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Despite rapid growth and political stability in recent years, rural poverty and malnutrition are very high in Mozambique, especially in the drylands. ICRISAT's research here focuses on better crop diversification and productivity, seed systems for large-scale adoption of improved varieties, farming systems studies and community-based watershed management.

60% - Mozambique's population living on less than US$ 1.25 a day

3.7 million - Number of smallholder farms in Mozambique, average size of 1.1 hectare

24% - Percentage of farms in Mozambique headed by women

20% Share of Mozambican territory that is semi-arid


General context

One of the poorest countries in the world, Mozambique has recovered gradually from decades of civil war that ended in 1992. Yet a huge majority of the population is extremely poor (60% living on less than  US$ 1.5 a day).

Poverty is especially widespread in rural areas (70% of the poor). Most rural poor depend on low yielding and rainfed subsistence farming, and they are often stricken by drought and other climate disasters. In times of scarcity, they have little to buffer them from food insecurity. This explains the high malnutrition level (43% of children under five are stunted) reinforced by numerous food taboos.

Women are often in a vulnerable situation, having much less access to education in secondary school, land and assets. There are four times less women than men in secondary school.

Yet, since the mid-nineties, the country has benefited from rapid growth and political stability, and in recent years investments in agriculture have grown. 

High potential of agriculture sector

Eighty percent of  Mozambique's active population depends on agriculture, which contributes 24% of the GDP (2009). Mozambique has 36 million hectares of arable land but only 10% is cultivated. The country has nearly 3.7 million family farms with an average holding size of 1.1 hectare, a quarter (24%) of which are headed by women, producing on an average 95% of the total agricultural production. The remaining 5% comes from 400 commercial farms producing cash and export crops such as cashew, tea, sugarcane, and livestock. About 98% of farms practise rainfed, very low productivity agriculture, without using  improved seeds (less than 10%) and other inputs and a very limited access to markets (10% sell surplus to markets).

The central and northern provinces of Mozambique have greater agricultural potential, more fertile soil and more abundant rainfall thanthe other parts of the country, and they generally produce agricultural surpluses. Moving from the central to the southern provinces, the climate becomes drier, the soil is poorer and natural disasters such as drought and floods occur more frequently. These areas - together with coastal communities, which suffer extreme isolation – are the poorest in the country (read more on IFAD Mozambique rural poverty country profile).

Food crops are important and vary according to the regions. Alongside maize and cassava, sorghum is a key staple crop for half the farms in the north, while groundnut is essential for family food security in the drier south. ICRISAT mandate crops are particularly important in a country where 20% of the territory is semi-arid.

A market-based, value chain approach is expected  to speed up the modernization of agriculture through 3 agricultural growth corridors (Beira, Nacala and Zambezi: see Grow Africa Mozambique)  by capitalizing on the main ports on the Indian Ocean coast for exports.

ICRISAT research in Mozambique

Most agricultural research in Mozambique is conducted by the Institute of Agricultural Research of Mozambique. Since 2001, ICRISAT has a permanent delegation within IIAM to support Mozambican agricultural research, especially in the field of seed systems, ICRISAT's dryland cereals and grain legumes mandate crop research and in watershed management and conservation agriculture. ICRISAT works in particular in Tete, Manica and Nampula provinces.

Crop breeding and seed systems: Less than 10% of Mozambican farmers use improved seeds. Access to high yield drought-tolerant varieties could boost the family farm production. With its partners ICRISAT develops farmer-managed legume seed systems such as community seed banks and revolving seed funds. [ref: Tropical Legumes 2 ]

ICRISAT works with IIAM to introduce chickpea, a crop not yet produced but already being consumed by people in Mozambique. 

Crop diversification and good agricultural practices: Many Mozambican farmers practice monocropping of cash crops like tobacco, which depletes the soil and leads to deforestation. Pigeonpea has been introduced in tobacco farms in Tete Province, ensuring an effective market demand to stimulate adoption of this legume crop for a more sustainable cropping system.  

Resilient and productive dryland farming systems

With the increasing impact of floods and droughts due to the downstream effect of the  Zambezi and Limpopo rivers and climate change, community-based water and watershed management becomes essential for farmers to practice better water conservation and harvesting and increase access to appropriate technologies. A 5-year regional initiative will look at ways to improve irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.  [Ref ACIAR project brief, 2013-2017] .  

Innovation platforms gathering farmers, extension services, researchers, and crop value chain actors can be used to develop resilient and profitable rural livelihood systems in semi-arid Mozambique.

ICRISAT is activley engaged in dryland farming systems analysis research in the Chynianja Triangle in the Zambezi River Basin located across Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. This is being conducted at the watershed level under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and at the farm level under the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.

Biomass is limited in the region. Research focuses on identifying best bet resource management options, such as intensification of agroforestry systems using legume multiservice trees like acacia which can provide fodder and firewood and improve soil fertility. This includes policy and institutional innovations for cohabitation between herders and crop farmers.

Important documents

Feed the Future Agriculture strategy for Mozambique (USAID)

Strategic Plan for agricultural development, Ministry of Agriculture Mozambique PEDSA 2010-2019

Groundnut family farmers – 80% of the active population works in agriculture.
Training seed entrepreneurs in Nampula under the Seed Entrepreneur Enhancement Development Service (SEDIS) initiative.
Groundnut seed generation and dissemination ( Mamane and Nametil varieties released by IIAM).
Innovation Platforms.