Mozambique is one of the world’s least developed countries, and though much progress has been made since the end of three decades of conflict in 1992, 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And 80 percent of the most vulnerable people live in the country’s rural areas, surviving through subsistence farming.
Seasonal flooding of the huge Zambezi River and its tributaries, and droughts in other arid regions, have provoked regular periods of food insecurity. The country has vast agricultural potential, with 46 percent of the land area suitable for cultivation. Only about 14 percent of this is currently used.
Impact of high food prices
Mozambique was hit hard by the food price crisis. The country imports most of its wheat, growing it in a plateau region in the western region of Tete and Manica provinces. Wheat and rice are consumed mainly in the urban areas, while maize and cassava are the staple foods for the rural poor.
Even in the rural areas, farming families are net importers of maize, rice and cassava, in varying amounts depending on the region. In May 2009, maize prices were down by 26 percent from their 2008 peaks, but still 11 percent higher than a year earlier.
European Union Food Facility
To tap into the country’s agricultural potential, farmers need sustained access to inputs. However, the demand for quality seed in Mozambique far outstrips the country’s ability to produce it, resulting in shortages and a heavy reliance on seed imports.
FAO launched a two-year project in May 2009 through the EU Food Facility worth over € 7 million to step up seed production, strengthen national seed services and provide input support to smallholder farmers.
The project, in line with the government’s Food Production Action Plan, aims to improve the food security and livelihood status of 30 000 Mozambican farmers living in poor rural communities.
FAO will assist in providing tools, fertilizers, pesticides and a training package to around 200 farmers’ associations to help jumpstart local production of basic seeds such as maize, rice, wheat, soybeans and sunflower. Farmers’ associations will link up with private seed companies to market the seeds.
A seed processing plant – owned and operated by a farmers’ association company – will be installed, enabling farmers to clean, grade, calibrate, dry and package the seeds for commercial use.
Support will be given to rehabilitating and equipping seed testing laboratories in five provinces in an effort to boost quality control capacity at national and provincial level.
To offset high input prices, around 25 000 smallholder farmers will receive a 50 percent input subsidy, which will also include access to the types of improved seed produced by the farmers associations.
Other FAO activities
FAO has been supporting the Mozambican government in its plans to transform cassava production from a subsistence activity into a profitable business for the country’s poor farmers. Cassava is the main source of calories in the typical diet, and cassava production accounts for over 6 percent of the country’s GDP.
More than USD 1 million in funding, half from an FAO Technical Cooperation Programme project and half in trust funds from the Spanish government, has been put into a pilot cassava project in Zambézia province.
Some 25,000 farming families are receiving cassava cuttings and seeds of high-yielding, resistant varieties. Through field schools, farmers are being trained in techniques to increase crop output, and extension workers are providing training in processing and marketing techniques to take the raw cassava crop and transform it into flour that can be used to make bread, pastries and chip snacks.
Bread prices had increased by 50 percent when wheat prices began to spike in 2008. By substituting cassava flour for 15 percent of the flour used in making bread, it is estimated Mozambique can save at least USD 15 million per year in wheat imports.