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Mozambique’s native fruit drives bright future for vulnerable communities

Marta Sitoe ao lado da raodside onde vende os frutos

Marta Sitoe ao lado da raodside onde vende os frutos

By Charles Mangwiro

MALUANA (Mozambique) — Marta “martinha” Fransisco Sitoe waves to motorists on a highway in Maluane. The 27-year old is hoping someone will pick up the native Vangueria Infausta [mapfilua] fruit that she’s put up for sale – money that she needs to feed her three daughters.

“I stand here every day for about nine hours selling either mapfilua or another local fruit called Monkey Orange or Massala (in the local dialect),” said Martinha at her roadside stall, some 60 km north of the Mozambican capital, Maputo.

“Massala and mapfilua are seasonal fruits and they are available one season after another, so it’s’ nonstop throughout the year” she added.

For the past four years, mapfilua have become Martinha’s source of income, but trading of local fruits have largely been ignored as a means of livelihood for poor households.

Vangueria infausta, or the African medlar, is a species of plant in the family Rubiaceae, which is native to the southern and eastern Afrotropics and the fruits have a pleasant apple-like flavor.  Mapfilua is one of the species native to Mozambique and some countries in southern Africa whose fruits are used for food by people and wild animals. The other parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine for the treatment of malaria, wounds, menstrual and uterine problems, genital swellings, among others. 

 For the past four years, Mapfilua has become Martinha’s source of living to buy food support her three daughters who attend a nearby government school.

“I stand here every day for about nine hours selling either Mapfilua or another native fruit called Monkey Orange or Massala (in the local language).  Massala and mapfilua are seasonal fruits and they are available one season after another, so it’s’ nonstop throughout the year”, Martinha said pointing to other sellers at her roadsideside stall in Maluana.

Massala or Monkey Orange is another native fruit from Strychnos spinosa, the Natal orange, is a tree indigenous to tropical and subtropical Africa. It produces sweet-sour, yellow fruits, containing numerous hard brown seeds. Greenish-white flowers grow in dense heads at the ends of branches. The fruits tend to appear only after good rains. The smooth, hard fruits are large and green, ripen to yellow colour. Inside the fruit are tightly packed seeds, which may be toxic, surrounded by a fleshy, brown, edible covering.  Animals such as baboon, monkeys, bushpig, nyala and eland eat the fruit.

“I pick them in the forest, but because now that it is becoming a booming business for the communities, I end up buying a 20 litre bucket of Massala for about 300 meticais (U$4) and sell them to motorists in four days, my net profit is 600 meticais (U$7) which is enough to buy food, clothing and school material for my daughters because their father is unemployed and he is village herd boy.

“As you can see, if I am not selling Massala, I am selling Mapfilua, these fruits are gradually becoming a community business and now there is a village market where we can actually go and buy in bulk due to high demand by other sellers like me in this community”, Martinha said pointing to three other women holding their buckets full of Mapfilua. 

There are many other people in the community who are slowly switching subsistence farming to trading in native fruits, but Martinha has no idea of how many are involved because there are no structures yet like an association.

Martihna pointed out that she has no idea of what the buyers do with the product, but is only happy about making money from the fruits. 

“But I think if I knew why people were always buying masala, I would protect the tree and maybe get some training to produce something from them and earn more money”, said Martainha who cannot read or write because she never went to school.

Martinha spends 80 Meticais (2.54) for a round trip to buy a 20 litre bucket of both Mapfilua or Monkey oranges and then sells in small portions for 50 meticais ($.79 cents).  These fruits and plants are turning into a business commodity and the locals are yet to be informed about their value and importance.

“What motivates me is that I know I will be trained on the basic training on processing these native fruits. I that heard some people in this district benefited from the activities of the collaborative research project carried out in Namibia and Mozambique. So I know that one day my turn will come and I will not be by the road side forever”, Martinha said.

She added that she wants to be like other people she has seen making yoghurts from native fruits in her village.  

Speaking to this publication, in agreement to the sentiments, head of International Cooperation at Mozambique’s national Research Fund, FNI, Edson Faria, said if people in some districts of southern Mozambique can be trained on how to process native fruits and vegetables to add value, it will lead to food security and economic growth because the country will be selling and consuming their own products. 

According to Faria, as a way to educate the communities about environment conservation, the government of Mozambique, through the National Research Fund, FNI Under the auspices of the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI), has carried out a study of the perception of the local actors about the causes of deterioration of the fruit trees, as well as their economic, social, and environmental importance.

For her part, a medical researcher at Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane University, Isabel Uamba, the plants, have various parts such as leaves, roots, fruits and also seeds bearing many medicinal values , the roots infusions helps in treating snakebites. She says additionally tree barks and some unripe fruits are used for treating snakebites.

“They (plants) are used for laxative purposes, solves the uterine complications and also in the treatment of sore eyes”,  Uamba said adding that the root aids as an analgesic in solving the inner part of the body’s complications like the stomach and also the bowels to combat problems such as diarrhoea and worms too.

The Monkey orange for example, according to Uamba, is a widely distributed fruit species in Southern Africa commonly consumed by the local population. It has potential to improve the nutritional status of rural populations, being a precious food source in areas with periodic shortages.

As a way to educate the communities about environment conservation, the government of Mozambique, through the National Research Fund, FNI Under the auspices of the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI), has carried out a study of the perception of the local actors about the causes of deterioration of the fruit trees, as well as their economic, social, and environmental importance. 

So, when Marta Franscico Sitoe sees the forest, with abundant fruits, she forgets the hoe she normally uses in the fields and sees her future as one of the fruit processing experts. END

Arson Armindo
Author: Arson Armindo

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