Mozambique: Rural fruit farmers shun exporters in favour of supplying illegal breweries

| July 27, 2015

Download this story

Andrea Machako sips a cheap but powerful brandy named Tentaçao. Its name is the Portuguese word for “temptation.”

Mr. Machako is a ‘rebel’ farmer. He is one of Mozambique’s rural fruit growers who are resisting government efforts to export their fruit to foreign markets. He instead sells his harvest to the local Tentaçao brewers.

In May 2011, Mozambique obtained international certification for its pineapples, allowing the fruit to be exported to the European Union. But Mr. Machako was not impressed.

Mr. Machako grows mangoes, pineapples, and cassava on three hectares of land outside Espungabera, a remote district bordering Zimbabwe, over 700 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.

He can either sell his fruit to exporters, or to illegal brewers who pay him cash, in US dollars. Mr. Machako says, “My fruits go to breweries. Who can stop me?”

Tentaçao is only one of a host of illegal brews. Battery acid, cheap vodka, and spirits are routinely mixed with pineapple or mango juice to make bootleg brews. Unregulated local brews take a serious toll on the health of Mozambicans. Consumption can even lead to death. Earlier this year, 72 people died in Mozambique after drinking contaminated beer. The beer is believed to have been poisoned with crocodile bile, according to district health officials.

The Southern Africa Development Community’s Review Into Illicit Products Report says 60 per cent of the alcohol consumed in Mozambique is brewed illicitly. This is among the highest rates in the world. The market for illicit alcohol is huge and lucrative.  Mr. Machako can make US$900 from one hectare of pineapples.

Mr. Machako feels he has no real choice. Selling his mangoes, bananas, and pineapples to exporters can prove risky. The quality of his fruit is variable and income flows become unpredictable. Mr. Machako says, “Our fruit [rot] if we don’t sell them straight away to [the] brewers.”

Roads in his village are dusty and often impassable. Farmers don’t have access to electricity and refrigerated storage containers are unavailable. Mozambican fruit growers lose up to 45 per cent of all fruit harvested because of post-harvest damage, according to an NGO called Feed The Future.

Licensed multinational brewers are also trying to sign up small-scale farmers to supply them with fruit. After seeing how much the illicit brews are cutting into its sales, Africa’s largest brewing company, SAB Miller, is developing a beer brewed from cassava for Mozambique.

The World Bank is even funding fruit-farmer training centres. And a South African company has plans to build a processing plant in Mozambique to produce pineapple juice for export to Germany.

But farmers are still more interested in supplying their local brewers. Hilda Sako grows cassava and fruit. The 41-year-old widow says, “Since 1975, there is no road and [no] electricity here. How can we move our fruits far? [Local] breweries give us fast cash and no worries.”

The government of Mozambique is trying to persuade farmers like Mr. Machako to stop supplying  illegal brewers and start exporting their fruit. But the districts where fruit is grown for alcohol are remote and have no tarred roads, electricity, or police posts. Local government chiefs and councillors tacitly accept that farmers in Mozambique’s poorest rural settlements eek out some income through illegal brewing.

As Mr. Machako says, “The harvest is ours. We don’t want complications. We deserve quick money.”