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“We Need Investment, Know-How, Strategy and Objectives. The Only Thing we Don’t Lack is the Will to Conquer “Food Sovereignty”.

“We Need Investment, Know-How, Strategy and Objectives. The Only Thing we Don’t Lack is the Will to Conquer “Food Sovereignty”.

The country produces only 5% of the wheat it consumes, partly because the producers do not know the specificities of this crop nor the techniques to do so, although this is only one of the problems pointed out by the National Farmers Union, through its executive secretary, Luís Muchanga.

Founded in 1987 and registered in 1994 with the general objective of representing the peasants and their organizations to ensure their social, economic and cultural rights through the strengthening of peasant organizations, the National Union of Peasants (UNAC) brings together about 150,000 peasant families nationwide.

“We don’t recognize, as a country, how important wheat is and how much we need to increase production. That’s not understandable, you can’t talk about your diet without thinking about wheat.”

Of all, he acknowledges that wheat producers are residual, and almost non-existent. And, like the private sector, he points out the critical knots that undermine the production of this cereal and the path that can free the country from dependence on imports. Luís Muchanga, executive secretary of UNAC, explains to E&M why wheat is not produced in Mozambique, what is missing and what should be done to make the country self-sufficient.

What are the factors that lead to low or almost non-existent wheat production in Mozambique?

It is the fact that the country, although it has good ecological conditions for wheat production, is not capitalizing on that advantage.

We do not really recognize how important this cereal is and how much we need to increase its production. This is not understandable if we take into consideration that one cannot talk about the diet of a Mozambican, particularly in the urban area, without wheat. Currently, the domestic supply covers only 5% of the demand, very far from being able to even think about covering the domestic need.

And how does this paradigm change?

In 2008, when we had the first signs of the world food crisis, there was a mobilization and intervention that aimed to reduce the production deficit to less than half of the domestic demand in a very short time (about three years).

That is, at a time when the country needed 370 thousand tons of wheat, we said that we would get about 190 thousand tons in a short time.

What did this program consist of and what led to this goal not being achieved?

It was an ambitious program. A broad plan for food production – The Food Production Action Plan 2008-2011 – that was active during a crisis that was characterized by a sharp rise in wheat prices, but when wheat prices started to come down, the authorities relaxed from the point of view of political intention and practical intention in the investment for production. In other words, we failed to put into practice our perspective that was, at the time, to deal with the challenges that existed.

What challenges are you referring to? Are many of them still current, or not?

One of them is in the area of research. As this is a culture that is not very practiced in our country, we need to orient ourselves based on data and indicators, so the first step will be to invest in research so that we can produce at the necessary scale. But, besides this, there is a whole chain to be rethought, from processing to storage, including the technical training of small producers, the approach to climate issues, etc.

At the time, the provinces of Manica, Sofala, and Tete were listed, which gave us the greatest possibility of increasing the production of wheat. But after all this time we have not been able to make any investments, we have gone back to relaxation, and we look at imports as if they were the main challenge.

Which clearly seems to be the wrong way to go, do you agree?

First, we don’t see the opportunity we have to enter the market and support the production of this grain. We are also not investing in the necessary research or technical training of producers so that they can ‘get their hands dirty’.

And, then, we are not preparing the set of processes that makes the chain itself dynamic. Nothing is being thought in a single chain so that we can take significant steps.

Does this mean that the weaknesses all lie with the policy makers? What is the role of producers in this process?

Producers, as I said, need to be stimulated and trained. They are not capable of taking consistent steps on their own if the idea is large-scale wheat production. These issues were identified long ago. There has been this intention, but concrete steps have not been taken to train and strengthen ourselves internally to aggressively move towards the production of this grain.

“We should not think about investing today to win today. We need coherent public policies. We don’t have policies that guarantee food security, and we need to think about food security and food sovereignty.”

It is difficult to sketch out the exact time during which it is possible to have visible results from an intervention of this size, because agricultural campaigns are linked to other external factors, such as the climatic shocks we have been suffering from recently, but I am sure that if we cannot eliminate dependence on imports in such a short time, we can reduce it significantly.

The alternatives to bread, often pointed out by the rulers, also involve the farmers. Cassava and corn are part of this matrix. There will be, also here, some responsibility on the side of the producers, do you agree with this?

It is true. We need to look at other alternatives to reduce the demand for wheat in food production. Here in Mozambique, in 2008, there was a very interesting work, in which the Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) participated, and which consisted in seeing what kind of dynamics could be thought in bread production so that the country could reduce the volume of wheat required to meet domestic needs.

At that time, the solution found was to mix a small percentage of corn and manioc flour into the wheat flour. This experiment worked well and it was possible to reduce the need for wheat by 30%. The essential point is that these issues were considered only at the time of the crisis that was being experienced, and were then forgotten, even though they were important. Imagine if in 2008 the initiative of mixing 30% of cassava flour into 70% of wheat flour had been carried out continuously. Today, we would probably be using 30% of wheat and 70% of manioc flour.

But the government has already reacted about the alternatives that had been considered there, and says that it has concluded that the bread produced, involving the production of manioc, is even more expensive…

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This perception has to do with how we want to promote and encourage the cassava crop.

For example, cassava today is feeding a brewery (of CDM, producing a range of brewery products).

The provinces of Nampula and Inhambane are major producers of cassava.

If we believe that this crop can be a solution, considering that the country is the world’s fourth largest producer of this tuber, it means that we have the potential and climatic conditions to mass produce it.

Do you believe that if we mass produce cassava it will be expensive? You see, when you say that we are looking for solutions, we cannot look at manioc in an isolated way. We need to look at its massification and production, bring in the processing capacity.

It is all about guaranteeing food sovereignty, which is also a way to guarantee the well-being of Mozambicans. The problem with cassava is production and processing. Not only the production. And there are examples. In Nampula cassava is processed even in the neighborhoods. Why can’t we extend this practice?

Another alternative is the so-called “broa de milho”, which is a very expensive bread, but which, when produced in a massified way and by people trained for this purpose, can be done on a large scale. We shouldn’t think of investing today in order to win later. We need coherent public policies, and we don’t have public policies that guarantee food security. But we need to think seriously about this idea of food sovereignty.

And how can we stimulate the national producer, in its small dimension, to produce wheat without counting on the support of the State? Would this be possible?

We need both, and state intervention is necessary. First, because it needs to realize that the production of this crop and its entire value chain needs to be stimulated.

For this, public policies are indispensable, including protectionist ones, as happened with chicken production, which has given good results in terms of import reduction. Let us have this same vision in wheat production. Then we need serious public investment that includes providing technical assistance. For example, why is it that wheat is not among the crops that were selected as the country’s emblem, knowing its importance?

We also need to guarantee that farmers know how to work with this crop, to guarantee that the market absorbs the production made by the peasants, and with prices that stimulate production.

We have a wealth that we are not taking into account, we are a country that has 70% of the population living in rural areas, of this universe, 80% is dedicated exclusively to agricultural production, but we are not capitalizing on this advantage.

E&M

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