MOUNT GORONGOSA, Mozambique (AP) — A wiry woman, Querida Barequinha intently sorts through the coffee beans laid out on racks to dry in the sun, plucking out any that are cracked or misshapen.
“I like growing coffee because it earns cash that goes right into my pocket,” she said, with a darting smile. “I can buy soap, cooking oil, schoolbooks, and other household items. It’s very useful.”
Barequinha has been growing coffee for four years on the upper slopes of Mount Gorongosa, where clouds frequently cover the rainforest at the top. Now that a peace agreement has been signed between Mozambique’s government and the Renamo rebels, whose military headquarters are nearby, she is planning to plant more coffee trees.
A mother of seven, Barequinha said she is encouraging her family to join her in coffee production.
“I’d love to see others in my family grow coffee,” she said, in chiGorongosi, a dialect of the Sena language. “It offers us a source of hope.”
Barequinha is one of 400 Mozambican farmers producing coffee that earns them valued cash incomes while at the same time restores the rapidly eroding rainforest of Mount Gorongosa. With peace on the mountaintop, there are plans to dramatically scale up coffee production, as part of the national park’s innovative plan to boost the incomes of people living around the park as well as revitalizing the environment.
Mount Gorongosa rises 1,863 meters (6,112 feet) above Mozambique’s central plains and the tropical hardwood forest of its upper rainy regions is being stripped by local farmers who want to grow maize. Coffee is a crop that can stop that deforestation, say park experts. Shade-grown coffee shrubs produce better-tasting coffee beans, so the trees are planted among indigenous trees. Areas that had been denuded of trees now boast verdant slopes of coffee trees interspersed with local trees such as albizia and other crops.
“Coffee thrives in this unique rainforest. It produces much better income than maize and it encourages farmers to re-grow the rainforest. It is a win-win development for the farmers and the environment, so this is great for the park,” said Matthew Jordan, associate director of the Agricultural Livelihoods Program of Gorongosa National Park. Coffee could produce 10 times more income than maize or other subsistence crops grown by local farmers, said Jordan.
Twenty years ago Gorongosa park was derelict as a result of the country’s devastating civil war and much of its wildlife had been poached. The park is now reviving thanks to a partnership between the Mozambican government and the Gorongosa Restoration Project, which is supported by American philanthropist Greg Carr. The organization allocates more than half of its annual budget on supporting the communities that live around the park.