Family and cooperative horticulture in Marracuene

Interview with Joao Carlos Palate coordinator of the Union of Cooperatives UCAM and Pedro Jorge Livinga, head the department of rural development of UCAM

“We need more training in ecological farming and control on imports.”

The food the participants eat at the fifth conference that is now being celebrated in Matola, 10 km from the capitol Maputo, comes from a nearby rural area. In particular, the vegetables are the main produce these farmers have organized around. There are 4,500 peasants in 40 cooperatives that are grouped in the UCAM, linked to the agrarian union UNAC. When and how was UCAM founded?

“The Union of Agricultural Cooperatives in the region of Marracuene (UCAM) 30 km from the capital was founded in 1985, when five agricultural cooperatives in the area united to defend the interest of the farmers and develop programs. In 1987 the politics of Mozambique changed. There was a shift from a centralized economy to a capitalist economy. This motivated the associations of farmers to unite, and they progressively incorporated more cooperatives into the UCAM union. Every year new associations entered. At present there are 40 agricultural cooperatives that have 4500 farming families as members.  We form part of the agrarian union UNAC of Mozambique, member of the Via Campesina. The number of members by cooperative oscillates between 16 and 300 families. The cooperatives have their representatives, who meet monthly.”

How do the families organize?

“Each family has their plot of land that varies from half a hectare (about one acre) to ten hectares. They produce to sell. Besides the vegetables, the families produce rice, millet and corn and they also have some animals (cows, chickens, ducks or goats) for their own food. A portion of the vegetables are also for their own consumption; the excess is sold. The first and last three months of the year are the best for farming. When the temperature is too high it's difficult, and even more so in higher zones where there is less access to water.”

Where and how are the products sold?

“A group from UCAM organizes trade fairs four times a week in two different areas situated next to the main road, to sell the produce of the families. The existence of these markets has stimulated agricultural production. Maputo is a great consumer of our vegetables.  The prices are low. There are a lot of agricultural products that arrive from large and intensive land-holdings in South Africa which keeps the prices low. Nevertheless, those who produce more extensively with less inputs and lower production costs will have better results.”

Besides organizing fairs, what else does UCAM contribute?

“We organize training in agroecological practices, to produce with less chemicals.  The farmers are aware of the importance of producing without chemicals. We have learned from the experiences of organizations in other countries who are members of the Via Campesina how to optimize the use of our natural resources, and when we do use inputs, to use as little as possible.  Also as member of the UNAC, we ask for governmental support for farmers.  We have gained increasing recognition from the government and we hope that as we are celebrating this fifth conference here, in future this recognition will grow.  It is always a fight to obtain measures from the authorities. We need controls on imports of cheap agricultural products from the large and intensive South African landholdings.  On the other hand, they oblige us to buy seeds, that are very expensive.  Measures need to be adopted so that we are not obligated to buy.”

What other demands or proposals do you present to the Government?

“We want better infrastructure for irrigation (dikes, dams, canals) and more technical support so that the people have the knowhow to be better farmers.  We also need schools in the rural areas.  We only have primary schools and no transportation to continue studying in Maputo.  We need transport, electricity, more drinking water, hospitals, medical attention and more medicines.  Outside the cities, these services do not exist, which affects us negatively as farmers.

Despite all these shortcomings, a positive thing is that we do not go hungry; we eat well and even a lot.  We can go for a month or two with no income because we have food.  However, the people of the city cannot live without money."

What is the situation with Aids?

“It is a serious problem and we do not have treatment. In spite of the work we do to raise awareness, we have not been able to curb Aids. In the city there is some medical attention, but in the rural zones there is nothing. Although it is an illness that is more present in the city, it also affects the rural areas.  Frequently it is a matter of young people who go to the city to study and return sick.  Apart from the loss of human lives, a lot of knowledge is lost because these are people who have studied.”

Xabier Elias, Ehne