Among cassava, memories and stars

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It has more than one month I arrived in Mozambique and, although for many times I have tried to post my news from the field, low access to Internet has not allowed it before. First acknowledgement from Mozambique was that time passes differently, it is a different motion, a slow clock that guides the day and people’s work. The sun is burningly shinning at 6am, and even though people start early, things work quite slowly over here.

Arriving in Maputo had a very nice feeling of an unknown city, country and continent. Despite all the preparation done, days to come were mostly open to the fate, depending on field conditions and other people’ availability. Yes, I was excited! A first impression of “different” (at the same time mixed with Brazilian memories), was easily overcome by national hospitality. Mozambican people are just so open and ready to help that sometimes (many, actually) you do not know how to thank them, besides their natural charisma. Maputo is a cosmopolitan city with an African vibe, if I can put this way. Many foreigners come to work for a few years at international companies, or just for having some monitoring meetings and leave. I have stayed two weeks in the capital, mainly working from the IFAD office and undertaking interviews with government representatives and international organizations. It was quite enough time for having a better understanding of main political issues on agriculture, rural poverty and climate change at the national level. Being hosted by IFAD has also allowed me to follow the organization’s daily activities and dynamic, which helped to understand their work in the country.

Cassava multiplication at the IIAM - Chokwe Agronomic Center. Gaza Province, Mozambique.

Cassava multiplication at the IIAM – Chokwe Agronomic Center. Gaza Province, Mozambique.

I moved to Xai-Xai in the first week of March for being closer to the project staff and being able to visit farmers at the District of Manjacaze, which was selected for my case study. Xai-Xai is a small city northern on the coast of the Gaza Province, and I can say I have started to see the country after moving here. Travelling by car allows you to see how people live outside the capital, with very low conditions all along the road. My feeling is that the capital is a “world apart”, where you have some buildings and avenues, and if you do not pay much attention (and live in “fancy” areas) you might feel there are quite enough services. That’s not true along the roads nor in smaller cities, where you necessarily pay attention to your surroundings. I do not deny it was the first time I saw that level of poverty. It impresses you, makes you feel in a way you do not know what to feel (it is confusing indeed, clearly against any human sense). However, you start seeing less and less even with eyes opened. And then you get to know people that are simply adorable while being strong.

Already in the first week in Xai-Xai, I had the chance to visit three agricultural centers, one at the Maputo Province and two at the Gaza Province. Working on the field has provided me some first-hand information that I would not have access to otherwise. Being able to talk to people and hear what they have to say about their work and daily limitations has been a precious experience. On my visits to agricultural centers I have gathered good information on cassava variety selection, multiplication and growing techniques. The National Institute of Agronomic Research (IIAM) essentially works at selecting the most resistant crop varieties (to drought, plague, diseases, soil conditions and nutrient limitations), which are multiplied and only then distributed to small farmers.

at the VISECO Association, Chizavane, Gaza Province, Mozambique

Peanuts’ harvest day. At the VISECO Association, Chizavane, Gaza Province, Mozambique.

After understanding these practical processes held by government related institutions, I have finally started my work in direct contact with farmers. In the District of Manjacaze, I have held focus group discussions (FGDs) with farmers from different associations as well as with non-associated ones. FGDs were undertaken for talking with small farmers about climate change impacts on familiar agriculture and their own experiences in the last years. After talking to twenty farmers, I have started some life-story interviews. Basically, I spend a full day with a farmer following her/his daily activities and trying to help somehow. These have been by far the most enriching experiences I have had in the country. Next week I am going to do the last visits for finalizing my data collection from farmers.

During a life-story interview visit, District of Manjacaze, Gaza Province, Mozambique

Farmer harvesting cassava, during a life-story interview visit. District of Manjacaze, Gaza Province, Mozambique.

I can say that so far, besides cassava multiplication, growing techniques and national agriculture policies, I have learned a lot more about civil war memories, local culture, families’ dynamic, farmers’ resilience (not only to climate change, but to life conditions), and not least Mozambican hospitality. Additionally, some unexpected episodes and infrastructure limitations happen on the way for giving me a real feeling of living in the country, such as frequent water and electricity cuts, roads that fall, lack of transportation. I can say all fieldwork has been much more than data collection, but a broader understanding of cultural wealth and a unique learning of new ways of appreciating life every day.

During a life-story interview visit

Visiting a farmer for a life-story interview. Gaza Province, Mozambique.

I started writing this post in my dark room as electricity was not working. The sky was incredibly beautiful on that night though, with an uncountable number of stars like I have never seen before. Such a fortunate night!

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