Geography, climate and population
Mozambique is located on the east coast of southern Africa on the Indian Ocean. The country is bordered by the United Republic of Tanzania in the north, South Africa in the south, Swaziland in the southwest and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia in the west, and Malawi in the northwest. The country has a total area of 799 380 km². The land borders have a length of 4 445 km, while the coastline measures 2 515 km. Monte Binga, culminating at 2 436 m over the Zimbabwe border, is the highest point of Mozambique.
There are three basic geographic divisions:
The total agricultural land area is estimated at almost 50 million ha, which is 62 percent of the total area of the country. In 2013, the cultivated area was estimated at 5.95 million ha, of which 5.65 million ha arable land, while 0.30 million ha were under permanent crops (Table 1). Permanent meadows and pastures cover 44 million ha.
The climate varies from tropical and subtropical in the north and central parts of Mozambique to dry semi-arid steppe and dry arid desert in the south. The hottest regions are located in the Zambezi basin, the coastline of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Zambezia and Sofala. The south is the coolest part of the country, with an average maximum and minimum temperature of 30ºC and 19ºC respectively.
The annual average precipitation for the whole country is 1 032 mm and the rainy season lasts from October to April. It varies widely from the coast to the inland areas and from north to south. Average annual precipitation ranges from 800 mm to 1 000 mm along the coast, with values above 1 200 mm between Beira and Quelimane. It decreases inland reaching 400 mm at the border with South Africa and Zimbabwe. The north and central part of the country has annual precipitation from 1 000 mm to over 2 000 mm because of the northeast monsoon and high mountains. In the southern inland part of the country it ranges from 500 mm to 600 mm. Annual evapotranspiration varies between 800 mm in central Niassa and on the border with Zimbabwe to more than 1 600 mm in the eastern and middle Zambezi basin. Along the coast it varies between 1 200 mm and 1 500 mm.
The total population of the country is estimated at almost 28 million (2015), of which 69 percent is rural (Table 1). The annual population growth rate is 2 percent over the period 2005-2015 and the average population density is 35 inhabitants/km².
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2014, the Human Development Index ranks Mozambique 180 out of 188 countries and the Gender Inequality Index ranks it 135 among 155 countries for which data are available (UNDP, 2016). Life expectancy in Mozambique is 55 years and the under-five mortality is 81 per 1000 births in 2014, both progressing from 48 years and over 180 per 1000 at the end of the 1990s. Over 85 percent of the children in 2014 are enrolled in primary education, with a reduced gap between boys (90 percent) and girls (85 percent) compared to the year 2000 (61 percent of boys against 50 percent of girls). Adult literacy is 59 percent in 2015, with a large gap between female literacy (46 percent) and male literacy (73 percent). Poverty is still widely spread as it concerns over half of the population (55 percent) and is even more concentrated in rural areas (57 percent). In 2015, 81 percent of the urban and 37 percent of the rural population were using improved drinking water sources, that is 51 percent of the total population This represents a small improvement since 2002 when 43 percent of the population had access to an improved drinking water source (JMP, 2015). Sanitation coverage also increased from 14 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2015 but with little progress in reducing the gap between rural (10 percent) and urban areas (42 percent).
Economy, agriculture and food security
Mozambique’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is US$ 14 689 million in 2015 with an annual growth of more than 6 percent since the 2000s. Agriculture contributes 26 percent to GDP and is core to the country’s development with about 70 percent of the population depending on subsistence farming. Agricultural production is largely rainfed and has a low productivity with some of the lowest yields in cereals in southern Africa due to both low inputs and poor access to market. There are 3.7 million farms that can be divided into 2 main categories:
Since the end of the civil war in 1992, Mozambique has made impressive gains in restoring food production. At national level the country is virtually self-sufficient in terms of food grain production, with the exception of wheat and rice. However, this growth has been uneven spatially and natural disasters such as flood and drought are an important cause of temporary food insecurity. The 2000 flood and the 2016 drought for example resulted in higher imports of wheat to fight food deficit. The portion of population that is undernourished was 25 percent over the period 2014-2016 (FAO, 2016). The northern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula have the highest rates of chronic malnutrition.
On the other hand, agriculture still contributes to export revenues with cash crops, such as cashew, cotton, tobacco, sesame, sugarcane and tea, covering about one quarter of the cultivated area. Livestock is also significant with almost 1.3 million cattle and 4.1 million little ruminants in 2010. In addition, the potential for timber production is enormous (MA, 2014).
Mozambique has 104 identified river basins that drain the central African highland plateau into the Indian Ocean. The majority of the rivers have a highly seasonal, torrential flow regime, with high flows during 3-4 months and low flows for the remainder of the year, corresponding to the distinct wet and dry seasons. Out of these 104 basins, 13 main rivers, including Zambeze, Pungue, Buzi, Save, Limpopo, Incomati, Umbeluzi, Rovuma and Maputo, are shared with neighbouring countries. The Zambeze river is the fourth longest river in the African continent and the longest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. The Limpopo river is the second major river in southern Africa with a length of 1 750 km. This river and its tributaries show great seasonality and some tributaries are even just episodic. While Mozambique is well endowed with water resources, the fact that many major rivers originate outside the country, makes it highly vulnerable (MINAG, 2010).
There are two main natural lakes. Lake Niassa, shared with Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania, is the southernmost of the large Rift Valley lakes with a surface area of 30 800 km², of which 21 percent belong to Mozambique. The second lake, Lake Chiura, has a surface area of 750 km² and is shared with Malawi. In addition, there are more than 1 300 small lakes, 20 of which have an area between 10 and 100 km², as well as 6 main artificial lakes. The total capacity of 27 dams with a height of 10 m or more is estimated at 74 137 million m³. The largest reservoir is the Cahora Bassa Lake created in 1973 on the Zambezi river, hosting the largest hydroelectric plant in southern Africa with an installed capacity of 2 060 MW. The Chicamba Real dam on the Revue river, the Massingir dams on the Elephants river, the Corumana dam on the Sabie river and the Pequenos Libombos dams on the Umbeluzi river, providing drinking water for Maputo, are other major dams (NEPAD, 2013). In 1971, 583 small dams with a total volume of 60 million m³ were registered, of which 90 percent were for irrigation or livestock watering. It is believed that most of them were destroyed during the war.
Mozambique has listed two Ramsar sites in 2013, the Lake Niassa and the Marromeu complex interlinked with the Zambezi delta, with a total area of more than 2 million ha (Ramsar, 2013). Mangrove forests cover an estimated 400 000 ha along the coast, deltas and estuaries of rivers such as the Zambezi, Pungue, Save, Limpopo, Maputo and Rovuma (USAID, 2013). There are also a number of lagoons, in particular the Bilene or Uembje lagoon.
Groundwater potential is considerable and lies in the alluvial formations of the various rivers. Well yields in the Zambezi and Incomati basins are up to 70 000 m³/day.
Internal renewable surface water resources are estimated at 97 300 million m³/year and renewable groundwater resources at around 17 000 million m³/year. Considering an overlap between surface water and groundwater of 14 000 million m³/year, the total internal renewable water resources (IRWR) are 100 300 million m³/year (Table 2). External renewable water resources are estimated at 116 810 million m³/year, as follows: 14 100 million m³/year from the Mazowe river from Zimbabwe, 73 200 million m³/year from the Zambezi river from Zambia, 3 400 million m³/year from the Umeluzi river from Swaziland, 8 530 million m³/year from the Elephant river and smaller rivers from South Africa, 16 980 million m³/year from the Shire river from Malawi and 600 million m³/year from the Limpopo river from Botswana. This gives a dependency ratio of 54 percent and the total renewable water resources are 217 100 million m³/year, or 7 760 m³/year per capita in 2015. Surface water leaving the country to other countries is estimated at 1 000 million m³/year through the Ruo river to Malawi.
Despite the long Mozambique’s coast, desalination is limited to specific industrial sites.
There are limited wastewater treatment infrastructures in the country. Maputo was the only city with a central sewage system for collection and treatment of domestic sewage until 2012, when a plant opened in Beira city. Around 70 percent of the Mozambique’s population uses pit latrines. Around 22.8 million m³ of wastewater is discharged through sceptic tanks. Another 29.865 million m³ of wastewater is estimated to be generated in 2007 from the population connected to a sewage system. The Maputo treatment plant consists of a series of anaerobic and facultative tanks, which are designed to treat organic matter from half of the population of Maputo. However, it is not functioning due to operational and maintenance problems, and thus is discharging directly into the Ocean. Wastewater generated in industries is discharged into the Indian Ocean without any treatment (UNEP, 2009).
International water issues
Mozambique shares nine river basins with other countries, as well as a number of aquifers (Table 3):
Mozambique signed and ratified the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Shared Water Course System Protocol in 1995 and its revised version in 2000. There are many agreements between Mozambique and upstream neighbouring countries regulating the use of shared watercourses. In 2004, a tripartite agreement was ratified with Swaziland and South Africa regarding the management of the Incomati and Maputo rivers.
Rivers in the south of the country are heavily dependent on water resources from upstream countries. The increasing demand for water in the upstream South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe poses a challenge for the future of water resources’ supply in the country (NEPAD, 2013).
The total water withdrawal in 2000 was estimated at 884 million m³, of which 78 percent for agricultural purposes. In 2015, total water demand is estimated at 1 473 million m³ (Table 4 and Figure 1). The main demand of water remains agriculture, accounting for 1 076 million m³ (73 percent), of which 958 million m³ for irrigation of crops, 71 million m³ for livestock and 47 million m³ for forestry. The municipal sector demands 372 million m³ (25 percent) and the industrial sector 25 million m³ (2 percent) (NEPAD, 2013).
The main source of water in Mozambique is surface water, with increasing water scarcity in the Umbeluzi, Limpopo and Buzi river basins. However, groundwater is utilized on a large scale in a number of urban centres for drinking water supply, as well as in rural areas.
Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
Irrigation potential was estimated to be around 3.1 million ha by FAO, while other sources give 3.3 million ha. The major areas suitable for irrigation are in the centre and north. The Zambezia province alone accounts for about 60 percent of the irrigation potential. The southern provinces have the highest need for irrigation but have only a small share of the land suitable for irrigation.
Smallholder "traditional irrigation" has been practiced for centuries in Mozambique in particular in dambos (inland valley bottoms) and peatlands, mostly concentrated in the central and north high rainfall areas at the headwaters of most streams. Formal irrigation development through government or private investments is only recent. In 1968 the area equipped for irrigation totalled 65 000 ha, of which 72 percent were located in the Maputo and Gaza provinces. This includes only parts of the Chokwe irrigation scheme initiated in the early 1960s, reaching later 25 000 ha and thus being the largest in the country. In 1973 the area equipped for irrigation had increased to 100 000 ha due to the establishment of sugar companies in the Incomati, Buzi and Zambezi valleys (34 000 ha equipped area) and Limpopo settlers, with the major area still being located in the southern provinces of Maputo and Gaza. Portuguese settlers mainly exploited these lands, while Mozambicans did not practice irrigated agriculture. At independence in 1975 irrigation qualified staff and settlers left the country and private investments stopped. An inventory carried out in 1986-87, identified a total equipped area of almost 120 000 ha, of which approximately 42 000 ha were fully operative (INIA and FAEF, 1999). Most of the areas were again in Maputo and Gaza, where significant water development works were implemented at the same time: the Pequenos Libombos, the Corumana and the Massingir dams. In the years following independence, the government encouraged the exploitation of existing large irrigation schemes by state companies. These companies however became a symbol of inefficiency, mismanagement and the subsequent deterioration of the irrigation infrastructures. As a result, most were transferred to the private sector. Whereas 90 percent of the irrigated area in 1983 was owned by State farms, the remaining being equally distributed between cooperatives and small farmers, since the 1990s the same area was divided almost equally between commercial farms and smallholders.
Smallholder irrigation exists everywhere in the country, but is either abandoned or just partly utilized. Most of the schemes are in a bad to very bad condition, and only a relatively small part of the irrigation schemes is actually irrigated. Reasons for this are:
In 2001, 118 120 ha were equipped for irrigation. The actually irrigated area was 40 063 ha, of which almost 80 percent in large schemes (> 500 ha), including 23 500 ha of sugar estates. In 2010, the total area equipped for irrigation is still the same (MINAG, 2014). However, there has been some rehabilitation on around 27 000 ha during the period 2001-2009, of which over 15 000 ha in the Gaza province alone (MINAG, 2013). In 2010, 62 000 ha are actually irrigated (Table 5), of which only about 30 000 hectares are used for food production, while the remaining area is used for ethanol production from sugarcane. About 60 000 ha remain in need of rehabilitation, of which 15 000 ha are considered not viable for recovery for agricultural purposes, except for aquaculture (MINAG, 2014).
Basin irrigation is practiced for rice and furrow irrigation for maize, other cereals and vegetables. Sprinkler irrigation is widespread with agricultural companies, especially in sugarcane plantations, but also for cotton, citrus fruits and vegetables and in the majority of the recently constructed schemes. Some producers employ localized irrigation to produce tomatoes (3 347 ha in 2001).
In most irrigation schemes, surface water from rivers is used. Groundwater is used to a very limited extent by the family smallholder sector.
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society
The main irrigated crops are sugarcane, increasingly for ethanol production, vegetables and rice (INIR, 2013b; Figure 2). The 2009-2010 agricultural census indicates that 201 747 farms use irrigation (INE, 2013). The average rice yield in Chokwe irrigation scheme is very low at 2.1 tons/ha (ODI, 2015).
The climate of Mozambique means that the risk of harvest loss in rainfed agriculture exceeds 50 percent in all regions south of the Save river, and can reach up to 75 percent in the interior of the Gaza province. The centre and north regions of the country have more appropriate conditions for rainfed agriculture, where the probability of good harvests during the wet season is 70-95 percent. The north of the Manica province and the south of the Tete province regions are excluded from this Centre-North region, as they have a risk of harvest loss in rainfed crops of usually more than 50 percent.
Women and irrigation
At smallholder level, high value crops are traditionally grown by men. Although women play an active role in all activities of irrigated production, they are in general not involved in planning and decision-making regarding the management of the scheme.
Historically, and due to cultural habits, men from the more powerful and settled group have had the greatest access to benefits and increased income from irrigated agriculture. Women, migrant groups and poorer social classes have often lost access to resources and gained increased workloads. Conversely, the increased income and improved nutrition from irrigated agriculture benefit women and children in particular (WB, 2010).
Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture
The main public institutions involved in water resources management and irrigation in the country are:
The Fund for Agricultural Hydraulics Development (FDHA) is in charge of promoting, fostering and funding hydro-agricultural works or other activities related to irrigated agricultural development.
The National Water Council (CNA) was created in 1991 as a consultative body to the Council of Ministers. In general, however, the CNA has not been very effective and coordination between agencies involved in water resources management has been a constant source of concern.
The National Irrigation Institute (INIR), created in 2012 simultaneously with the DNSA, is to ensure the efficient and sustainable planning, development and management of land and water resources for production. It is in charge of promoting the rehabilitation and construction, operation and maintenance of irrigation infrastructures, as well as supporting the establishment of water users associations, and participating in integrated water resources management plans.
At regional level, water management and development is the responsibility of the five Regional Water Administrations (ARAs) in their respective river basins (Table 6). They control the irrigation systems, collect water fees and hydrological data. They have administrative and financial autonomy but report to the DNSA. The only two ARA fully operational by 2010 were ARA-Sul, south of the Save river where most of the water management problems exist, and ARA-Centro. In areas not yet covered by an ARA, the Provincial Directorates of Public Works and Housing are the authority responsible for water resources management in the province.
The 1998 Water Tariff Policy Resolution (N°60/98) established price for water, but it is subsided.
In Chokwe irrigation schemes, farmers pay a water fee amounting to an average of US$14/ha in the wet season, and US$25/ha in the dry season depending on the number of hectares owned by farmers. However, only 35-40 percent of farmers paid in 2013 as a consequence of the losses experienced after the flood (the payment rate was slightly higher in previous years).
The costs for surface irrigation range from US$1 500/ha to US$2 000/ha, while maintenance costs can vary between US$500/ha and US$1 500/ha depending on the condition of the system (ODI, 2015).
Policies and legislation
The new Constitution adopted in 2004, compromises the government to assure sustainable development preserving the environment to improve the quality of life of its citizens (Article 117).
The 1991 Water Law (N°16/91) is the main legislation on water in the country. It is based on a river basin approach towards water management. According to this law, water and hydraulic structures of public interest are State property. Numerous decrees since then detail its practical enforcement, in particular:
To operationalize the 1991 Water Law, the 1995 National Water Policy aimed to guarantee the attainment of a sustainable water supply and sanitation, but also referred to agricultural water management in particular in order to promote private sector participation to make full use of the existing infrastructures, as well as their rehabilitation and extension. The 2007 National Water Policy reviews and updates the previous one with the main objectives towards 2025 to:
The 2007 National Water Policy is further detailed with the 2007 National Water Resources Management Strategy (NWRMS) covering all relevant aspects of IWRM including the need for gender mainstreaming in water resources management (MINAG, 2010).
Similarly, replacing the 2002 National Irrigation Policy and its Implementation Strategy the National Irrigation Strategy for the period 2011-2019 was approved by the government for an estimated cost of US$ 654 million to double the total irrigated land in the provinces of Sofala, Manica and Zambézia from 66 000 hectares to 113 000 hectares by 2019 (AfDB, 2011).
More generally, Mozambique has developed a number of policies for the development of the agricultural sector and food security: the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Agricultural Sector 2011-2015 (PEDSA), the Food and Nutritional Security Strategy II (ESAN II, 2008-2015), the Multi-sectoral Action Plan for the Reduction of Chronic Malnutrition in Mozambique (PAMRDC) 2011-2020, and the 2013 National Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (PNISA). PNISA gives priority to the production of food and cash crops. It streamlines reduction of drought and flood vulnerability with a hydro-agricultural programme aiming at: i) reducing the impact of drought by introducing or expanding alternative irrigation methods (use of groundwater, transfer of water to highly water-stressed areas); and ii) reducing vulnerability to flooding around irrigated areas (MA, 2014).
Environment and health
Despite many rivers in Mozambique being under intense pressure from various uses, particularly the transboundary rivers, many others are in almost pristine state (WB, 2010). Pollution of water from agriculture is not significant, because most production is by smallholders, who use little fertilizer and other artificial inputs. Pollution exists however from discharge of untreated wastewater from domestic sewage and industrial activities (SIDA, 2011).
Erosion and resulting sedimentation, due to conversion of forests into cultivated lands, as well as artisanal mining also impact on the river basins' flows.
Saline soils do occur in some areas in the country as a result of poor water management or the use of saline water for irrigation, such as parts of the Chokwé irrigation scheme. However, there are also areas where saline soils occur naturally in Mozambique. This situation is common in the dry zone in the southern part of the country, in the Gaza province in the area of Pafuri, where annual rainfall is below 400 mm.
Prospects for agricultural water management
One of the five main aims of the second Action Plan for the Reduction of Poverty (PARPA-II) 2006-2010, and of its continuation the PARP 2011-2014, was to promote the construction and rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure, especially irrigation schemes, as well as to improve community access to natural resources in an equitable manner for sustainable use and management (WB, 2009).
The 2013 National Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (PNISA)'s strategy is to develop infrastructure for irrigation, including development of wetlands for agricultural development, as well as water storage for livestock and aquaculture. Its objectives are to:
In order to harmonize the interventions a Consultative Forum on Irrigation will be established, headed by the Minister of Agriculture, on which the key stakeholders of the public and private sectors will be represented (MINAG, 2014).
Main sources of information
AfDB. 2011. Republic of Mozambique–Country Strategy Paper 2011-2015. African Development Bank.
FAO. 2016. FAOSTAT. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome.
IGRAC. 2014. Transboundary aquifers of the world. Update 2014. International Groundwater Resources Assessment Center.
INE. 2013. Censo agro-pecuario 2009-2010. Resultados Definitivos. Instituto Nacional de Estatística.
INIA and FEAF. 1999. Water Resources for Crop Production-Mozambique Country Report. Workshop on Integrated Analysis and Management of Renewable Natural Resources in Mozambique. National Agronomic Research Institute and Faculty of Agronomy and Forestry Engineering (FAEF), University Eduardo Mondlane.
INIR. 2013b. A perspectiva das instituições contratantes. Instituto Nacional de Irrigação.
JMP. 2015. Progress on drinking water and sanitation – 2014 update. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.
MINAG. 2010. Sustainable irrigation development project (PROIRRI)-Environmental and social management framework (ESMF). Ministério da Agricultura.
MINAG. 2013. Estratégia de irrigação. Ministério da Agricultura.
MINAG. 2014. PNISA. National agriculture investment plan 2014–2018. Ministério da Agricultura.
NEPAD. 2013. Mozambican country water resource profile. New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
ODI. 2015. Pathways for irrigation development in Africa–insights from Ethiopia, Morocco and Mozambique. Oversee Development Institute.
Ramsar. 2013. The list of wetlands of international importance.
SIDA. 2011. Environment and climate change policy brief – Mozambique. Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
UNDP. 2016. Human development reports: Data. United Nations Development Programme. New York.
UNEP. 2009. Municipal wastewater management in the Western Indian Ocean region: An overview assessment. United Nations Environment Programme.
USAID. 2013. Mozambique environmental threats and opportunities assessment. United States Agency for International Development.
WB. 2009. Mozambique – ProIrri sustainable irrigation development project. Report No.AB4683. World Bank. Washington.
WB. 2010. Mozambique public expenditure review for the water sector. World Bank. Washington.
WB. 2016. World Development Indicators. World DataBank. World Bank. Washington.