Journal

Gemfields’ Montepuez Ruby Mine in Mozambique invests significantly in the long-term sustainability of the communities in and around its concession, engaging and collaborating with the local community to identify areas of greatest need and long-term benefit. They have selected three areas: education, health and agricultural livelihood projects.

This November, we are proud to announce that the first year of our latest agricultural project is drawing to a close, with positive results.

The Conservation Agriculture project was designed to upskill the local community in effective farming methods, and kick start the formation of farming associations to boost crop yields and skills sharing.

The farming method, inspired by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation, called Conservation Farming (in which land preparation involves the use of grasses and cut vegetation in between cropping rows to provide nutrients) was selected after 6 months consultation with the community and identifying eager, motivated and entrepreneurial farmers, or individuals who were unskilled at farming and had been previously engaged in illegal mining. Most farming in and around the concession provides only subsistence to the owners, reducing its attractivity as a reliable, income-generating source of livelihood. Therefore, upskilling individuals and kickstarting associations seemed a clear route to increasing community development.

Our project teams helped guide legal registration processes and collaborated with the farming associations, providing a learning environment, input materials, training and financial assistance. Crucially, visual demonstrations of the techniques helped show evidence of the benefits of the farming method – with demo plots hugely outperforming traditional or subsistence methods. By the end of year one, the farmers were 50% self-sufficient, with a further commitment in the second year to help embed new learning and techniques, widening the reach of the project.

The year ends with the establishment of 9 farming associations in total representing nearly 270 partner farmers. In this first year, it is clear that the new method has universally improved yields of okra, pigeon pea, maize and ground nuts by on average 200% (the average yield on a 50sqm plot is 3kg dry weight from traditional subsistence methods, whereas conservation farming has yielded nearly 9kg dry weight). Clearly, if and when the farmers scale up using this method, provided they follow the techniques they have learned, we can expect to see significant yields and incomes that match, or exceed the monthly minimum wage in Mozambique, and given that farmers fall very short of this, the signs are hugely encouraging for years’ 2 and beyond.

Year 2 of the programme which starts at the end of 2017 will see the deployment of new techniques (such as polytunnels), technology (such as solar-powered irrigation) and new crops. Alternative animal husbandry projects will also be considered. Our intention is to continue to scale this programme up, diversify and find new associations to take on additional responsibilities so that after 20 years there can be a flourishing local economy.