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Country profile - Mozambique


Huge, resource-rich and under-populated, the Republic of Mozambique lies on the eastern coast of Southern Africa: a nation of great potential and deep-seated problems. With the end of 16 years of brutal civil war in 1992, the country began to haul its way out of the ruins of conflict. Repairing infrastructure and rebuilding the agricultural foundations of its economy the nation became self-sufficient in food again within just seven years. Then disaster struck: in early 2000 a large part of southern Mozambique was hit by a catastrophic combination of the worst flooding in 50 years and two cyclones. Much of the post-war progress was washed or blown away and the business of rebuilding lives and livelihoods had to begin again.

Most - about 60% - of the population of 18 million live on the coastal strip and the Beira corridor. The country is divided into a coastal lowland plateau of 200-600 metres in the centre of the country, rising to 1000 metres in the north east. All of Mozambique's 25 major river systems, the largest of which is the Zambezi, flow into the Indian Ocean.

It was this and the other great river, the Limpopo, that recently wrought such havoc. As well as destroying homes and roads it's estimated that about 30% of the total cattle stock in the three southern provinces (Gaza, Inhambane and Maputo) were lost as well as extensive losses of small animals such as goats and chickens. Over half a million people were displaced or cut off by flooding. The overall damage was estimated by the World Bank to have cost Mozambique more than US$ 500 million.

Although with one of the lowest per capita GDPs in the world - ranked 170 out of 175 by UN Development Programme's index of human development - the Mozambican government has nevertheless made substantial progress in restoring economic growth, achieving some of the highest growth rates of any sub-Saharan country. With 12% growth in 2002 it was the best-performing economy on the continent. Liberalising the economy is attracting inward direct investment: US$ 518 million in 2001. Dependence on charity is still heavy with 50% of government spending and 75% of public investments being funded by external aid.

Agriculture the key

Agriculture is the mainstay of the country's economy since it accounts for 40% of the GNP, 60% of export revenues and involves almost 80% of the active population. It is estimated that half of the total land area of 78.6 million hectares is suitable for arable use but that only 10% is currently cultivated. 60 million uncultivated acres - the largest, most accessible region of fertile lands in southern Africa - are proving a magnet to enterprising investors, particularly from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Private or private/state joint venture farming is increasing and is raising the production of export crops such as sugar, citrus, copra, tea, cotton and sisal, particularly in the southern half of the country. However the agriculture sector is still dominated by peasant family production; 95% of the cultivated area is traditionally rainfed farmed by families cultivating an average of 2 hectares to produce crops of maize, rice, cassava, groundnut, beans, sweet potato and sugar cane. The most important livestock in terms of household consumption are chickens. Goats, ducks pigs or sheep are also produced, and to a certain extent beef in the southern part of the country.

Agricultural inputs such as tractors, ploughs, fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs are low and the irrigated area is limited to larger farms in the lowlands.

What's in store for the young of Mozambique? (Susie Emmett)
What's in store for the young of Mozambique?
Susie Emmett

The most important cash crops are cotton, cashew nuts, copra, tea and citrus fruits. Cotton is the cash crop that recovered most significantly in the 1990's, with production increasing threefold between 1990 and 1998. Portuguese investors have built a new cotton ginning factory in Zambezi province. The cashew industry, which used to be one of the largest in the world, collapsed after the World Bank insisted that Mozambique end subsidies that helped the trade. As a result 10,000 people employed in the industry lost their jobs and a million nut collectors lost an income. However, in the northwestern province of Niassa, with Malawi across the border, is seeing a rapid expansion of tobacco growing and curing.

Sugar should be a sure source of wealth. It is the country's largest employer and, with low labour costs, perfect growing conditions and exceptional quality crop, it could be a key engine for growth. The South African sugar giant Illovo has taken over one of Mozambique's biggest sugar factories at Mallagra, north of the capital Maputo. But without access to the highest-paying markets, in Europe and the United States, the industry cannot forge ahead.

Land disputes...

Since Mozambique has a low population density (20 persons per km2 in 1997) it could be assumed that disputes over land or other resources such as water, firewood or pastures are uncommon. But during the war large areas of land were abandoned and the subsequent return of people to areas of their origin or preference has caused conflict over land rights. The responsibility for resolving disputes falls to the local administration in consultation with the still strong traditional authorities.

In a country where 68% of adults are illiterate the legitimising of verbal evidence in the court of law (by the Land Law of 1997) was an important milestone for the rural poor. Landowners can prove their claim by oral confirmation, such as the testimony of the traditional chief. Land may not be sold; access is free of charge and once occupied the land can be inherited by the occupants' direct descendants.

A second clause in the Land Law requires individuals and companies, seeking to acquire land for commercial interests, to first hold consultations with local communities. Designed to give communities protected access to the potential of their land and resources, the strength of this law is being tested with the sharp increase in the number of foreign farming companies seeking to set up cash crop businesses.

... and dangers

Ten years ago when an estimated two million refugees returned to their land after the war they were faced with fields turned to bush and an even greater challenge buried in the soil itself: with as many as five million landmines, Mozambique is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, according to the UN. Prior to the flooding, deminers had mapped much of the country in preparation of mine clearance. Unfortunately the floods made those maps irrelevant, burying some mines and unearthing unrecorded ones.

Pre-war, a 1974 census revealed there were 1.4 million cattle. At the conflict's end in 1992 this number had plummeted to 215,000. Along with the stock had gone many of the skills in husbandry as well as animal health services. Aid agencies implemented very effective re-stocking programmes and by 1999 the number of cattle had risen sharply to 440,000. However, many of the restocked animals were lost in the floods of 2000 and, the process has had to begin all over again.

Potential income and power stuggles

Timber could prove an important resource. Mozambique has 19 million hectares of productive woodland of species such as eucalyptus, pine and rare hardwoods including very high value species including wmbiea, jambirre, chanfuta and African sandalwood. Logging was interrupted by the war but now some provincial enterprises are being established and reforestation programmes planned. The role of the private sector is increasing with the intervention of South African investors. Logging capacity is estimated at 500,000 m3 a year but the volume of timber currently felled each year is very low. Whilst timber activity is increasing this is not coupled with development in the manufacturing industry that could add - and retain within Mozambique- the maximum value of the harvest from the country's forests.

The huge Cahora Bassa dam, now jointly owned by the South African, Portuguese and Mozambican governments, was built to electrify the country. The power station at its base has the capacity to generate 2075 megawatts - enough to light up a third of Africa.

Incredibly the dam and the power station survived the long civil war. But in 2003 it was reported that the power station operates at only 3% of its capacity. Moreover, under a contract set out at its inception, the operating company is contracted to sell most of its output to South Africa at a paltry price that is fixed until 2030. Mozambique then re-imports power at market rates, which are too high for fledgling smallscale businesses to afford.

The north-south divide

There is a great difference in the rates of development and improvements of quality of life within Mozambique. The south, which includes the capital Maputo, is far richer than the north. Maputo attracts almost all of the foreign direct investment (93% of it in 2001), while the most remote northern province, Niassa, attracted none at all. In the south infrastructure, agriculture and health care services are progressing but in the north they stagnate. In the north too Mozambicans are closer to the capitals of four neighbouring countries - Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia - than their own.

Mozambique has suffered terribly but, again and again, rebuilds. Now at peace, at the edge of a continent and with strong markets for food and other commodities in five neighbouring countries, Mozambique has the potential to become a leading African economy. Ensuring that all Mozambicans enjoy a share of that potential may well be the country's greatest challenge yet.

Statistical information
  • Country: Mozambique
  • Capital: Maputo
  • Area: 801,595 sq km
  • Population: 17,479,266 million
  • Population growth: 2.01% (2003 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 31.3 years
  • Labour force: agriculture 80%; manufacturing 3%; fisheries 5%
  • GDP: US$ 3626 million (2001)
  • GDP per capita: 90% of the population earn less than US$ 360 (2003 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 22%, industry: 23% services: 55% (2001 est.)
  • Land use: arable land 4%, permanent crops 0.3%, other 96% (1998 est.)
  • Major industries: food, beverages, chemicals (fertilizer, soap, paints), aluminum, petroleum products, textiles, cement, glass, asbestos, tobacco
  • Natural resources: coal, titanium, natural gas, hydropower, tantalum, graphite
  • Agricultural products: Maize, rice, cassva, groundnut, beans, sweet potato, sugarcane, cotton, cashews, copra, tea, citrus, tobacco
  • Export commodities: aluminum, prawns, cashews, cotton, sugar, citrus, timber; bulk electricity
  • Major export partners: South Africa, Portugal, Japan

Date published: March 2004


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