Mozambique #18 Agriculture seminar and other thoughts

My apologies for the long delay between entries. I have been occupied with work and travel, and doing a lot of reading rather than writing. Briefly I will talk about work.

Three weeks ago MOZaic hosted a week long agricultural seminar. Using our network of churches in rural Gaza and Inhambane we invited 45 people from rural communities and Manjacaze to stay at our conference center. Throughout the week we talked about conservation agriculture techniques, fruit crops, animals, bee keeping, perennials, simple technologies, food processing, seed selection, medicinal plants, nutrition, hygiene and composting. I taught many of the lessons and facilitated many of the sessions, which was a lot of fun, albeit a large responsibility.

The idea of these seminars is not only to teach people new things that they may not have known, but also to facilitate group conversation and exchange experience. There exists a huge amount of knowledge and experience within the group of farmers themselves, and we are looking to provide a venue in which that knowledge can be shared. It was a lot of fun to talk with the farmers and hear their stories. There is a lot of interesting experience and information out there amongst the farming populace. For example one man shared with the group his experience that when planting a coconut tree, if you sleep next to the coconut tree the day you plant it, it will begin to produce in 3 years. Coconuts usually take 10 years before they start producing coconuts. Do you think the scientific community would be interested in this anecdotal evidence? Can you imagine industrial coconut plantations all over the world now installing bunk beds in their fields to increase production?

At the end of the seminar we distributed seeds and cuttings of plants that we had talked about throughout the week. In sum, the seminar experience was loads of fun and I learned a lot about teaching and facilitating. The goal in the future is to have larger seminars, invite more people and especially invite other NGO’s and agricultural organizations to share the wealth of resources and plants that we have accumulated in Manjacaze. We have already been contacted by other organizations that want us to facilitate trainings and the potential for growth right now is tremendous. We will be visiting rural communities in the coming months and holding agriculture seminars in the field, working in farmers field’s directly as a follow up and extension to our work here in Manjacaze. Now its just a matte of seeing if the seminar attendees will actually apply the techniques they learned.

Outside of the seminars, after submitting a request to the local government, we were awarded a hectare of land outside the village to develop as a proper demonstration farm, where we will utilize all the best techniques of conservation agriculture and silviculture to show that with careful attention to the fertility of the land, a small piece of land can be extremely productive in a completely sustainable manner. In order to develop this land we submitted a grant request to the United Nations small grants program to build the infrastructure and hire an agriculture technician and laborers. There is a good chance we will get the grant, therefore development of this land will become priority.

In the business of changing minds and culturally instilled habits, I have learned that demonstrations are absolutely essential. If the subject of transformation cannot tangibly see the results of this risky business of change, they are obviously very reluctant to adopt new methods. Therefore before we can really influence people to change their techniques, we need to practice them on a large scale with carefully measured results. Talk is cheap, to demonstrate is a much more powerful means of communication.

In my daily experience I am constantly surprised by the resistance to change and close-mindedness when it comes to having new experiences. People will tell me how much they suffer or how poor they are, but when I give suggestions of behavior change or hint at an alternative solution it is usually met with skepticism and fear. Especially so if the solution requires effort. Its even more baffling to me as these suggestions can obviously help people! But something I am learning about culture and humanity is that absolutely nothing is obvious. I have always taken for granted the value of just a standard 12th grade western education, however in instilling basic principles of mathematics, biology, history and critical thinking skills it is very valuable. In speaking with and living amongst largely uneducated people (what we westerners would call education), some of the logic and reasoning that I have observed has just floored me.

For example, I told my 16 year old neighbors that I was going to be traveling to Maputo and I would be gone for a week. When I got back they said to me “Evan, we saw you traveling to Maputo!”. Very unlikely I thought, I was in a private car and we only stopped once, how is it that they saw me. They went on to explain, “we saw an airplane fly overhead and we know that white people only travel by airplane and so we knew that you were on the plane, how was your flight?” I explained to them the obvious fallacy in their reasoning and they were disappointed to learn that it wasn’t me they saw on the airplane. This leads me to the question, are the abilities of rationally and logically constructing arguments and formulating ideas about the world a culturally instilled phenomena? Are certain cultures better at critical thinking skills? I am starting to believe this may be the case. Nothing is obvious anymore.

When it comes to biological and ecological principles that we take for granted as obvious the assumptions and beliefs are even more illogical. Working in agriculture, which has its base in biological principles, people do things on a regular basis that are just unthinkable given a basic understanding of scientific principles. When I talk to people about agriculture, science or anything remotely technical I am never certain if they are understanding me in the way in which I intended. We speak a common language, but due to our educational and cultural backgrounds our contextual framework for this information is so drastically different that perhaps a lot of what I am saying is just words. A lot of my work related to teaching is figuring out the best way to explain technical information to a demographic that lacks the conceptual scientific framework to understand the information in the way that I understand it. I have developed a teaching style that uses a lot of visuals, games and audience participation, which I think is well tailored. Real understanding of a subject necessarily entails proper action, therefore when I visit someone’s home and they have mulched all their trees and are using sunken planting stations I know that my manner of teaching was effective. I also try to get as much feedback as possible. I am very curious how people understand information as I think their responses can ultimately help me in my presentations.

Through my experience of my own mind I am realizing how difficult it is to see the world free from cultural filters and expectations. The human mind seems to be a vacuum for culture. When one set of beliefs and culturally instilled habits leaves, they are filled in by the ambient culture, whatever that may be. To cure oneself from the sickness of culture one would have to live alone in some cave up on a mountain and limit contact with others, probably with lots of meditation and silence. For example, in the US I loved animals, dogs, cats whatever. Here, where animals are not respected and are marginally cared for simply because they have some utility such as guarding the house or eating the rats that live in the kitchen, I find myself also not noticing or paying attention to animals. Simpler things include hygiene and cleanliness habits. Most Mozambicans take at least 2-3 baths per day. When I first arrived I thought this was ridiculous. Now however I am not ashamed to admit that I also bathe frequently. If you are thinking of choosing a new culture to live in, my advice would be to choose carefully. It will get into you in ways that you simply cannot predict, for good or for bad.

I am also learning that much of our personal identities are derived from a cultural context. For example when I was living in the US I loved hiking, camping, mountain climbing, anything outdoors etc. These activities are simply not available in the same organized way due to a complete lack of recreational park infrastructure. Therefore I cannot be this “outdoorsman adventurer” that I may have identified myself as back home. The examples are numerous, as many of the things I used to do are simply not available. This has had the effect of stripping Evan down to the foundations of a core set of values, rather than identifying Evan as a set of actions in the world. I have been able to see what it is that I truly value, and how hard I am willing to work to maintain this set of values living in a cultural context that doesn’t support my beliefs, value systems or preferred hobbies. It has been interesting as well to discover the plasticity and resourcefulness of my own imagination in substituting the wide range of available hobbies and experiences available back in the American context. I have been living in Manjacaze now for 7 months, however it feels like I’ve learned 20 years’ worth of information and experience since first stepping foot in my empty reed house.

I am in the process of preparing a group of very short stories and funny occurrences that have happened to me recently. Hopefully it will be entertaining and shed some light on Mozambican culture.

Photos: The seminar group. A few PC volunteers came along with their Mozambican counterparts as well as  a JICA volunteer (the Japanese version of PC) who spoke about beekeeping.

We had carnival here in Manjacaze in which there was a live DJ downtown with a costume competition and wild dancing. Of course I participated, but it was a lot harder to hide my identity due to my slightly different skin color than everyone else. For two days after carnival my phone was ringing off the hook with text messages of people telling me they saw me dancing. Did I mention that inhibitions are seriously lowered when you dance with a disguise on?

The Kanna flowers that I planted are blooming right now. The women that live around me constantly commented to me with an air of skepticism and disdain, “why do you bother watering a plant that you cant eat?”, I responded by saying, “the body nourishes itself with food, the soul nourishes itself with beauty”. They now frequently stop by to appreciate the beautiful blooms.

3 responses to “Mozambique #18 Agriculture seminar and other thoughts

  1. Evan…. Still love your postings..and can’t wait for your stories… these flowers, what are they? this one is gorgeous! glad you’re teaching them to grow beauty for the soul as well as the belly! hugs, grandy jane

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