On the Road with NCBA: View from the Outskirts

This entry was posted by Wednesday, 11 August, 2010
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From Andrew McLeod, communications specialist for the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). Learn more about him and his trip to Mozambique here in his first CUNAverse post.

After my previous post describing Mozambican cooperation at the national level, I am now going to zoom in to the very local.

CLUSA directly employs 120 people here, and indirectly supports the work of as many as 500 by training and funding staff of groups like Save the Children. CLUSA is reportedly one of the largest and most effective NGOs in Mozambique.

Today I was given an overview document that starts out like this:

CLUSA has been present in Mozambique since 1995…Today, CLUSA manages 9 agricultural programs in Mozambique, assisting 83,546 farmers to produce, process and sell groundnuts, sesame, cashew nut, soybeans, cotton, maize and beans…CLUSA Mozambique’s mission is the promotion of these communities’ intellectual, economic and social wealth through cooperative principles and a network of sustainable and viable rural cooperative businesses.

Good stuff, no?

Too big to be a garden, too complex to be a farm. New tomatoes mark the leading edge.

To find out how it looks at the ground level, we visited two groups of farmers.

The first was a brand-new association called Terra Natal. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. We pulled off the highway, parked the car by a mud-brick house with corn and cassava drying on racks, then walked down a short trail that opened out into the most amazing vegetable garden I’ve seen in a long time, anywhere. And even after that, it took a while to grasp that it was basically a scaled-up version of a North American organic garden, using local herbs for pesticides.

The crops were cabbage, tomatoes, collards, onions and carrots; chosen for their nutrition value as a way of increasing food security. These crops are grown both for consumption and for sale. In all, I estimate it was about a half-acre, farmed by 14 men and six women –including their vice president, who couldn’t have been much older than 20 and was working with a conked-out baby on her hip. She beamed with confidence during the round of introductions.

The most amazing thing was that they had cleared this former scrubland in the last three months, and had raised a vibrant garden despite a drought that had reduced the nearby river to a series of excavated holes. Even more impressive, they had done this despite getting the seeds late and each member having the distraction of their own gardens.

One more sign of progress is that they are showing signs of adopting the unfamiliar new techniques as their own. They have a member who is in charge of teaching technique and making sure everyone pulls their weight. Another member leads the effort to teach nutrition and hygiene to their neighbors.

The second group was a second-level structure, called Forum Netia. It was made up of nine local associations (three of whose delegates were absent because the telecom problems prevented them from getting word of the change of date to accommodate our schedule).

The warehouse and headquarters of Forum Netia is now surrounded by the racks of a new major market.

The manager gave a presentation of the year’s totals, which were impressive. Each association ranges from 29-53 members, with a total of 396 members (108 of whom are women).  Collectively, they have grown 3559 tons of milho grain, 1533 tons of beans, 1288 tons of sesame, and 62 tons of peanuts. They are currently negotiating with the World Food Program to sell their remaining stock through the Purchase for Progress program.

They have not been a co-op so far, due to the term’s socialist baggage. But they are interested in the new law that establishes modern co-ops as autonomous organizations. This forum’s members want to engage in more commercial activity, so they are interested in converting to a model that allows for profit.

This is already a fairly remote area, far removed from the capitol in the nation’s southern tip. And from what I’m hearing the people don’t get to Nampula much, let alone to Maputo. Portuguese is a second language to them. They are also generally illiterate (at least until CLUSA gets its adult-educating hands on them). So any concepts of global economics are likely to be pretty hard to convey.

Still, they are the backbone of Mozambican society. So one of my main questions at the end of this day is whether and how a process of consciousness-raising might add social depth to the already profound physical changes that are happening.

One Response to “On the Road with NCBA: View from the Outskirts”

  1. Cindy Turner

    What incredible numbers: “Collectively, they have grown 3559 tons of milho grain, 1533 tons of beans, 1288 tons of sesame, and 62 tons of peanuts.” Happy to see you could include some pictures!!

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