28 December 2011, Rome - FAO has assisted Mozambique in stepping up quality seed production to increase crop yields, something that is crucial to unlocking the country's vast agricultural potential.
"Increasing agricultural production in a country whose yields are among the lowest in the world starts with boosting productivity," said José da Graça, who coordinates FAO's European Union-funded effort in Mozambique, explaining FAO's priority support for the seed value chain.
Mozambique has the potential to feed itself, owing to its abundant and largely unexploited land and water resources.
But following the global surge in food prices in 2007-2008, local food prices in Mozambique have shot up several times, says Mahomed Valá, National Director of Agrarian Services (DNSA) of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG). As a result, "it has become crucial to increase production," he says.
More and better
In 2008, the European Union (EU) launched its €1 billion "Food Facility" initiative to counter soaring food prices around the world. Of that, €7.3 million was destined to Mozambique, where Europe partnered with FAO to boost agriculture by strengthening the national seed sector.
Under the two-year European Union Food Facility (EUFF) project operation, FAO worked with 15 seed companies and some 1 000 small-scale seed growers to stimulate local seed production in seven provinces of Mozambique's 11 provinces. An estimated 3 500 tonnes of certified seed for crops, including maize, rice, bean, soybeans and sunflower, were grown.
FAO not only focussed on producing more seeds, but also better ones - and also helped the government improve its ability to control the quality of seeds reaching the market. Currently, five seed laboratories are being rehabilitated, while around 300 technical staff, including extensionists in Mozambique's agriculture ministry are getting training in seed quality control, in line with regional standards.
Additionally, direct support to increased production of staple crops was provided to some 25 000 smallholder farmers, who received nearly 1 000 tonnes of maize and rice seeds, as well as fertilizers and tools at subsidized prices during two consecutive seasons.
Farmer Paulo Calção, of Mussacumbira in central part of Mozambique (Manica province), says that thanks to that help his last harvest was good. Sitting in front of his granary sifting and bagging corn, he reports he grew 2 800 kg of maize from a plot of just over 0.5 hectares.
Calção will continue using improved seeds, he adds, even if the subsidies are discontinued.
Altogether, the 25 000 farmers assisted by FAO voucher programme using improved variety of seeds and fertilizers, produced an estimated 90 000 tonnes of maize and rice.
The gains stemming from the EU-supported FAO project are significant - although most smallholder farmers, an estimated four million, continue to need support. Much more is needed to offset Mozambique's yearly deficit of around one million tonnes of food.
At the same time, the situation in the countryside is a long way from the 1990s, when most farmers depended on handouts as the country emerged from a long and bitter civil war, recalls Mahomed Valá.
Producing improved seeds will continue to be a priority for the government, he says. "At least 15 percent of our farmers should have access to quality seeds in five to six years time," he states.
In a country where only 10 percent of arable land is cultivated and most farmers still use substandard seeds, this will be one of the keys to unlocking Mozambique's agricultural potential.