Letter from Mozambique: Gorongosa Farmers' Club

Gorongosa is best known for its 1,455 square-mile national park. The park was the subject of the 2010 award-winning National Geographic movie, Africa's Lost Eden. As explained in the movie, Gorongosa was a region of spectacularly abundant wildlife, but years of civil war took its toll, and both sides in the conflict hunted down many of the park's animals in order to survive. Today, peace has returned, the park is slowly being restored, and surrounding communities have begun to grow and develop.

Ten Farmers' Clubs have been organized in the Gorongosa region by ADPP Mozambique. I had the privilege of meeting with the president of one of these clubs, who gave me a tour of the group's demonstration field.

From the village of Gorongosa, we followed small jeep roads into the countryside. As we slowly bounced along the muddy potholed road, I caught glimpses of Mt. Gorongosa in the distance. At nearly 6,000 feet in elevation, this massif can be seen for miles around when it is not shrouded in clouds and fog. Water continually cascades down its slopes to the valleys below.

"Too little water is not a problem here," explained Luis Bila, the ADPP project leader for Farmers' Clubs in the region, and my guide for the day. "Still there are challenges," he added. "Sometimes there is just too much water." Luis described how during the rainy season water will rush down the sloped fields, washing away top soil. The Farmers' Clubs program has been addressing this problem, helping to implement measures that prevent soil erosion.

We parked our truck on the side of the road, and proceeded to walk along a trail through tall grass that towered above my head. After about ten minutes, we came to a clearing and were met there by Joao Bernas, a stocky farmer with a gentle voice and a firm handshake. He introduced himself as the president of the Aedodromo Farmers' Club in Gorongosa.

As we toured the demonstration fields, Joao explained that he joined the ADPP Farmers' Club program in 2006. Before that time, he and the other 30 club members had been planting corn the same way that they had always done. With the training in conservation farming that they received in Farmers' Club, which expanded the types of crops they planted and changed their cultivation practices, they have seen a substantial increase in crop yield.

We walked down to where a stream was flowing briskly. Joao explained that the stream is a reliable irrigation source. Still, there is the challenge of getting the water to the crops. "Farmers Club has helped us with irrigation by providing motorized pumps and other equipment, which has been a great help in increasing our harvests," he explained. He also pointed to how the rows of beans and other crops were planted perpendicular to the slope, helping to slow the flow of water across the fields during the rainy season. In the past, Joao explained that he had previously removed corn stalks after the harvest and burned them. Now he laid them down in rows parallel to the plant rows, which further helped reduce soil erosion.

Before leaving, Joao invited me to his home. He and his family live in a small brick house with a tin roof. An electric line comes in through one wall. On the roof I noticed a small satellite dish. Inside, Joao proudly showed me his television and refrigerator.

Though modest and with floors and walls that were earthen, his house is distinct from other thatched roof homes in the village. A dishwashing table and drying stand had been erected in the front yard. Jaoa said that the Farmers' Clubs health and hygiene training taught him that using such a stand can help reduce the spread of disease. Before, his family had left dishes on the ground to dry. Farmers' Clubs thus not only assists participants in increasing crop production, but in improving their overall health and well-being.

Joao thanked me before leaving and invited me to visit again. I responded that I would be happy to do so and wished him luck, adding that I would look forward to seeing what new progress I would observe on my return.