Mozambican Women Catalyze Change in the Cashew Industry

Cashew farming communities in northern Mozambique are seeing firsthand the important contributions that women can make when they are empowered to make a difference.

This story is part of our month-long #SheFightsPoverty blog series in honor of International Women’s Day 2017.

A few of MozaCajú’s female promoters (left to right): Janete Caciano, Fatima Mussa, Zura Issumail, Gilda Jose, Bendita Rafael, Sofia Momade, Salima Amule, and Matilde Pedro.

Traditionally in Mozambique, men are responsible for generating and managing income for the household, while women are responsible primarily for domestic affairs. However, MozaCajú, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) supporting production, processing and marketing of cashew along the entire value chain, is working to change that by supporting female cashew farmers to become more actively involved in agricultural activities and livelihoods.

MozaCajú recognizes that investing in women has a large impact on the economic and social well-being of the household and community. Therefore, the project has made deliberate efforts to reach out to women to include them in various roles along the value chain. Female farmer promotion agents, for example, have contributed to an increase in cashew nut yields and incomes by helping to teach farmers new production techniques. Meanwhile, female nursery owners have helped increase the sustainability of the cashew industry by promoting new planting.

Teaching best practices in their communities

Gilda practices teaching at a training on crop protection.

Fatima Mussa and Gilda Jose are two cashew farmers from neighboring districts in Cabo Delgado province, a predominantly cashew-producing region. Fatima is from Mueda, a district in the interior, and Gilda is from the coastal district of Mocîmboa da Praia.

In 2014 these women were chosen to become two of MozaCajú’s 179 farmer promotion agents, “promoters” for short. A promoter is a cashew farmer who is trusted and known in his or her community and who works on behalf of MozaCajú to deliver technical assistance on cashew production to other farmers. Being a promoter is an important and challenging job – it is essentially the role that agricultural extension workers have in many other parts of the world.

MozaCajú has specific criteria for promoters, including attainment of a certain level of schooling and literacy, as well as approval from the community. The majority of MozaCajú’s promoters are male, but around 20 percent are female. Gilda and Fatima were chosen by fellow farmers because of their education levels and their active participation in the community.

Over the past two years, these women have joined other MozaCajú promoters in trainings on techniques for improved cashew production, such as cleaning, pruning, harvesting and post-harvest techniques. They have traveled to centralized locations for these trainings, which strive to foster peer learning within the group.

Fatima (left) selling her cashew at market.

These trainings have provided opportunities for promoters to get out of their own communities in order to meet other farmers. This has been particularly important for the female promoters, as they get few opportunities to travel to new districts. The trainings also allow them to establish an informal network of other female farmers to share best practices.  As Gilda and Fatima have been attending the same training sessions since 2014, they have come to know and learn from one another despite living about 55 miles apart – a large distance in a rural area.

The real work of the promoter, however, begins when they return to their communities. As promoters, these women are responsible for disseminating new knowledge and information to other cashew farmers – who are organized in groups of 20 to 30 people – through the help of materials such as field manuals and posters.

Through MozaCajú, promoters like Gilda and Fatima are reaching over 23,000 cashew farmers with these new and improved production techniques. The farmers they have trained have seen a 31 percent increase in productivity and a 71 percent increase in farmer income.

The experience of being a promoter has had a positive impact on the women as well. They have learned how to organize their community and communicate important information to large groups of people – skills that most rural Mozambican women do not have an opportunity to develop.

Seeding equality in her nursery

A few hundred miles south from Gilda and Fatima, Mariamo Agy works as a cashew farmer and nursery owner in the Angoche district of Nampula province.

In early 2014, Mariamo and her husband Carlos, who is a MozaCajú promoter, decided that she would attend MozaCajú nursery trainings being held in a nearby village. Mariamo learned how to establish and run a nursery, including techniques for grafting seedlings. Following the training, she received the necessary materials in order to begin her work as a nursery owner.

Mariamo tends to her cashew seedlings.

“I learned in the MozaCajú training that for better production, I should select the plants with the desirable characteristics and later remove scions for grafting,” Mariamo explained. “Thus, at the time of production, I select and mark the plants with the best characteristics… ensuring that the new plants have high productive potential.”

Last year, Mariamo produced more than 3,800 seedlings that successfully germinated. She sold these seedlings for a total income of MZN 30,460, or approximately $550, a large sum in rural Mozambique where the GDP per capita is less than $600.

Declining productivity of cashew trees with limited re-planting, has been one of the greatest challenges for Mozambican cashew farmers. Mariamo recognizes that establishing nurseries which can enable the planting of new trees is an investment in the future and an important way to ensure the sustainability of the cashew nut industry. Mariamo’s business is one of 85 MozaCajú-supported nurseries that have enabled the planting of over 400,000 seedlings in local communities.

Mariamo loves her work in the nursery so much that she hopes to teach it to the whole family. “Not only did I earn money that I did not earn before, I also gained skills and a profession that, besides generating income, I hope to teach my children in order to continue to serve communities through the provision of cashew tree seedlings and other fruit trees,” Mariamo said.

Mariamo stands in front of her new house with a tin roof.

In fact, Mariamo taught Carlos how to graft and plant. The couple even says that Mariamo has “employed” her husband as a worker in the nursery.

Mariamo and Carlos have already experienced the positive impact that a dual income has on the household. “With the revenue I earned, I proposed to my husband that we make home improvements,” Mariamo said. “Since the house we had was thatch-roofed, it was always susceptible to catching fire at any moment especially because of the seasonal, uncontrolled fires.”

With their nursery income, Mariamo and Carlos were able to construct a new home with a corrugated tin roof, and also buy and install solar panels to provide electricity during the night. In addition to being less vulnerable to wild fires and having a dry home during the rainy season, the new electricity will help their three children study.

Through their dedicated work over the past few years, these three strong women – Mariamo, Gilda and Fatima – have been contributing to a larger movement that is revitalizing the Mozambican cashew nut industry. Their many successes in promoting adoption of good agricultural practices and re-planting of cashew trees highlight how women in Mozambique can be empowered to play a leading role in agricultural value chains, thus contributing to the economic well-being of their households and communities.

Learn more about how MozaCajú is changing lives all along the cashew value chain, from tree to trade.