Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Farmer-to-Farmer Program: Final thoughts on Mozambique

Three weeks flew by quickly in Mozambique. From a professional view, it would have been nice to spend an extra week seeing how the lab puts into regular practice the training and recommendations. As a visitor, I would have liked to see more of the country itself. My hotel in Beira was a block away from the Indian Ocean, and I never even got a chance to see the beach. Below are some odds and ends from my time.


USAID's Farmer-to-Farmer Program was a very good experience for me. It was really great to use my agricultural science background and teaching skills in another environment. Thanks to the following organizations:
- Oregon State University Seed Lab
- SNS-Chimoio

Lost in Translation

Other than numbers and days, my limited Spanish did not really help my understanding of Portuguese. The Mozambican version sounds really different than the accents I'd heard in Brasil and Portugal.

When I first arrived, people kept mentioning talking to or getting help from "fow." It took a few minutes to remember "pao" (bread in Portuguese) is pronounced "pow," so then I realized "fow" probably referred to "FAO," the Food and Agriculture Organization!

Working with a translator was a new experience for me. One simple thing I hadn't considered before is that explaining anything takes at least twice as long. This made my estimates for training time way off.

A few, amusing times, the translator had to go several rounds between the lab members and me, only to discover that, as a scientist training scientists, I had already anticipated and understood their questions. So the translator was the communication barrier! It was great illustration that scientists around the world think alike.

Food and Cooking

Most of the Mozambican dishes I had were simple and unremarkable - beef stews or the ubiquitous grilled chicken and chips. I was really expecting to see a lot more beans or lentils in the diet, but many legumes (other than pintos and green beans) are imported and expensive. Vegetables seemed to be limited to the regular side salad of lettuce, onion, and tomato (this may be because I was visiting during winter). I am told that the highlights of Mozambican food are the seafood dishes, but I was too far inland to sample any.

Much of the cooking at home is done on charcoal, which does add a great smoky flavor. The downside is that this practice results in people getting sick or dying from the fumes and poor ventilation. One shocking statistic said that charcoal-related deaths in Africa were higher than the deaths from malaria! Part of the trouble I was told is that people who make charcoal make it from any tree - not necessarily the most efficient burning or least toxic wood.


As a developing country, I expected to see differences in the technology being employed. On one hand, a visit to a large seed processing/conditioning plant showed equipment and pesticide technology that was a old but still in use in the U.S. On the other hand, it was an awakening to hear a retailer get excited about the potential of their new product - hybrid seed. To put this in perspective, his current seeds were open-pollinated varieties, and hybrid seed technology for corn (maize) became available in quantity to American farmers in 1930.

Power outages were less than anticipated with only the occasional flicker. Phone and internet coverage could be really spotty. Vodaphone and MCel are the two carriers, and some people carry one of each to make sure they have service. The street corners of Chimoio were always littered with guys selling lottery-ticket-type strips of cards to top up your mobile.

Chimoio is the fifth largest city in Mozambique, and still, finding items on your shopping list, particularly electronics-related, could be difficult. Much in the shops are secondhand luck of the draw or poorly manufactured, giving China a bad rap in Mozambique. It took three stores to find a plug adapter for the scale in the lab, and we never did find a replacement light bulb or a good desk lamp to use for evaluations.

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