Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Coconut oil production in Mozambique - first fruits in fulfillment of a 5 year dream

Last week I, Steve, made a three day trip to Maxixe (Masheshe) Inhambane about 300 miles north of Maputo to see the virgin, cold pressed, coconut oil plant that has been built and where operations started in June.  I could tell you of the packed bus ride on the way up that was uneventful except for the 7 year old two seats away who threw up the bread he had eaten all over his lap, and the guy that seemed intoxicated enough to sleep 3 of the 6 hours or the "express" bus back that took 2 hours longer than the non-express because it was not full and the driver stopped 50 times if he stopped once to pick up passengers or no one at all!  But that is another story.


Our vision for a coconut oil plant that would produce this high quality product started on August 20, 2002 (memorable since it was my birthday and the 30th anniversary celebration of Zion Chapel, our home church).  During that meeting, a comment was made that we were praying about working in Mozambique.  Afterwards a first time, visiting family came up to us and said, "Have you thought about working with the coconut as a way to promote business in the country?"  Well no, we don't know anything about it.  So David and Kathy Hagen started to share. (Those of you who know them might imagine we were some of the last ones out of the building that day.)  However, we have no regrets as that "chance'" statement and encounter has led to a friendship and interest that will be lifelong if not eternal.


The next March we traveled to Mozambique for the first time and met Sam Grottis of WR and as I told him what I had learned over the last 8 months he said, "We could use someone like you to come and give us these kind of ideas so we can put them to work."  I think he meant "put you to work."  These two things are two of the key ingredients that started us on a path to serve in Mozambique with WR.  The rest is history and now for the rest of the story!


Our project manager, Romeu took me out to the factory to meet the staff and show me the product.  It was exciting to see the 60 liter (15 gal) containers full of oil in the warehouse and the 70 pound sacks of coconut press cake (what is left after extracting the oil).  In fact, they were running out of space to store things as the building is small.  The small size was intentional to keep costs down and move the product out so it can be sold. 


We went back into town with some press cake samples to see if we could find a place to sell it so we could get it out of the factory and get some money back too.  The ideal place to sell would be a bakery as when it is finely ground, it can be substituted for wheat and other flours, adding protein, carbohydrates and fiber to bread.  Since the bakery owner had gone home for the night, we went to an Indian owned store where they sell things in bulk.  The owners were quite skeptical at first since they had never, literally never seen such a product.  The closest their imaginations could come was the coconut you buy in the stores to put on top of cakes and pastries, "but you need a highly sophisticated and hygienic factory to do that don't you?"  They were selling "copra" press cake that looked like dirt or dried manure and smelled like well, worse  (hope no one has a queasy stomach today).  They agreed to take one bag as a trial.  When we put them side by side, the difference in appearance was like night and day.


The next day we had some ground in a fine sieve hammermill and took it to one of the bakery owners.  He and his wife were both impressed with the quality and saw the potential for making fortified bread pretty much right away and agreed to take a 40 pound sample for a trial run.  He was even willing to pay the same price for it as wheat flour, (8 cents more than we had budgeted in our plan) but it may actually be worth more nutritionally.  We would offer it on a fresh, daily basis for use overnight to make into bread for local consumption.  It should make softer, more nutritious bread than the water and wheat based product they have now (equivalent to pan de agua for those who know it).


It was so neat to watch as the coconuts were ground into a finely grated pulp, then put on the large stove top heated by the empty husks and shells.  After an hour of being turned continuously and drying to about 10% moisture, it is put into a cylinder and pressed, producing crystal clear oil worth at least $4 per liter on the spot, $10 a liter in a South African supermarket and more in Europe.  All this from about 60 cents worth of coconut.  Who said money doesn't grow on trees?  This could be Mozambique's equivalent of diamond mines only this is liquid, until it gets below 76 degrees.  That is what makes this so exciting for me as Mozambique has the potential to be one of the top 5 leading coconut oil producers again, to say nothing of making it high value, but there is tons of work to do before that will ever happen.


We are going back again this weekend with Janelle and David and hope to bring several large containers back to Maputo to start the bottling and marketing process here. 



Saturday, July 07, 2007

Wedding Pictures

If you'd like to see Janelle and David's wedding pictures you can go to:
http://goodmiller.smugmug.com I will try to post some here later.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Return to our 2nd Home

We have returned to Maputo after our time in the U.S. The wedding was beautiful. I commented to Steve that it went off without a hitch and he said, “No, there was a hitch, just no glitch.” So true. They are properly hitched and in the process of moving to Washington D.C. In two weeks they will come see us and we can’t wait to show them around and be with them.

The glitch in our return was the airline forgetting to tell one of the crew they were on duty that day and we ended up missing our plane to Johannesburg. Three days of travel turned into four, but we got two nights of sleep in a bed, instead of one out of it.

Coming back felt like coming home in some ways. There were not many surprises and we’re back in our routines. Things at WR are shifting some so there are adjustments in the work we’ll do. But God has always been faithful to show us the way and I’m sure He will this time as well. Some greatly encouraging news is that a significant amount of project funding has started coming in from the team of potential donors we hosted in April. We had been asking God to provide them, and here they are, right on time.

We could tell of the bathroom saga-—of holes in the concrete floor and tile walls where they repaired some leaks, of dust everywhere, of plumbers and workers parading through the apartment, of workers who say they will be here at 7:30 amanha and never show, of getting to know our neighbor Abdul better as he organizes the work because it was leaking in his apartment below us. But I’ll spare you the details because I’m thankful we have an indoor bathroom with running water. Many people in Moz have “bathrooms” (more like privacy screens and not very relaxing) that look like this:

I’m (Rachel) in the middle of a challenging book that Janelle and David gave us—The Irresistible Revolution, living as an ordinary radical by Shane Claiborne. It reminds me of some reading I did in the 70’s on living in community, reaching out to the poor, being willing to leave our safe, comfortable lifestyles to follow Jesus, being committed to the Kingdom of God and not just having a narrow view and allegiance to the earthly kingdoms we happen to be born into, loving our enemies. Jesus really was quite radical. He was even killed for it! Am I willing to follow and obey his example?

Here are a couple of quotes by Mother Teresa that are thought-provoking:

“In the poor we meet Jesus in his most distressing disguises.”
“We can not do great things, only small things with great love. It is not how much you do but how much love you put into doing it.”

Steve here; it is Sunday afternoon and I am reminded that we are returning to a part of the world where soccer is king. There are very few sports here except soccer, unless you count seeing the highlights of Wimbledon and the occasional golf tournament as sports. Sometimes during the NBA season, they do show the occasionally game on Saturday. Right now they are showing a rerun from the World Cup last summer, Brazil vs. Australia. They sure like to feature the Portuguese speaking teams.

People sometimes ask us what do you miss the most when you are in Africa? Well, besides being able to sit down and spend time with family and friends, my list would be some of the things we take for granted like, soft water, water pressure, and the opportunity to work hard physically. It must be the farm boy still in me that finds physical work to be therapeutic. I just don’t have those kind of outlets over here and if other people see you working hard, they want to come relieve you of your burdens as soon as possible. After all, the boss/white guy/maybe old guy shouldn’t be doing the work.

Até a proxima (until the next one or next time)