14 Jun 2013 09:00
Gurué, town and history
Once called the
Switzerland of Mozambique, Gurué, in Zambezia Province, centre of Mozambique is forgotten for decades after the independence of country and three decades of civil war.
In colonial times, the district, founded in the 19th century and named, later, Vila Junqueiro, was the biggest tea region in Mozambique, having a total of fifteen factories processing tea leaf and exporting worldwide. Now only three to five remains working without major problems and in tentative of a constant and uniform production.
Due to the high level of the region (having the second highest peak in Mozambique - Namuli Mountain) and the wet climate, the settlers, one century ago, found this place with the proper conditions for tea plantations. The landscape was largely transformed to grow tea and tea tasters from India and producers from Europe began building the city with its houses, factories and other infrastructures. Gurué is a model in colonial architecture with a well preserved number of houses, churches, and other vestiges of Portuguese heritage.
By the middle of 20th century, brands like
Chá Licungo and
Chá Gurué as others, achieved international recognition in Europe, Great Britain and even America and Canada. It was the time of the tea aristocracy with its wealthy style of living making this place be named
Switzerland of Mozambique.
Nowadays, the Lomwe people, continue to work in the tea, this time owned not by the old settlers but mainly by Indian capitals. However the production is far from the 70´s of last century. The independence from Portugal in 1975 made the old European aristocracy run back to the
metropole. Everything was abandoned and three decades of civil war along with leftist collective economy politics, leaded by the single ruling party FRELIMO, made the production decreases and most of the factory’s get nationalized and later closed, destroyed and abandoned.
Meanwhile the intense green, the complete transformation of the landscape made by the vast tea plantations, the unique climate and its isolation together with the individuality of this Mozambican region make Gurué a must visit destination.
The tea culture, past and present
By the late 70´s of the past century, Gurué with its 15 tea factories was producing an average of 19.000 tons per year of processed leaf employing around 28.000 workers from the city and neighbor villages. It was the time of around 300 settlers, ruling sometimes using forced labour brought even from other provinces, own plantations that reached near 9.000 hectares of cropped land. It was the golden era of Mozambican tea and of the city itself.
By 2012, the last figure shows that the production was reduced to a number of around 2.500 tons, just thirteen per cent of the average before independence and with an area used of just 5.700 ha, near half of the past. The industry employs now around 3.000 workers in peak periods but just 250 are in an effective job situation. This figure makes the tea jobs, once a major employment industry as just a part of the solution for the daily income in one of the poorest countries in the world for these Lomwe people.
With a ratio of two workers per hectare, picking the leaf into wood baskets that they hang in their back, its necessary to work two entire days to receive about eighty metical’s (three dollars) for each fifty kilograms of leaf picked. It’s around one dollar and half a day, when there is leaf to be picked. To make the situation worst, at least in two of the five active factories, there are about 8 months of salary with late payment. This situation creates a vicious cycle where the employer don’t pay and the workers, in a silent and quiet strike, are pushed for an inactivity, tactically and inevitable, making all this industry atrophy year after year in this isolated region of Mozambique.
Together with the low wages and late payments that make the productions much lower than before, also the plant itself, named
camellia sinensis is no longer strong and able for productions per hectare comparable with the figures achieved in the last century. Planted mainly in the 60´s of the last century, the plant need to be replaced with other varieties more productive and adequate to the region. This fact make the tea decrease its quality what creates difficulties in the sales at the international markets. From the neighbor producing countries like Malawi and Kenya, Mozambique is the only one that up to know didn't renovate the old plants.
All this facts make the income of the industry decrease significantly. The actual owners of the industry, mainly Indian capitals and in one case a joint venture between Indians and Mozambicans claim they need about 100 millions of dollars of investment for the renovation of the potential 10.000 hectares of the crops and with that bring the production to the old values achieved before independence. They also claim that due the actual panorama, bank credit is difficult to get to support the modernization of the business. The low productions and low quality make this business unable to deal directly with international buyers and inevitably part of the production must be sold in auction flours in Kenya and other part sold internally. The situation of sell it in auction flours makes the final price be much more vulnerable to the market price fluctuations and much difficult to deal in good terms and conditions. Resuming, the business in its actual situation don’t encourage the exportation of the goods due to the actual market sold prices. With an average of 1 dollar per kg as sold price and low productions, it is not enough to export directly to international markets worldwide. Far are the times that the tea was directly exported to Europe, America and Canada and Gurué was the
Switzerland of Mozambique.
Perspectives for the future
With a recently created producer association, in 2011, ideas and hope for solutions are being discussed to change the actual wilt panorama. One is to bring more power and control to the workers instead of being mere wage earner from the capitals that owns the industry. The simple
be employed conditions have shown that it is not an adjusted solution for the present times. The idea of create and provide conditions for small production associations and family’s to grown themselves the tea leaf and sold later to the industries is gaining adepts.
With this solution, the production of the leaf would be passed to the workers in form of associations or among their families. It would make easier that small financial loans, difficult to get by the owner of the factories, could create big changes. Instead of being mere employed, the workers would be responsible and be more active in the production of the crop. By the other side, the factories would spend less financial resources in some operations like fertilizing, that due the general poverty of the workers and few control see many times the products being robbed, employing and others and would concentrate and specialize just in the leaf processing, packing and exporting. That’s the new hope for Gurué industry and for Lomwe people in the interior of Zambezia Province.