Nalisha Kalideen interviews FIRMINO MUCAVELE, from Eduardo Mondlane University
In the rural areas of Mozambique increasing numbers of families are growing their own food and lifting themselves out of poverty. Over the last decade the country has reduced rural poverty by 15 percent through agricultural growth. But the industry is still technologically underdeveloped and food harvests are still not sufficient to sustain an increasing population.
Currently over 70 percent of 21 million Mozambicans live in rural areas and the majority are smallholder farmers who grow food crops. But three-quarters of these farmers are too poor to buy necessary items needed to increase their harvests. Many can not afford the seeds to plant, let alone the harvesting equipment. Figures show that less than 1 in 50 use fertilisers or pesticides and lack of suitable irrigation also effects the number of crops produced.
Population growth already outstrips growth in agricultural output, and without close attention to the use and adoption of improved agricultural technologies, the productivity level will likely slow and rural poverty will remain widespread.
Dr Firmino Mucavele, a member of the steering committee of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network and Director for Academic Reform and Regional Integration, at Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane University told IPS the way forward is to develop markets and marketing systems for produce. At present up to 40 percent of what farmers grow is lost to floods and disease. Agro-industry that will enable small farmers to break the cycle of poverty are greatly in need of development. Excerpts of the interview follow.
IPS: Are there ways that the cash crop sector could have substantial yield increases to meet the growing population?
FM: There are several. We have about 10 agro-ecological zones in Mozambique and of these; at least six of them are in the northern parts of the country. In all those six zones it is possible to raise something like ten times the yield we are currently producing, provided that we: use the right seeds; have irrigation; and have the right equipment for harvesting. The losses in production can be reduced if we have the proper technology.
IPS: Cash crops are significant to Mozambique’s agriculture. But does livestock play a significant role in the contribution to Mozambique’s economy?
FM: Yes it plays a large contribution. Livestock is like a banking system. Families prefer to have livestock (to money) especially in rural areas where we don’t have banks or any of the systems of modern savings. They use cattle, goats and animals as a way to save. Whenever they need money they sell the animals.
Livestock is involved in traditions like, for example, weddings where they use some of these animals. In central Mozambique livestock provides 45 percent of family income for the poorest, to nearly 60 percent for the less poor. In the provinces of Inhambane and Gaza, livestock provides between 21 and 65 percent of household income.
IPS: What are some of the immediate problems facing expansion of agriculture?
FM: The lack of access to credit is problem in crop agriculture and also undermines the livestock sector. Poor families cannot raise credit to purchase animals, and women have difficulty accumulating livestock. If widowed, they are stripped of all family assets upon the death of their husbands, including family animals.
The first problem with agriculture is that it does have a lot of risk and uncertainty as a result most banks don’t really want to finance agriculture. Also, most of the farmers are involved in subsistence agriculture and for them to move from this they need investment. And the returns on that investment doesn’t come immediately, it takes about two or three years and usually banks can’t wait that long.
IPS: Does that mean government can play a role here?
FM: Government can certainly play a role in providing the infrastructure. The rural areas do not have electricity, they do not have roads and these are the minimum conditions required if someone wants to put a bank there. When these things are not in place the cost of lending money becomes very high.
IPS: What are the agricultural-related economic potentials for Mozambique?
FM: The development of agriculture provides agro-industries (eg food processing, extraction industries etc). And where you have these you usually have social development. It would also result in the development of the manufacturing sector. As farmers in rural areas get increased incomes they also would want to purchase manufactured goods and it creates a domino effect for development.
Although constraints exist, Mozambique possesses the fundamentals to realise its considerable agricultural potential. The country is endowed with natural resources, including numerous fertile agro-ecological zones but only about 10 percent of its 36 million arable hectares are cultivated. Mozambique has 104 river basins, 20 million hectares of forests, and a long coast line with three major ports.
IPS: The Mozambican government has launched several programmes including the New Green Revolution Strategy in 2007 which aims to increase the agriculture production and productivity of small hold farmers. In your opinion what impact are these programmes having in the sector?
FM: The impact is very high and very good. In the last ten years, the growth in the agricultural sector has been significant in terms of employment and income-generation. Even though I have said productivity is low, what has been implemented has been good.
I think we can do much better though. Mozambique aims to increase agricultural productivity and production by using science to improve crop varieties, and by boosting innovation. Incorporating science in agriculture in Mozambique is key to the modernisation of the economy and to provide jobs in rural and urban areas.