Mozambique: Brazil and U.S. join in cooperative development program

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Mozambique has lots of fertile land and access to the region’s major rivers. Yet the country imports most of its food, much of it from its neighbor South Africa. Many Mozambicans cannot afford the imported food.

An agricultural collaboration among the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Brazilian Cooperation Agency and the government of Mozambique is set to bolster the country’s farm sector.

The collaboration is the first cooperative development program involving the United States and Brazil in partnership with a third country. “We hope this will be a new model of cooperation,” said Christopher Foley of USAID’s office in Brazil. “It brings together the best of what Brazil has and the best of what the U.S. has in agricultural research and extension expertise.”

The newest part of the program announced in January has two components. The first is to teach Mozambique’s farmers how they can grow and sell more vegetables. Doing so would make food cheaper by saving the cost of transporting it long distances.

It is a good opportunity for Mozambique’s farmers to increase their incomes and for consumers to have access to more nutritious food, said Walter Bowen of the University of Florida, one of the program’s U.S. university partners. Vegetables commonly grown in Mozambique include tomato, onion, bell pepper, cabbage, lettuce, potato and sweet potato.

Beginning in May, U.S. and Brazilian agricultural experts from Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, will begin to train Mozambican farmers and agricultural specialists. They in turn will train small-scale farmers in improved production, post-harvest handling and marketing methods, Bowen said.

Farmers will learn how to substitute drip irrigation for the more water-intensive furrow method of irrigating. They will learn how to use fertilizer and organic nutrients more efficiently and how to minimize crop damage during harvest and transport to market. They will find out how to present their produce to customers attractively to get better sales at market.

Farmers also will be introduced to Brazilian varieties of seed that are adapted to the tropical climate, yield bigger harvests and resist disease and pests, Bowen said.

The program focuses on farmers in southern Mozambique, where there are good soils and where the capital Maputo presents farmers’ largest market, said David Tschirley of Michigan State University, another partner.

The second part of the program aims to improve the quality of school meals by using locally grown food, thereby giving farmers a ready market. Mozambican health and education specialists can draw on Brazil’s success. Brazil has significantly lowered its malnutrition rate in recent years with a nationwide school lunch program, Foley said. The program used locally grown foods to encourage students to stay enrolled by ensuring at least one nutritious meal a day. Brazil’s National Fund for the Development of Education, within Brazil’s Ministry of Education, is a key partner.

U.S. partners are also working with Embrapa and major international agricultural-research centers such as the International Potato Center in Peru and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria to accelerate the transfer of productive farming technologies to the Institute of Agricultural Research of Mozambique. This includes developing improved seed varieties and getting the seeds into farmers’ hands. The technology will help farmers who grow staple crops as well as oilseeds and legumes.

John McMahon of the USAID mission in Mozambique said U.S. and Brazilian partners are guiding Mozambique’s institute as it develops the capacity to plan, monitor and evaluate its research efforts. They are helping the institute develop farm extension materials and use farmer associations, public and private extension agents, and technology such as radio, television and the Internet to share information about new technologies and practices with farmers.

Researchers ask farmers which technologies are most appropriate to their needs and involve farmers and the extension service in field trials.

According to McMahon, as the United States and Brazil began to talk of more ways to collaborate on agriculture in mid-2009, Brazil asked, “How can we focus in a more substantive way to really make a difference in Mozambique?”

“With both the international research centers and an institute of the caliber of Embrapa, there’s tremendous knowledge, technologies, practices and genetic material that can come into Mozambique, enter the research system, be validated, then moved out to farmers,” McMahon said.

Mozambique is one of the countries targeted for assistance under Feed the Future, the U.S. strategy to help countries fight hunger. The United States is looking to Brazil to be a strategic partner in that effort, McMahon said.

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