Alumni small grant team empowers Mozambican farmers

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Aurelio with Beneficiaries in Guija.

Farmers in Mozambique’s Guija district have practised traditional farmer methods for decades but lack of knowledge of alternative, eco-friendly and sustainable ways to fertilise crops was limiting their ability to gain higher yields. Two Mozambican alumni, Luisa Hele and Aurelio Macaringue, with the support of  an Australia Awards Small Grant of $10,000, are inspiring farmers to practice new farming methods to get the most out of their efforts.

Luisa and Aurelio joined 32 other alumni at an Alumni Agricultural Symposium held in Kenya in 2017, sponsored by Australia Awards. While at the symposium, they formed a team of four alumni  to successfully apply for the grant, focusing on ecological approaches to improve productivity, household food and nutrition security and income in Guija.

The project is empowering farmers to overcome the financial challenges of buying expensive commercial fertiliser and livestock feed by recycling nutrients from other sources in the ecosystem, such as rabbit manure and vegetables, to feed their animals.

Luisa, who completed a Master of Animal Science (2016) at the University of Queensland, and Aurelio, who completed a Master of Agricultural Studies (2012), also at the University of Queensland, used the knowledge and skills developed through their Australia Awards to improve household food and nutrition security. They taught farmers and the local community how to use readily available resources, such as animal droppings and underused crop residue, to improve farming and create a more liveable and sustainable environment.

“Our project trained 100 farmers on adopting manure from rabbits to fertilise their crops, a practice which also reduces environmental pollution caused by chemical fertilisers,” says Luisa. “Through the ‘From Production to Plate’ project farmers were educated on preparing healthy and nutritious food and recycling nutrients in the ecosystem by using vegetable residue as animal feed.”

The alumni ran demonstration sessions for farmers on preparing balanced diets with animal protein and vegetables from their own land. The project promoted food security and increased farmers’ incomes by 20 per cent. Farmers also learned more about financial literacy, including the importance of keeping accurate and up-to-date books, managing costs, and monitoring revenue and profits.

“Rabbit enterprises can deliver benefits such as food, nutrition, income security and manure,” says Luisa. “Rabbits are easy to manage, require little space and they reproduce and grow quickly They can also be grown on a small scale by women, youth and families. If the production value chain is carefully managed, rabbits also provide communities with a sustainable source of meat.”

As Guija is a low rainfall region, Luisa and Aurelio set up two farmer field schools along the area’s irrigation system to train farmers on alternative farming methods. Experiential plots and land were designated, and 20 rabbit cages built, with experts on hand to teach modern, economical and productive farming methods.

Luisa’s idea for the project emerged from her Master thesis, which focused on livestock-crop integration and mixed livestock and crop production strategies to improve food security. Joining forces with Aurelio was highly beneficial since the two like-minded alumni have similar academic backgrounds and are employed in higher education institutions—Luisa an assistant lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University and Aurelio an assistant lecturer at the Higher Education Institute of Gaza.

To implement the suite of project activities, the pair worked alongside Deborah Mensah from Ghana and Grace Manzeke from Zimbabwe. These two University of Sydney alumni, completed the “Increasing the development impact of agricultural research” short course” in 2015.

All four alumni collaborated on the project’s concept note and final proposal. They also had input into planning the  project, developing training guidelines and organising meetings with local leaders.

All alumni received technical support from their work institutions. Luisa’s colleagues, for example, advised on alternative farming inputs such as leaves and straw instead of producing ash which is bad for the environment. The department also assisted in drafting easy-to-understand guidelines for farmers.

This project is a shining example of what can be achieved when alumni collaborate and gather entire communities around a project with major and long-term benefits for all.

Presentation of cheque for the small grant project at the 2017 Agriculture Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya From left to right: Prof. Mu Li, Deborah Mensah, Aurélio Macaringue, Luisa Hele, Grace Manzeke and Caroline Mbugua

Luisa and Aurelio in Guija

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