Posted on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 14:49

Smallholders and industrial farmers in Mozambique stake their claim

Only larger farms can afford dedicated packers/Photo©BENOIT MARQUET/AFPThe government seeks to encourage both small and large agricultural enterprises, but smallholders worry that foreign investors will shake up the sector.


Walk into any Maputo grocery store and you will see rows of Thai rice for sale, despite ideal local growing conditions.

The agriculture sector contributes around a quarter of gross domestic product and grew at 5.1 percent in 2011, according to the Banco de Moçambique.

The model where investors think they can just come in [...] is simply not going to work. It's not practical

Around 80 percent of the population is employed in farming, with 98 percent of farms rain fed. Demand from mining boom towns in Tete Province is a real opportunity.

Those who seize it can use it as a springboard to build up capacity before targeting markets in Zambia, South Africa and Malawi.

Barriers to expansion are legion.

The main roads are being overhauled, but to reach them farmers face dirt tracks quickly impassable in rain.

Villages are slowly being connected to the grid, but the national electricity company is often unwilling to place pylons where there are few clients to pay back the costs.

There is a single company that offers a cold chain to a port.

Other key roadblocks are a lack of finance and know-how.

AgDevCo, a 'patient capital' and not-for-profit organisation funded by the Rockefeller and Hewlett foundations, is trying to play a catalytic role to bring seed capital and expertise to agribusiness ventures.


The Empresa de Comercialização Agrícola (ECA) in Manica Province, funded by AgDevCo, is one such company.

From a warehouse hub, it finances and distributes inputs for smallholder farmers. It then provides basic processing and access to markets post-harvest.

SABMiller and the World Food Programme are two of its clients.

The ECA has broken even on its second growing season and has doubled its numbers to 2,200 farmers, moving on to new crops such as groundnuts.

"It's not because we have some magic formula," says Chris Isaac, AgDevCo executive director for business development.

"It's just because ECA has done all of the basic things well: it has established a relationship of trust with the farmers, it has demonstrated an ability to deliver the inputs on time, to offer the farmers a fair price and to pay them on time."

Grant Taylor, managing director of ECA, hopes the model will be replicated throughout Mozambique and perhaps the region.

He says the major constraint remains management staff.

"There are graduates coming out of one or two agricultural colleges, but the level is still basic, and they would rather try to get a job in the city than get their hands dirty in the fields," explains Taylor.


At the other end of the spectrum, industrial-scale farming is on the rise.

The government has embarked on an ambitious attempt to emulate Brazil's success in turning around the agricultural fortunes of the Cerrado zone.

A triangular partnership with Japan and Brazil called the ProSavana programme is set to replicate the experience in northern Mozambique.

It is a controversial idea, with some Mozambicans fearful of an influx of highly competitive Brazilian agribusiness companies.

The Uniao Nacional de Camponeses (National Peasants' Union) put out a statement in October to say it is "extremely concerned that ProSavana requires millions of hectares of land along the Nacala Corridor, when the local reality shows that such vast areas of land are not available and are currently used by peasants practising shifting cultivation".

Isaac agrees that there is under-utilised land, but he warns that "the model where investors think they can just come in, buy large areas of land for large-scale commercial farming and not have to think about the relationship with the community is simply not going to work. It's not practical. It's not realistic."

Agriculture minister José Pacheco took to the airwaves in late December 2012, using a radio programme to deny that smallholder farmers would lose their land. He said that on the contrary they would be helped by the programme●

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