A BCI Farmer’s Journey to Raising Yields in Mozambique

In Mozambique, smallholder farmers participating in the BCI programme manage 90% of the land under cotton cultivation, with 86% of the country’s cotton farmers producing Better Cotton. BCI Farmers grow rain-fed cotton, largely by hand, with many growing their crops on plots inherited from their families. As the climate changes, irregular rainfall patterns are bringing significant challenges to farmers, with droughts leading in some cases to the complete loss of farmers’ crops. Widespread poverty and a lack of transport and trading infrastructure can present further barriers to addressing these issues, preventing farmers from accessing the tools, finance, inputs and equipment they need.

Our four Implementing Partners* (IPs) in Mozambique support BCI Farmers in adopting sustainable, affordable techniques to help raise productivity and mitigate the impacts of climate change. They also procure inputs such as seeds and pesticides on BCI Farmers’ behalf, further helping to reduce costs. From a social perspective, they raise awareness of the importance of Decent Work (a universal concept of fair, ethical work, defined by the International Labour Organization), focusing on important issues such as helping women in cotton-farming communities gain equal work and decision-making opportunities.

One BCI IP, Sociedale Algodoeira do Niassa – João Ferreira dos Santos (SAN JFS) has been supporting BCI Farmer Manuel Maussene since 2013. 47-year-old Manuel manages his 2.5-hectare cotton smallholding in Niassa Province. And with eight children, the family depends on his ability to achieve a plentiful, healthy crop. Since participating in the BCI programme, Manuel has taken significant steps to boost productivity on his farm, focusing on more efficient approaches to managing pests, maximising his use of rainwater, and improving soil health and fibre quality. In 2016, he achieved a record crop of 1,500kg of cotton per hectare, 50% higher than his 2015 crop, signifigantly higher than the average BCI Farmer in Mozambique.

Manuel’s attention to detail and precision in applying best practice techniques has led to him becoming a Lead Farmer***. In this role, he has assisted in training sessions for 270 BCI Farmers from within his community, lending his own plot for best practice demonstrations, and communicates regularly with them to share knowledge and listen to their concerns. In 2017, he was involved in an IP-led, digital initiative to measure exactly how much land is being cultivated by BCI Farmers in Niassa Province. He received a tablet from SAN JFS to conduct measurements, with the IP superimposing satellite imagery over the recorded area. He also uses the tablet to show training videos to the BCI Farmers in his PU, sharing best practice techniques from Mozambique and other BCI production countries.

Managing the risks posed by pests such as bollworm and jassids (which attack the bolls and foliage respectively), presents an ongoing challenge for Manuel and his fellow BCI Farmers. Taking a more precise approach to pesticide application can help to keep pests under control while reducing costs and environmental impact. Instead of spraying every two weeks, Manuel has learnt to check whether the number of pests has surpassed a certain threshold before spraying. He also grows his plants more closely together, moving away from traditional practices, which allows him to apply pesticides more efficiently and cultivate more plants on the same land area, making better use of his plot.

As the climate changes and pests migrate to new locations, farmers must also remain vigilant to evolving pest threats. For example, the mealybug pest (a sap-sucking insect) ravaged many crops in 2016, for example, spreading quickly due to the warm, dry conditions. We worked with our IPs to provide Manuel and his fellow BCI Farmers with information from the Cotton Institute of Mozambique (IAM) on how to tackle the pest effectively.

Where possible, Manuel uses natural substances such as neem leaves to make botanical pesticides, resulting in further savings, as well as perished weeds from his farm to create a nourishing cover for the top soil. This has the double benefit of providing nutrients to the soil while helping to maximise moisture retention by reducing evaporation and ensuring more water is directed to the roots, essential in times of drought and irregular rainfall. Improving soil health is vital, with soil degradation a major issue for BCI Farmers in Mozambique and the majority of African countries. He further improves soil health by rotating his crops with maize, cassava and beans, giving the soil a chance to regenerate.

With shifting rainfall patterns continuing to pose a serious concern for cotton farmers in Mozambique, maximising use of rainwater is vital. When delayed rainfall obliges farmers to sow seeds a month or two later than usual (in December or January), this can create a less favourable timeframe for growing, with the days becoming shorter towards the winter months, depriving the crops of sufficient sunlight, just as they are entering the growth phase. To conserve as much rainwater as possible and prevent soil erosion, Manuel has built ‘contours’ (heaped piles of soil) along each row of cotton to act as barriers, helping to reduce water run-off and make the most of this precious resource.

Protecting fibre quality is another key priority. Manuel has learnt to begin picking when half of his plants are displaying their bolls of cotton, lowering the possibility of contamination from road dust. He immediately separates the harvested crop in two groups, graded A and B, before drying the cotton in sheltered, purpose-built driers, made from locally sourced tree branches and covered with grasses, further protecting the crop from dirt and dust. Finally, he maintains the quality of the cotton en route to market by storing it in cloth bags rather than plastic. All these techniques combine to allow him to conserve as much of his crop as possible.

By participating in BCI, Manuel has gained respect and standing in the community, and used his increased profits to benefit his family. He has been able to send his children to school and bought school books to assist their learning, and strengthened the construction of his house, replacing the wooden branches with bricks and the grass roof with water-proof zinc plates. He has also bought a motorbike, which allows him to reach customers more easily to sell his food crops, find inputs for these crops or buy groceries for the family.

Manuel’s BCI training on Decent Work is changing the way he and his family approach the division of tasks on the farm, too. His wife is now playing a greater role in the commercial side of their business, often going with Manuel to sell the family’s cotton at local markets.

In the future, Manuel plans to continue improving productivity on his farm, and may even expand his farm to cultivate more Better Cotton. He will also continue investing his profits in activities to support his family, including by purchasing goats to sell milk, cheese and meat in his community.

Read more on BCI’s work in Mozambique here.

* Conducting training for millions of BCI Farmers worldwide is a major undertaking and relies on the support of trusted, like-minded partners on the ground in each country where Better Cotton is grown. We call these partners our Implementing Partners (IPs), and we take an inclusive approach to the types of organisation with whom we partner. They can be NGOs, co-operatives or companies within the cotton supply chain, and are responsible for helping BCI Farmers acquire the social and environmental knowledge they need to cultivate Better Cotton, and encourage uptake of Better Cotton in the cotton supply chain. 

** Each IP supports a series of Producer Units (PUs), a grouping of BCI Farmers (from smallholder or medium sized farms) from the same community or region. Their leader, the PU Manager, helps multiple, smaller groups, known as Learning Groups, to master best practice techniques, in line with the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria, our global definition of Better Cotton.

*** Each Learning Group, in turn, is supported by a Lead Farmer, who organises training sessions for his or her members, creates regular opportunities to discuss progress and challenges, and encourages best practice in recording their results.