Once a risk, now a leader

Given a second chance, the Matanuska banana farm in Mozambique jumped at it. In less than five years, technology and vessel service has boosted an up-and-coming farm, turning it into a banana exporting engine ready to enter new markets.

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“We have a lot of expertise and experience with bananas in the Philippines, so it is an exciting job for me to help build the industry here in Mozambique”, says Jim Paul Porticos at the Matanuska banana farm in Mozambique.

It is not just because Jim Paul Porticos is starting up a new packing house that it is a busy morning at the ­Matanuska banana farm in Mozambique. The farm is also filling 10 containers for the Middle East, so there is no room for hiccups at any of the packing houses that process bananas from branch to box to container.

“Mozambique is good for bananas”, says the Filipino national, and director of quality assurance, after double-checking on his walkie-talkie that everything is running smoothly at the packing house he just left.

“Land is available at affordable prices, plant disease is hardly a problem and we have access to all the water we need thanks to the dam”, he adds, pointing towards the horizon, transforming the shape of the shadow around his feet from a plate to a banjo. It is approaching noon on this bright, scorching hot day.

The dam is nowhere to be seen, but this should come as no surprise. The farm, some 100 kilometres from the port city of Nacala, covers 7,500 hectares. As far as the eye can see, there are banana trees, so pointing is for direction only.

Next stop: Japan

Matanuska partners with Maersk Line in an alliance that illustrates the potential of agriculture in the area, where the bananas are even being certified for the Japanese market.

“The bananas are a showcase of what can be achieved in the hinterlands. With technology and assistance to facilitate the process, we can move so much more from these areas to the rest of the world”, says Carolyn Kathewera, branch manager at Maersk Line’s office in Nacala.

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See how new technology and improved vessel services has boosted Matanuska Banana Farm in Mozambique 3:34

When Maersk Line first visited an up-and-coming Matanuska five years ago, a partnership was deemed too risky. With no other business in the country, investments in a dedicated vessel to Nacala and reefer experts on the ground would rest solely on the output of one single farm.

Nevertheless, within a year, Maersk Line went ahead, and the partnership has flourished.

“Today, we are shipping about 100 million bananas to the Middle East from Nacala. And the available land gives us the potential of doubling that within the next three to five years”, says Donovan Portland, Shipping and Ports Operations Manager for Matanuska.

Out of poverty

While Mozambique has grabbed headlines for its gas reserves; the World Bank’s representative in the country, Mark R. Lundell, considers agriculture a poverty reduction engine:

“With improved productivity, agriculture in Mozambique has the potential of contributing more effectively to lifting millions out of poverty, thereby achieving the important development objective of economic inclusion”, he says.

3,000 employees at Matanuska fill the bananas straight into reefers after running them through the packing house. Maersk Line has installed a power pack that can cool the bananas within four hours of packing, ensuring prolonged shelf-life and a better market price.

“Another thing that makes it a good partnership is the flexibility of Maersk Lines’ services. They can put a ship here when we need it, so we can deliver the fruit when it’s possible”, Donovan Portland says.

The key to a successful banana business is getting the fruit to the market as fast as possible. With Maersk Line, Matanuska’s bananas reach the Middle East with three weeks of shelf-life in them.

Today, we are shipping about 100 million bananas to the Middle East from Nacala.

DONOVAN PORTLAND, SHIPPING AND PORTS OPERATIONS MANAGER

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The Matanuska banana farm, some 100 kilometres from the port city of Nacala, covers 7,500 hectars.