MAPUTO, THE POLITICAL CAPITAL of Mozambique on the south eastern fringe of Africa, is significant in many ways. It is symbolic for food security in Africa as a city in which an outlandish and ambitious ‘declaration’ was made in 2003 about Africa’s commitment to prioritising agricultural financing for food security. Seventeen years on, Maputo, however, remains as hollow, solitary and neglected as the grandiose promises made in it by the African leaders who obviously forgot their commitments as soon as they left the conference. “If wishes were horses,” or, in this case if declarations were horses, all African countries would have been awash with food by now. But Maputo almost immediately became synonymous to Africa’s food Utopia, with regular mentions all over the globe among those who followed the optimism and idealism projected by African heads of government then – in expert discussions, investment talks, government-to-government gatherings and in research discussions.
The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), considered as Africa’s policy framework for agricultural transformation, wealth creation, food security and nutrition, economic growth and prosperity for all, inspired hope, energised and rallied African farmers’ associations, private investors, agricultural research institutions and national governments around the belief that agriculture had a fundamental role in development. The Maputo declaration – endorsed during the Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003 – and the widely-publicised CAADP aim were expected to increase annual national budgetary allocations for agriculture to at least 10 per cent, while ensuring a six-per cent annual growth of the agricultural output. It should have been clear from the outset that all countries could not have been capable of uniform achievement in the attainment of the set ‘goal’ of setting aside at least 10 per cent of national budget allocations to agriculture development policy implementation within five years.
As of 2018 – that was 15 years after the audacious but fleeting declaration at Maputo, only nine out of 54 countries of African Union (AU) member states have met the Maputo target of spending 10 per cent of national budgetary resources on agricultural and rural development as the declarants continued their business-as-usual back home. The increasing competition of various other sectors for limited national revenues may make it much harder for more countries to meet the 10 per cent promise that was expected to provide food security, nutrition, resilience and income to the people of Africa. Juxtaposing Maputo Declaration with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the successor Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Africa’s departure from accomplishing the goals is clearly evident. If failure to meet even the most basic of the MDGs was blamed on the arguments that they were an imposition from outside Africa, or the non-adherence to the successor SDGs is explained away as due to their higher ideals, how should failure of implementation of Maputo Declaration be described?
Maputo stands as a microcosm the reality of Africa’s food security. Maputo is in a country that struggles with climate conditions that are unfriendly to good agricultural productivity. With more than 80 per cent of the population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, subsistence farming is critical to Mozambique’s food security. The centre and southern parts of the country frequently experience drought, while the high rainfall seasonality and marked precipitation deficit, common to the north, exposes that region to severe droughts, exposing Mozambique, the neighbouring Malawi and Zimbabwe to similar climatic extremes and population vulnerability. In the past four years, Mozambique has been going through one humanitarian crisis or another. In 2016, the country experienced one of the strongest El Niño events reported in half a century, as it swept through the southern Africa. The aftermath was mass destitution of farmers who lost their livestock and crops to the ensuing severe drought.
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The 2019 was particularly troubling as Mozambique went through two devastating weather events. Tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth struck in quick successions in a country without adequate social and economic safety nets to help the vulnerable population in the recovery process. The record of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was appalling as both cyclones caused the displacement of 230,000 people post-Idai and 20,000 people post-Kenneth, with the death of more than 650 people. It was estimated that Cyclone Idai caused about $1.4 billion in total damage, and $1.39 billion in losses, with the total cost of recovery and reconstruction estimated at $2.9 billion for the four provinces of Sofala, Manica, Tete and Zambezia. Mozanbique suffered more than $39 million of lost revenue resulting from the impact to the commerce and industry sector. Estimates of the damage caused by Cyclone Idai to the private sector in the six affected provinces were in the order of $115 million. To give an idea of what to expect after COVID 19 outbreak, the preliminary forecast as at 2019 pointed to a slowdown in real GDP growth to 2.5 per cent, with annual inflation expected to accelerate from six per cent to eight per cent by the end of 2020. Those figures now have to be reviewed, factoring the confounding variables introduced by COVID 19 that has taken a greater part of 2020 to date.
The damage and destruction caused will not only take some time to remedy, other forms of damages are adding to the suffering of the people of Mozambique. For three years, the northern part of the country has been subjected to periodic attacks launched by miscreants and invading terrorists who have now become more emboldened to inflict greater damages and destruction on the helpless rural dwellers. The results include more and more IDPs, abandonment of farms by the farming communities and the consequential food shortages. Those who have not got help to recover from El Niño were beset with additional burden of recovery from the tropical cyclones, but got into greater trouble with the incursion of armed bandits and the pervasive influence of COVID 19 outbreak. The fall army worm pest invasion in southern Africa has further complicated the food security situation in Mozambique. Without prompt intervention and control measures, the fall armyworm, which began to spread few years ago, is expected to have a significant negative impact on food security in Mozambique.
Mozambique typifies any other country in Sub-Saharan Africa in the dichotomy between the rural and urban development. The growing investment disparities between Mozambique’s rural and urban areas affect the fortunes of farmers rather negatively, making agricultural production unattractive. So, from rural infrastructure to commodity market, rural security to high impact environmental events or pest infestations to farm yields, Mozambique has a lot to grapple with. So is all of Africa. The scale and magnitude of environmental, social and economic impacts and the resulting dislocations may vary from one country to another; the outlook remains more or less the same. Africa is reputed for large volume of food imports, estimated at $35 billion annually, an estimate that could be far higher as the continent experiences a rise in food prices. Mozambique presents enormous food security lessons for other African countries. As countries grapple with the fundamental issues of social, economic and political survival, it becomes clearer why food security issues take a backseat.
Except something drastic, urgent and daring is done, Maputo Declaration will only remain in Africa’s distant memory. African national leaders need to look at the core issues holding back progress in agriculture and food security and form a common front against them. From Mozambique, a lot can be learnt, and the lessons can help Africa on the way forward. Extremes of weather events – such as excessive heat and drought, tropical storms and cyclones, torrential rains and flooding – pose terrible risks for agriculture in Africa. Pests, diseases and crop afflictions lead to poor harvests and food shortages. Terrorism and banditry are gradually eroding the serenity and safety of Africa’s rural countryside and some remedial steps urgently need to be taken. Rural infrastructure needs to be built, upgraded or rehabilitated and made fit-for-purpose. Where market reforms become necessary requirements for a boost in agricultural development, these should be carried out without delay. The unfolding impacts of COVID 19 also need to be put in proper perspectives as the pandemic affects food production, consumption and pricing worldwide.
As the world commemorates the World Food Day, Africa’s scorecard on food security needs to be reviewed vis-à-vis the hopes and expectations of yesteryears. Progress appears to have been more in “declaration” than in actions. Africa needs to now move from words to actions as 17 years are long enough for a continent to turn its food hardship into fortune. Maputo is ripe for an overhaul. Africa’s food security initiative needs a new lease of life and a new direction.