Malawi and Mozambique: Farmers cooperate across borders (IPS Terra Viva)

| September 13, 2010

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There is little sign of agricultural activity along the dusty road through Mwanza district in southern Malawi. But as the road approaches the border with Mozambique, the scene changes. The fields are planted and green with a variety of crops.  Goats and chickens can be heard and seen scratching for food. But it hasn’t always been like this in Mtengoumodzi, a drought-prone  village which straddles the border.

Elia Julius is a farmer on the Malawi side of the village. He explains, “The rains are erratic. We were becoming victims of perennial hunger because we depended on rain for our agricultural activities in the past.”

In 2008, farmers on both sides of the border realized that they could work with each other to improve agricultural activities. So they formed the Mtengoumodzi Agriculture Cooperative.

Maria Chidetsa farms on the Mozambican side. She says that farmers from Mozambique shared their practice of growing drought-resistant crops with their counterparts across the border. The Malawian farmers now irrigate their gardens, and shared this knowledge with their colleagues.

Maize is the staple food in both Malawi and Mozambique. But with less rain these days, farmers have turned to more drought-resistant and early maturing crops.

Ms. Chidetsa says, “We now grow more bananas, millet, sorghum, cassava, cotton and pigeon peas. These crops do not need as much water as maize does. They are easy to grow even if the rains are not enough.”

The members of the co-operative also rear goats, pigs and chickens, for consumption and sale. Ms. Chidetsa says, “We sell eggs and goat milk to the communities around us.”

Small gardens are a common sight. Crops such as potatoes, vegetables, maize, beans, and sugar cane abound in the small fields scattered around the border village. Farmers have dug wells which deliver water even during the dry season.

According to Ms. Chidetsa, “These small gardens supplement what we grow in the bigger fields. We irrigate the gardens and grow different kinds of crops. We still grow maize on a small scale and these small gardens are ideal for that.”

Ms. Chidetsa explains that another reason that she and nine other Mozambican farmers joined their Malawian counterparts was to get access to the markets in Malawi: “The markets on the Malawi side, at Mwanza town centre, are closer to us than those in Mozambique.”  The nearest market in Mozambique is nine hours away. Mwanza market is nearer, though still a hard four hour ride by bicycle each way.

There are 17 families in the co-operative. They gather all their produce together after each harvest.  The co-operative allocates food to each family according to its size. Farmers take the rest of the produce to the market. The profits are used to buy farm inputs.

The farmers made a profit of about 2,500 American dollars or 2,000 Euros in 2009, according to Ms. Chidetsa. The co-operative has purchased a piece of land to use as a demonstration plot. They are trying out new varieties, including drought-resistant maize. With their energy and initiative, the farmers in the cross-border co-operative are contributing to the ideal of Africa becoming food self-sufficient.