Coffee growers help reforest Mozambique’s Mount Gorongosa

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Querida Barequinha intently sorts through the coffee beans laid out on racks to dry in the sun, plucking out any that are cracked or misshapen.

“I like growing coffee because it earns cash that goes right into my pocket,” she said, with a darting smile. “I can buy soap, cooking oil, schoolbooks and other household items. It’s very useful.”

Barequinha has been growing coffee for four years on the upper slopes of Mount Gorongosa, where clouds frequently cover the rainforest canopy.

A mother of seven, Barequinha says she is encouraging her family to join her in coffee production.

“I would love my kids to have the hope of growing coffee and what it would mean for them, because it offers us a source of hope,” she says, in chiGorongosi, a dialect of the Sena language.

Barequinha is one of 400 Mozambican farmers producing coffee that both helps locals earn an income while at the same time restoring the rapidly eroding rainforest of Mount Gorongosa.

At the start of August 2019 a peace agreement was finally signed between Mozambique’s government and Renamo rebels who had been insurging against the regime for 6 years.

The rebels’ military headquarters are nearby and with peace now on the mountaintop, there are plans to dramatically scale up coffee production, as part of the national park’s  plan to boost the incomes of people living around the park as well as revitalising the environment.

Mount Gorongosa rises 1,863 metres (6,112 feet) above Mozambique’s central plains and the tropical hardwood forest of its upper rainy regions is being stripped by local farmers who want to grow maize.

Coffee is a crop that can stop that deforestation, say park experts.

Shade-grown coffee shrubs produce better tasting coffee beans, so the trees are planted among indigenous trees.

Matthew Jordan is an associate director of the Agricultural Livelihoods Program of Gorongosa National Park and he says interspersing local trees such as albizias and other crops with coffee trees vastly improves the quality of the coffee bean.

“This is native hardwood trees planted alongside the coffee trees. And what that does is it provides its shade about 60 percent, 60/40 percent shade for the coffee. And that creates this really high quality coffee,” says Jordan.

Not only does planting more trees allow the coffee to thrive, but it has improved the environment.

“We’re in an exponential growth phase. So we started with this 40,000 trees which is, what the coffee that’s produced behind me that’s where that comes from, is this pilot phase. And now this year we’ve already planted 300,000 coffee trees,” says Jordan.

“That’s the type of scale that’s really required to create a maximum impact for the community.”

Twenty years ago Gorongosa park was derelict as a result of the country’s devastating civil war (1977-1992) and much of its wildlife had been poached.

The park is now being revived with help from a non-governmental organisation supported by American philanthropist Greg Carr who is working with the Mozambican government.

The organisation allocates more than half of its annual budget to supporting the communities that live around the park.

There are more than 800 Renamo rebels in three armed camps at the top of Mount Gorongosa. Their presence had been restricting the expansion of coffee and other agriculture.

But now that a peace agreement has been signed, Jordan believes the project will be transformative.

“During the five years we’ve had two years of very intense social political conflict. We’ve had one of the most severe droughts in sub-Saharan Africa history. We’ve had cases of epidemic plagues on food crops like maize and most recently I’ve had cyclone Idai. And through all of it, we’ve been there every single day on that mountain working with the community on this project of hope,” he says.

He also thinks that the project’s need for farmers will give rebels a motivation to give up their weapons.

“What we’ve seen is that hope is really transformative. And people are really believing in it. And that’s why they keep coming back to us. That’s why they, they keep promoting it and we see that every year We’re onboarding more and more farmers.”

Vaida Frangene started as a volunteer and quickly progressed to becoming a coffee bean grower.

“Last year I bought new capulanas (brightly printed cloth used as skirts and scarves) and some things for the house. It was great,” she says.

Mozambique is not considered to be one of Africa’s major coffee producers like Ethiopia and Kenya, but Mount Gorongosa’s unique climate makes it very promising.

The development in the area has attracted the interest of coffee giant Nespresso, who is keen on promoting the park’s coffee production.

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