Ray Mwareya | December 23, 2016
John Mateo washes a bucket full of red apples. He knows that if they are not peeled and dried in a hot oven, they will rot, goats will spoil them, and hunger will arrive.
The 35-year-old farmer smiles and throws an apple in the air before starting the process of drying and preserving the fruit. He says, “I will eat this after six months. The sweet flavour will not change by then.”
Mr. Mateo is a 35-year-old apple and apricot farmer from Susunhenga village in Mozambique’s Manica district, near the western border with Zimbabwe.
This year’s El Niño-induced dry spell has hurt agricultural production in Manica district. Many livestock have died from lack of water, and fruit yields have dropped.
But while many rural farming families now depend on food aid, farmers like Mr. Mateo are drying fruit to beat hunger. The local fruit farmers learned to preserve fruit through a training offered by a German charitable organization. Mr. Mateo says, “We have learnt simple technologies and methods on how to peel and dry apples so that we will still [be able to] eat them nine months from now.”
He explains how he dries and preserves his apples: “We use mechanical apple peelers to take the skin off our crop. One must be careful not to bruise the soft tissue of the fruit. We break the fruit into nice rings, heat them in fire ovens, and dry them.”
Anzelia Namusse is a 38-year-old peach and apple farmer in Manica district. She says hygiene is a very important consideration when preserving fruit. She explains: “We wash the apples thoroughly first before cooking them for drying and storage. Local nurses told us [that] bacteria decrease markedly if fruits are washed before drying. It’s a rule that every farmer wears gloves [when] washing fruits for drying.”
Manuel Battk is the community livelihoods manager for Johanniter Hilfe, the German charitable organization that trained the fruit farmers.
She explains: “We realized [that] in Manica district, the rate of apple harvest that goes to waste in good years was 30%…. That’s awful. In hungry years like 2016, many children suffer from lack of protein and fruit…. [So] we organized 120 rural apple farmers, 47 of them female, and introduced 10 cheap steel apple-peeling machines.”
Rejoice Mulandoe is a 41-year-old widow who grows peaches and apples on a half-hectare plot in Manica district. She has been following Mrs. Battk’s advice. After heating her apples, she cools them for 30 minutes and stores them in bags in the community warehouse for six months. Then, she can eat last season’s dried apples during the dry season.
But Mrs. Mulandoe is not simply enjoying munching on dried apples. She also makes good money from them. She says, “[Because of the drought] the price of our dried warehouse apple has jumped to $1.60 US from $1.10 US. Schools, crèches [child care centres], and village sports teams are our main customers.”
Mr. Mateo appreciates having a supply of fruit in the dry season for two reasons. He explains, “Apples stored for six months give us 40% more profit when the dry season arrives and fresh fruit disappears from community markets.”
He is also working on different ways to preserve his fruit to further increase their value. He explains: “Our plan is to learn how to store apples as sweet jam or pudding in sealed glass bottles and sell it in larger city supermarkets. For that, we need to understand how local taxes and food safety works.”
This story was originally published in April 2016