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Mozambique: Farmers want higher prices for pigeon peas to offset high cost of inputs

It’s nearly three o’clock in the morning, but Laurinda Fabiao has already arrived at Estadio da machava bus stop to cook pigeon pea pastries, known locally as bhadgia, to sell to early commuters. She puts a pot on the fire and starts cooking in a hurry because she doesn’t want to disappoint her customers.

Mrs. Fabiao lives in the Infulene area of Matola city, about 15 kilometres from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The pigeon pea pastry business is an integral part of her life. She explains: “This has been my employment for the past 19 years. I started cooking pigeon pea pastries for survival because my parents went to South Africa to look for greener pastures and left me alone when I was young.” 

Tony Santos is one of Mrs. Fabio’s customers and works at the nearby barber shop. He says: “She sells tasty pigeon pea pastries and I like them because I save time in the morning rather than cook myself breakfast or buy something very far away. This gives me more time to attend to my clients at the barber shop.”

It takes about two hours for Mrs. Fabiao to cook the pastries, which are made from pigeon pea ground in a calabash, which is a type of gourd. But Mrs. Fabiao does not know where and how the pigeon pea is grown.  

Zefenias Bernardo is a small-scale farmer in the Macate district of Manica province. He has been growing pigeon pea as a cash crop since 2009. He says, “Pigeon pea is a good source of income for my family. I produce between 35 and 40 bags of pigeon pea, weighing 50 kilograms each, in a season.”

He adds: “It is a good cash crop because there are limited losses involved since I can sell it fresh or dried. I don’t complain about not being employed because pigeon pea farming is the main source of my income.”

According to Mr. Bernardo, the main challenge of pigeon pea farming is inadequate market access and poor prices. He explains, “The prices for pigeon pea do not motivate me and many other farmers. I invest a lot of energy, but as a farmer I have no say in my prices. It is the buyer who determines what to pay.”

Mr. Bernardo says the cost of inputs such as fertilizer and seeds are very high, reducing the profit he can make selling the crop to people like Mrs. Fabiao. He adds, “These buyers have no idea of the amount of work involved—from preparing the land, planting, and harvesting, to transporting pigeon pea to the market.”

Alzira Antonio is a vendor who sells pigeon pea at Zimpeto market in Maputo. Pigeon pea pastries with bread are a popular street food in Maputo, and are commonly known as Pao com bhadjias. Mr. Antonio says, “Almost everyone in Maputo eats pigeon pea pastries. It has health benefits and I have been selling it for more than five years now.”

On a good day, Mrs. Fabiao earns about 150 Mozambique meticals (US $2.33) after selling about 150 pigeon pea pastries. She explains: “I buy a gallon of pigeon pea at 638 Mozambique Meticais (US $9.90), which lasts about three weeks. I also buy garlic, oil, wood, pepper, salsa, and some other ingredients to make tasty pastries for my customers.”

Arlindo Tauzene is a pigeon pea farmer in Macate district. He says that he will continue producing the crop because it is the only source of income for his family.

Mr. Tauzene explains: “I like producing pigeon pea because I have been doing this since my childhood. The crop helps us to live, eat, and send our children to school. I wish I could produce more pigeon pea but I am not motivated by the [low] prices.”

Ernesto Lopes is the director for agrarian services in Manica Province. He says, “Although prices are not very good for farmers, pigeon pea will certainly not disappear from the rural areas of Mozambique.”

He adds: “Farmers will continue growing the crop because it is drought-resistant and does not require many inputs. It also fixes nitrogen in the soil, which is good for intercropping with other crops like maize. It is also good in crop rotations.”

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.

Photo: Pigeon peas. Credit: Danyell Odhiambo for ICRAF.