Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Alleviating Poverty In Maputo, Mozambique

By Isabel Maria Madaleno (Tropical Institute, Lisbon, Portugal)
E-mail: "Isabel Madaleno"
and Augusto Manuel Correia (Technical University, Lisbon, Portugal)


Worried about the continuous impoverishment of the Sub-Saharan countries, together with the increasing urbanization registered, the authors committed themselves to write an essay on poverty alleviation strategies, currently being developed in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

The introduction was devised to frame the issues in discussion, based on recent Mozambican History and on available statistical data, followed by the description of the paths that have been taken by two institutions, in order to cope with poverty, even tough their philosophies are radically different, although complementary.

The first one is the World Food Programme, which activities give us an evident sign of Mozambican dependency on international support systems that continue to play a decisive role in the Southern African country in analysis, as was recently shown by the urgency measures taken after the floods.

Peri-urban agriculture, on the contrary, is an economical and environmentally sustainable and increasingly important occupation in Maputo. The authors explain the trends of these production activities developed after the independence on the outskirts of the capital-city, emphasising the decisive role of the General Cooperatives Union, which nowadays counts 6 200 members, cropping about 2 100 ha of arable land, technically oriented and socially supported by the organization, and namely constituted by women and children.

Concluding that peri-urban agriculture is the most wise and promising way to alleviate poverty in Maputo, the authors stress the fundamental role the WFP still plays in Maputo as a continuous and yet insoluble contribution to external dependency, in evident contrast with the promotion of agriculture and the very positive results achieved by the urban growers, in spite of the difficulties they face to raise the quality and lower the costs of production in the cooperatives, in order to achieve economic independence and radically eliminate social vulnerability too.


This paper is in itself a recognition of the widespread dynamic of poverty in Mozambique, notwithstanding the remarkable progress of recent years, due to the combined efforts of the national government, international development agencies, non-governmental organizations, religious associations, developed and other developing countries instancies, especially acting through the diplomatic corps accredited, the European Union funds, and last, but not least, the United Nations programmes.

Our focus is a society in transformation, with deep inequality of access to development from province to province, profound and persistent education gaps, traditional gender discrimination patterns, a health system unable to cope with endemic diseases and pandemics like HIV/AIDS, which according to UN projections will lower life expectancy below 30 years of age, by 2010 (UNDP a) 2000).

The main purpose of the paper is to present several positive actions taken by very few selected actors in order to alleviate poverty in the capital city - Maputo - and its outskirts. Considering that higher per capita income and the best (other) indicators on human development within the country are registered there, we obviously do not expect this contribution to be a deep analysis of poverty in Mozambique, nor a catalogue of solutions ready to be implemented elsewhere, around the world.


Mozambique is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), currently the fourth most populous country, after the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Tanzania. It's also a member state of the CPLP, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries. In 1999, the population reached 16.99 millions, 6% of which live in Maputo City (UNDP a) 2000).

According to the UN estimates, the poverty line in the country is about half a US dollar a day, being the per capita consumption around 170 US$ annually. However, a person who lives in Maputo has the need to spend 2.5 times more on daily consumption, than someone living in the rural North (Nampula), and 1.7 more than one inhabitant from the rural Central part of the country (Manica and Sofala).

Once the incidence of poverty is much lower in the capital city, that makes the Southern urbanites in general a little more wealthy as compared to their other compatriots, even though its harder to be poor if you live in Maputo. In fact, two out of every three Mozambicans live under the poverty line, whereas about one and a half (1.5) in three is recorded in Maputo City.

Some of the explanations for these regional inequalities are related to the concentration of the industrial park, commercial enterprises, foreign trade, education and health infrastructures, in the Southern region. An analysis of the Commercial Directory of Mozambique proves eloquent and disconcerting (DCM 2000). History and politics are good trends of research on the issue.

Still, Mozambican government "has no explicit stand-alone anti-poverty plan, though it recently adopted official guidelines for a provisional poverty reduction plan for 2000-04" (UNDP b) 2000, p. 125). We should stress that the international food subsidy programme, active in the country, is the longest in existence.

It's a known fact that internal conflict delayed economic and social development for a long time (1974-1992). Nowadays social expenditures are growing faster than those of defence, and the government is heavily betting on external finance of labour and on the resurgence of the economic activities.

A series of privately financed mega projects were recently deposited in the hands of multinational corporations, and are currently under way. These organizations will rebuild physical infrastructures, like ports, dams, water supply, and power grids, mainly in the Southern part of the country. It's unlikely they will create enough jobs, and it is quite probable they will contribute to raise inequalities within Mozambique even further (UNDP b) 2000).

That's why the country still remains heavily dependent on external aid, turning imperative a more effective discussion of solutions to cope with poverty. The paper focus on a comparison between two different poverty alleviation approaches, the first one being more like an emergency measure, which in fact reinforces dependency, and the second one a good example of the importance of peri-urban agriculture in Africa as a path out of poverty.


Food aid shipments provided most of the country's food supply in the recent past. However, during the last years the contribution of food aid to total cereal supplies has fallen dramatically, from 50%, in the early 90s, to 5% in 1997 (FAO 1998). There is a neat food deficit market in Maputo these days, whose requirements are met either by imports from South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi, by domestic supplies, especially concerning maize, generated in the more productive Northern part of the country, or by donors.

In order to enhance food security of the poor people in Maputo, the World Food Programme has a regular monthly food distribution and delivery plan, widely reinforced after the floods that victimised the Southern Provinces in February/March 2000.

Most of the food is not freely distributed but rather inserted in a scheme of "food for work programme". The work varies from the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, in peri-urban areas; to the urban cleaning or garbage collection, in the neighbourhoods left unattended by the Municipality of Maputo; the construction of schools, health centres, houses, latrines, in poor urban areas and resettlement fields; road or street reconstruction. Training is also provided, in order to educate people for jobs ranging from agriculture, through construction to several handcrafts.

Direct beneficiaries of the food for work programme were 5 333 persons, by September 2000, in and around Maputo City (population about 1 Million inhabitants). Maize is the principal food product delivered by WFP, particularly because it's the most important element of Southern Mozambicans diet, but milk, sugar, salt and vegetable oil are also commodities imported by the UN from Zimbabwe and Malawi, either given away to pre-schools, hospitals, religious communities and associations, or then exchanged for work developed by the urban poor.

During the February/March floods, the Programme, together with NGOs, supported up to 14 refugee camps, providing food for additional 12 000 people, only in Maputo. Nowadays, about 1/3 of the affected populations already came back to the rural areas they were from, while the others are gradually being resettled, namely in a neighbourhood called Magoanine (total resettled being 1 500 families, in September 2000). Magoanine is a peripheral area that belongs to the urban district number 5, one of the five urban districts in which the capital city is divided.

The young adults and other more or less healthy victims of the floods are now also integrated in food for work programmes, with the exception of those who have alternative means of income or a job, ranging from 10 to 35% of the people recorded in the refugee camps.

In Magoanine, the Italian Cooperation (NGOs) distributed recently a kit of "catanas" and hoes enough for 1 300 families, enabling them to farm the idle land around. The planting of mango and lemon trees is being provided and INIA, the Mozambican institution for agricultural research, is being contacted in order to teach the head of each group (the families are organizing themselves into) how to treat the trees and develop other food crops.

Most of the beneficiaries of the WFP mentioned here were selected by the Municipality of Maputo during the floods, and some of the camps are distributed only one meal per day (except for the children who get two), others have two main meals or then commodities are simply given away to the families so they can cook whatever they need.

Maize, peas, rice, oil, sugar, salt are provided by the WFP, while religious associations like the South African Methodist Church, the Dignity (a Catholic Spanish organization), and the Islamic Council, in addition to the GOAL (a Mozambican NGO), the Red Cross, Mˇdecins Sans Fronti¸res, the Swiss, the Italian and the Portuguese Cooperations, and even big companies and corporations like MOZAL, Entreposto (Portugal) and Total give most frequently extra food and other goods like blankets, kitchen utensils, stoves, soap, water pumps, buckets, house building materials, and a much needed health care.

The United Nations World Food Programme is therefore not only responsible for the survival of the most vulnerable populations in Maputo, but also an organizer of good will and altruism from wealthier peoples and countries, polarizing positive actions intended to minimize urban poverty.


In 1974, after the Carnage Revolution in Portugal, white farmers fled from their "quintas" in the outskirts of Maputo. Independence of Mozambique came soon after. Poor African women then occupied the farms and started growing food in what was then known as people's farms. The reason why only women took these small farms is that traditionally, in Central and Southern Mozambique, agriculture is a female task/activity, just like raising kids or cooking and washing. Males can be fishermen; they can raise cattle, built up houses, help with the heavy work during the crops or go to South Africa to the gold mines. But they rarely grow food on their own.

Well, these women were not very successful. They depredated most of the buildings they had taken, but they lacked experience, skills to surpass the subsistence level. So, in the early eighties, the Mozambican government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, created a cabinet to assist the unemployed and illiterate females from Maputo's green belt (GZV). They gave them inputs and technical agricultural assistance. Subsequently, they stimulated them to organize themselves in cooperatives of production, growing food in common land, through communitarian work. Those days it was normal practise because we are talking about a socialist regime.

Cooperatives grew around Maputo. Then they were united in one General Cooperatives Union, even though it took ten years to be legalized and to receive governmental recognition, because the GCU always vindicated total independence from any political force. An Italian Catholic priest took the lead of the movement. And it started working.

Nowadays the cooperatives are no longer sponsored or receive any sort of help from the government. Neo-liberalism dominates and the Mozambican government lets the market function. One of the sectors that grew tremendously in recent times was family business. In the example of the cooperatives, land was divided by the cooperativists and many individuals, who had fled during the hardest years of the Civil War, came back begging for a chance of fresh start in their former areas of residence. The GCU gave them credit to rebuild their houses and reinitiate farming activities.

The raising of small livestock, especially chickens, is the main business developed by these peri-urban farmers. Three functional levels structure it: 1. The GCU manages and possesses incubators, concentrates sanitary and health control of the process, ministers practical courses and gives technical assistance; 2. The cooperatives are responsible for the distribution, accountancy and control of the chicks through the associates and grow their own too; 3. The women farmers feed and raise the chicks till the moment they are ready to be killed in the GCU abattoir, sold and consumed.

The organization has capacity to raise more than 3 000 000 birds a year, and is the proud proprietor of 4 retailer shops located in urban areas. Besides chickens, the peri-urban farmers grow vegetables (lettuce, onions, cabbage), fruit trees, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other subsistence crops. The commercial production is about 3 000 tons a year.

The Agrarian Centre of Mahotas, whose buildings were recently reformed with funds from the European Union, has a fruit trees nursery (fig.1) under the qualified supervision of an experienced agronomist. Apart from the genetically selected orange, papaya, banana, lemon, cashew plants, some forestry species are being reproduced there. The aim is either commercial or nutritional, once the fruit plants are consequently distributed through credit systems to the women farmers, it contributes to help them ameliorate vitamins consumption in respective families daily diet.

Even though more than 95% of the women farmers are illiterate, the policy of the GCU has been one of gradual improvement of the cultural level of the families involved in peri-urban agriculture, prioritising the children and young adults. The General Cooperatives Union possesses and controls 35 child nurseries, 3 primary and secondary schools, and one technical school involving several hundreds of students and thousands of young kids. With funds from the Canadian Embassy, scholarships for university studies were attributed from 1998 onwards. The GCU is also frequently financed by NGO's, whereas productivity of these well-organized and better-managed cooperatives of poor women farmers is very high. Actually, they have around 6 200 members, occupying 2 100 ha around Maputo. The plots are quite small but well kept.

Of course competition is stiff. Supermarkets, restaurants and hotels in Maputo prefer to import everything from South Africa, rather than buying from cooperatives or national farmers of any sort. This is especially true regarding the rural areas, because roads are so lousy, that one saves money from getting produce from Johannesburg instead of travelling something like 50Km to Marracuene district (North of Maputo) to get the food. South African goods are considered safer, cheaper, they taste better, they are cleaner and the supply is far more regular. In spite of all odds, the cooperatives of Maputo can still be considered a success. Through the GCU, the associative movement developed an important social function in Maputo, contributing to job creation, and reducing poverty in the outskirts of the capital-city, simultaneously improving food security within the several thousands of families it organizes, educates and protects.


The increasing urbanization of developing African countries has not been accompanied by growth of employment (IFPRI 2000). Most people, particularly women, are job insecure or work in the informal sector. Survival strategies of the urban poor are not being conveniently addressed by international development agencies, so in the Mozambican capital, as in many other cities of the continent, there is a fringe of very vulnerable populations who have to rely on international food aid systems.

Yet, labour is poor people's greatest asset. Examples of organizations capable of creating sustainable opportunities for business and reliable income generation schemes are rare but worth to be mentioned. That's the case with the cooperatives in Maputo. Peri-urban agriculture practised by them involves the production of crops and animals around the city. In a country with a very weak industrial sector and ruined or inexistent transportation systems, the development of the agricultural use of the urban and peri-urban land can be a solution not only to enhance food security of the urban poor, but also to ameliorate their self-esteem and hence give them dignity.


DCM (2000) "Direct—rio Comercial de Mo¨ambique", DCM, Maputo.

FAO (1998) "Regional Market Integration and Cross-Border Trade for Improved Food Marketing and Food Security", AFMESA/FAO Workshop, Harare.

IFPRI (2000) "Achieving Urban Food and Nutrition Security in the Developing World", International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington.

UNDP a) (2000) "Mozambique: National Human Development Report 1999", UNDP, Maputo.

UNDP b) (2000) "Poverty Report 2000", United Nations Development Programme, New York.


Thanks are due to Nadia Vaz from the UNWFP and to Father Prosperino from the GCU, for their help, advice and especially for the big amount of data generously placed at our disposal. An earlier draft of this paper was submitted to the wiser and superior judgement of Dr. Kosta Mathéy, what doesn't exempt us from responsibility for any inaccuracy one might find in this version.

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Revised Monday, January 8, 2001

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture