Ensuring continued success in fight to save coconuts

Sustainable development is a term frequently used in foreign assistance, but it is poorly understood and seldom given the prominence it deserves. Development practitioners often focus on making disbursements and reaching final project targets while neglecting to ensure investments will be maintained and continue to benefit community members after a project ends.

At MCC, we want to ensure that our projects provide the best possible impact by helping boost household incomes after we leave.

In Mozambique, MCC made great strides toward emphasizing sustainability. Like many other development projects, MCC’s Farmer Income Support Project (FISP), a key component of Mozambique’s $506.9 million MCC compact, has taken several innovative steps to advance the principle. 

Over the past 3½ years, the project worked to reduce the prevalence and impact of Coconut Lethal Yellowing Disease (CLYD), a deadly disease. CLYD causes affected trees cease producing coconuts and eventually die; the trees must be removed and replaced to stop the spread of the disease.

This involved mass mechanized felling and burning of infected and dead trees; planting new, disease resistant seedlings; community education and awareness programs to assist coconut growers to identify infected trees and prevent the future spread of the disease; and technical assistance for crop diversification.

Now in the last year of implementation, the project largely has met or exceeded its targets. Communities are identifying infected trees and monitoring the spread of the disease. The disease incidence rate has fallen from an estimated 5 percent to 1 percent in project areas. Nurseries are producing disease-resistant seedlings to replace trees lost to the disease. And small-scale coconut producers affected by the disease are diversifying into cash crops.

For example, one smallholder farmer working with FISP produced and marketed more than 500 metric tons of pigeon pea, cow pea, sesame, and groundnuts at regional and international markets last year.

Even with this substantial progress, the question of sustainability remained: How can beneficiaries continue to control disease transmission without mass mechanized tree felling?

The answer lay with affected farmers, who have been felling trees manually for much longer than the life of the compact and putting economic incentives in place to continue promoting farmer-led manual felling.

MCC and MCA-Mozambique asked the project implementation team to modify their focus to reflect this reality. Transitioning from a project-driven, chainsaw-reliant strategy to a more sustainable, community-based felling strategy is well underway now. All mechanized tree felling has stopped. Instead, community felling teams equipped with personal protective equipment and well-stocked first-aid kits are following best practices for manual felling.

Farmers are not only felling dead trees but also actively identifying and removing infected trees and replanting them with disease-resistant varieties using skills they acquired through the project’s training. In the long run, this will help manage the disease incidence rate after the compact closes in September.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspects of the transition has been the way the felling teams have handled the logs harvested from felled trees. The initial plan was for community manual felling teams to sell the logs to local carpentry shops as raw material. However, with additional business training and equipment supplied by the implementing contractor, the felling teams capitalized on market dynamics and are now producing planks and beams to sell  to local builders and carpenters, who are producing desks, chairs, tables, doors, and window frames for local schools and homes.

General demand for wood, which is increasing with a growing population, is now effectively linked to community-based CLYD disease surveillance and control. This provides the economic incentives to sustain farmer-led interventions apart from the compact’s project well into the future.