It caught me off guard. Actually several tweets alerted me as to what was happening in Mozambique but I had to check out several links before I could get a full idea as to what was happening. The situation was simply out of control in Mozambique and the people had decided to revolt following a 30% increase in food prices especially bread which is their staple food. Even I would have done the same thing. A 30% increase is quite bad for any economy’s residents. Thus I do not find anything strange in the fact that Mozambicans decided that the streets would be a better place to show their anger.
This comes barely two years after more riots following the increase in global food prices. All of these riots have left people dead even though they are all seeking the one basic need we cannot do without; food. While the international media picked it up as a sob-sob story, they are expected to do that, one would have to look at the genesis of the problem to realise how deep this all goes. Mozambique’s imports to exports ratio currently stands at 2:1 i.e. for every tonne they export, they have to import two tonnes. This may be a significant improvement from the 4:1 that they had a few years after independence but still quite low.
That might sound a bit confusing but as with most African economies, Mozambique’s main economic mainstay is agriculture although fishing is said to be largest single export particularly prawns. All the other economic sectors declined after the exit of the Portuguese in 1975. Mining, manufacturing and tourism were the worst hit. Well, guerilla warfare would have done that to any economy. The major issue is that Mozambique’s took a bit of a longer time to recover.
Due to all of this, Mozambique has been ranked among the poorest nations on earth and among the least developed nations. With agriculture, things have not been made any easier with the presence of the minefields that are still being de-mined. This means that the arable land that is available is quite low compared to the total land area. Throwing in the fact that most African economies are dependent on cash crops to cater for the foreign exchange bit leaves some bit of food shortage withing the country. Cashews and cotton are seen to be the country’s major exports from the agricultural sector. Both as cash crops require processing that is done outside the country rather than within. Malawi’s wheat production is just enough to cover 5% of the country’s needs.
Thus when the world wheat prices increased, Mozambique which mostly imports from the Russia and Eastern Europe, was badly hit. This lead to an increase in the food prices and although South Africa is nearby to them, the soaring rand value has not helped matters either for the former Portugal colony. In neighbouring Malawi, maize production has been doing well. Popular story has it that once Bingu wa Mutharika took over, the first thing he did was to create a system whereby farmers would receive maize seed from the government, plant it and then repay after the crops were matured. This is the same system that some of the NGOs and aid agencies use but now the government would be charging just enough to cater for the cost of the seeds.
The agencies tried to discourage this but within years, Malawi was self sufficient in terms of food production and could even export the excess maize. Malawi, once a basket case, is now the holder of the food basket in Southern Africa in terms of food production. These are two countries that have undergone nearly the same agricultural woes yet one remains stronger than the other in terms of food production and also food security.
Two questions arise out of this.
- Are African leaders doing enough to ensure their fellow citizens’ food security?
- Is it time that we as Africans made a return back to our traditional food patterns?
Malawi, through Mutharika’s ideas, has managed to transform the small country into a food producer rather than just a consumer. Although Mozambique may be suffering from the effects of the guerilla warfare, it is high time that they focused more on production of food.
Food security, as has been seen in many other African countries, is of vital importance as compared to the foreign exchange earned and then lost in the process of export of cash crops and re-importing them. Once the basics, food security, have been secured, the rest will be easier.
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. –Virginia Woolf