access not only to vaccines, but also to locally trained community vaccinators (or para-vets) who can help spot and treat Newcastle and other poultry diseases before they spread. With help from a grant from the Australian Government's overseas aid program (AusAID), Kyeema developed a thermo-stable vaccine that doesn't need to be refrigerated and is easier for rural farmers to administer to their birds.

Dr. Costa also talked at great length about the importance of nutrition when it comes to treating HIV/AIDS. Many retroviral and HIV/AIDS drugs don't work if patients aren't getting enough vitamins and nutrients in their diets or accumulating enough body fat. She noted that while many farmers are often too sick to grow crops, "chickens are easy." Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer.

On our last day we visited with Madyo Couto who works under the Mozambique Ministry of Tourism to help manage the country's Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). These areas were initially established to help conserve and protect wildlife, but they're now evolving to include other uses of land that aren't specifically for conservation. Madyo explained that in addition to linking the communities that live near or in conservation areas to the private sector to build lodges and other services for tourists, they're also helping farmers establish honey projects to generate income. In many of national parks and other conservation areas, farmers resort to poaching and hunting wildlife to earn money. He added that establishing alternative--and profitable--sources of income is vital to protecting both agriculture and biodiversity in the TFCAs.

Finally we met with Jessica Milgroom, an American graduate student working with farming communities living inside Limpopo National Park, in southern Mozambique. When the park was established in 2001, it was essentially "parked on top of 27,000 people," says Jessica. Some 7,000 of the residents needed to be resettled to other areas, including within the park, which affected their access to food and farmland. Jessica's job is to see what can be done to improve resettlement food security. But rather than simply recommending intensified agriculture in the park to make better use of less land, Jessica worked with the local community to collect and identify local seed varieties. One of the major problems in Mozambique, as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of seed. As a result, farmers are forced to buy low-quality seed because nothing else is available. In addition to identifying and collecting seeds, Jessica is working with a farmer's association on seed trials, testing varieties to see what people like best.

After only five days in Maputo, we will definitely come back for another visit. Mozambique is so vast and incredible with loads of incredible projects to visit that our brief trip simply wasn't enough time. But with meetings already scheduled in Durban, we boarded the 20 hour bus ride (had to go via J'Burg) back.