Chimoio is Mozambique’s fifth largest city, about halfway up on the left when you look at a map. The journey there involved a two-hour flight from Maputo on a 30-seat propellor plane.
I knew that maize was a staple crop in rural Mozambique, but I didn’t realise it would be everywhere. The road into town from the tiny airport feels like it’s cut through a field of maize. Even in more built up areas, a few inches of dirt around a house or alongside a road is an opportunity to plant a seed.
For many people, over-reliance on maize (and cassava) means poor health. There’s too little diversity in vegetable production and consumption, and dairy and meat is often unavailable, or unaffordable.
My reason for going to Chimoio was to speak to some of the entrepreneurs who – with some support from GAIN – are diversifying the food supply, making healthier foods available and more affordable.
First stop: Sussundenga, a district 75km north of Chimoio, where Samuel Guisado has a herd of dairy cows and is now starting a product line in sterilised milk. Unlike UHT milk, sterilised milk is made with the actual fresh stuff (rather than powder). But it still has the long-life benefit, so people without fridges can use it.
People love it and want it, Samuel told me, but until now sterilised milk has been imported from Zimbabwe, selling at 55 MZN (£1) for 500ml. When he starts making it locally it will be cheaper, around 30-35 MZN. He’ll also make it in different flavours – strawberry and chocolate – to appeal to youngsters.
I asked why no one has produced the milk locally before, and Samuel rolled his eyes.
“In Zimbabwe, farmers can get low-interest loans at 3-5%. Here it’s at least 12%, usually more. They still use the civil war as justification, but that ended a long time ago.”
From there, we made the bumpy journey back towards the outskirts of Chimoio, where we were meeting Lucas Mujuju, who’s producing a different kind of dairy product: soya-milk yogurt, branded as So Soja.
Lucas explained that this is an unfamiliar product round here, but he’s been doing the rounds at schools and fairs, giving out samples of his raspberry-flavoured soya yogurt and explaining the health benefits of the protein content.
He sources his beans from local farmers – only 13 at present, because there hasn’t been much of a market until now.
With a gleaming new production plant about to swing into action, Lucas’s output will be going up, creating a bigger market for the beans. He expects to be sourcing from about 50 farmers before long, giving them a steady market for their produce.
By then it was 4pm, and all I’d eaten that day was a mini-cupcake on the plane at 7am. So when Lucas offered me a 250ml bottle of his raspberry soya yoghurt, I downed it in several gulps.
Delicious, and no doubt very good for me.
Follow all of Caspar’s journey in Africa here.