INTERNING IN MOZAMBIQUE WITH TECHNOSERVE – BY RUSHIKA SHEKHAR

 

“Ah,” he said shaking his head in disappointment. “I am very sorry for your loss.”

What was this loss you might ask? The loss of me being a vegetarian – an utter and total tragedy to everyone I’ve come across over the last month in beautiful Mozambique.

Despite my non-existent Portuguese skills and disappointing dietary choices, Mozambique has taken me in and slowly but surely, we’re growing on each other.

I landed in Mozambique four weeks ago to begin my summer internship with TechnoServe, a non-profit that implements business solutions to poverty worldwide. In Mozambique, TechnoServe has been working to revitalize the country’s cashew industry with partners across the value chain ranging from cashew producers, processors, to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Cashew Promotion Institute (INCAJU).

Over 40% of Mozambican farmers raise cashews and the industry presents huge potential for the economy and lifting farm families out of poverty. Even though Mozambique historically was one of the worlds leading cashew producers, the industry has remained behind foreign counterparts due to various factors. Despite the government’s emphasis on increasing cashew production, they have been challenged by their inability to effectively monitor production, disease outbreaks, and the distribution of critical chemical pesticides, cashew seedlings, and even their own extension services.

INCAJU's extension agents testing out the application on a farm.

INCAJU’s extension agents testing out the application on a farm.

TechnoServe has been working with INCAJU to understand how technology solutions can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector services within the cashew industry and hopefully help in increasing the sectors competitiveness and growth. As part of these efforts, TechnoServe and INCAJU are working on “ConnectCajú” – a mobile and web based monitoring system to track 100,000 farmers across three provinces in Northern Mozambique over 2 years.

A supervisor training extension agents on how to use the application.

A supervisor training extension agents on how to use the application.

Prior to the summer, I had started working remotely with TechnoServe’s team to evaluate different technology options, develop implementation work plans, and understand different stakeholders goals from the project. I was lucky to get some of this context before landing in Mozambique and get here just in time to see the first phase of the project launch. My first few weeks involved travelling over 2000km across Northern Mozambique to participate in trainings and meetings with INCAJU managers to launch the tool to 100 extension agents. It was great to dive straight into the project and understand the needs and challenges of the system first hand. What was not so great – spending hours cursing internet gods while trying to complete software installations with no cellular network.

Scene before each training - configuring each extension agents phone to use the application.

Scene before each training – configuring each extension agents phone to use the application.

After getting into the weeds of the implementation in the first month, I’m now going to be taking a step back and helping develop the strategy for the next few phases. So far, the tool has been developed to support basic data collection to get farmers and their plantations registered within the system. INCAJU and TechnoServe aim to expand the tool to improve the management of cashew nurseries for seedling production, monitoring seedling and chemical distribution, and facilitating cashew commercialization and competitiveness. With such a wide scope of functionalities, it will be critical to understand what are the needs and challenges of different stakeholders and balance these in the design of the system. This will be my job over the next month and a half – interviewing everyone from smallholder farmers, cashew processing factories, to senior government officials and designing a system that can balance the needs across the industry. It’s a little overwhelming right now to imagine dictating the design of a system that aims to be scaled up throughout the country and used 10 years from now to monitor an entire industry. Scratch that – it’s extremely overwhelming. But – I’m really excited to dive in and learn from such a wide variety of stakeholders, hopefully helping to develop a system that can add some value for the cashew industry. I’m just as excited to attempt more of my incomprehensible Portuguese and explore this insanely beautiful country and its even more lovely people. Let’s see what the next few months have in store.

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