A pulse to promote organic farming in Maputo crops

“What made me adopt organic farming is that it is much more accessible. Before, when we had no money, it was impossible to work because we couldn’t buy chemical fertilizers and production stopped. These organic fertilizers are affordable and simple. We make them ourselves.” These are some of the explanations with which Violeta Machinguane Mavute justifies her commitment to organic products in her little machamba (vegetable patch) from Maputo, the Mozambican capital. She is one of the farmers who form the Association for the Development of Mulaúze (Adema), a local entity that is working on the use of compost produced from urban solid waste management.

Urban agriculture in Maputo is in a difficult moment. On the one hand, municipal authorities and various social organizations have been promoting it for years for its contribution to food security for popular groups, the generation of resources and employment in peripheral neighborhoods and the autonomy of women, who are mostly those who practice it.

However, urban pressure is growing in the Mozambican capital and threatens the green areas around the city. The lack of infrastructure such as irrigation of the fields makes it difficult to sustain the activity, while the symptoms of climate change and the irregularity of the rains make cultivation increasingly difficult. Faced with this crossroads, some of the local farmers’ associations, accompanied by local development organizations such as Abiodes and international NGOs, are directing their production towards ecological farming practices.

One of these experiences is taking place in the KaMubukwana district. Enginyeria Sense Fronteres (ESF) has been working in Maputo for years on the treatment of urban solid waste and confirming that most of this garbage, specifically 60%, is organic. Only the treatment of vegetable waste that is produced in the markets already represents a considerable step forward. “Thinking about how to reuse organic waste”, explains Elena Erquiaga, ESF coordinator in Maputo, “and make it positively revert to citizens, we started working with the municipal authorities of Maputo”. “And so we created a composting center that we configured as a school space,” she continues.

Organic compost is easily accessible and there is no great expense to produce it. Crops grow healthy and production is higher

The response has been satisfactory. The producers that participate in this program are its main ambassadors. Silvina Soquisso is another of Adema’s farmers and she doesn’t doubt the need to attract others to her cause: “Other producers should use organic compost, because it is easily accessible and there are no big expenses to produce it. We have verified the results, the crops grow healthy and the production is higher”. Another of her colleagues, Raulina Fernando Muchanga, reinforces these opinions: “For other women and men producers to be able to take advantage of organic inputs, we have to approach them and teach them. They are expensive, but we make these ourselves.” And Muchanga herself adds: “Producers who pass by and see our work are curious and try to learn, to produce better.”

The experience of ESF ratifies the sensations of the producers. “When we have offered the compost from the center-school, there have been lines of producers who have come to collect it and use it in their gardens. That is to say, there is interest in compost, in learning new techniques and in sharing experiences”, affirms Elena Erquiaga.

In a recent report prepared by the Mozambican researcher Carlos Bavo and promoted by the Center d’Estudis Africans (CEAi) and ESF, under the title Challenges of urban agriculture in Maputo: access to water, technology and income, the questions are also addressed to the issue of the use of organic fertilizers. Bavo certifies that there is a consensus among producers that the use of organic fertilizers reduces inputs and production costs, as well as that “for the generality of those surveyed, the advantages of using compost are clear, since it allows greater sustainability of nature.

Mozambican farmers use compost in their urban garden.
Mozambican farmers use compost in their urban garden.Jerry Ethan (ESF)

The commercialization of the products and their aesthetic appearance is the main drawback collected by Bavo: “The producers highlighted the shiny and attractive appearance of the products resulting from the use of inorganic fertilizers as opposed to the products nourished by organic manure. For consumers, say those surveyed, the appearance of the product counts a lot for the final purchase decision. Despite these obstacles, the researcher concludes: “The use of the organic variety seems to have possibilities, since the producers are favorable to adopting it and it does not require impossible investments.”

To a large extent, the success of these cultivation techniques is met with a good disposition among women producers of urban agriculture in Maputo due to a matter of familiarity. “There is a whole series of supplies that are used ancestrally, that do not contain chemicals either and that they make,” says Erquiaga. Izilda Luís Chitive, another of Adema’s associates, clearly sets out the example: “I use pesticides made from tobacco and garlic that kill pests, especially snails. I think it has other advantages, but what I know for sure is that before my cabbages were dull and had bugs, and now they don’t.”

For the ESF coordinator in Maputo, all these activities aimed at reinforcing urban agriculture by promoting organic crops have made the producers feel that their work has value in many ways: “Normally, subsistence agriculture is carried out by groups low-income social groups and therefore do not perceive that they are important in society. Now, they feel that what they do is valued.”

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