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December 29, 2011

 

Mozambique focuses on better crops through quality seeds

 

 

Mozambique is stepping up in producing quality seeds to increase crop yield with the help of FAO.

 

"Increasing agricultural production in a country whose yields are among the lowest in the world starts with boosting productivity," said José da Graça, who coordinates FAO's European Union-funded effort in Mozambique, explaining FAO's priority support for the seed value chain.

 

Mozambique has the potential to feed itself, owing to its abundant and largely unexploited land and water resources.

 

But following the global surge in food prices in 2007/08, local food prices in Mozambique have shot up several times, says Mahomed Valá, National Director of Agrarian Services (DNSA) of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG). As a result, "it has become crucial to increase production," he says.

 

In 2008, the European Union (EU) launched its EUR1 billion (US$1.3 billion) "Food Facility" initiative to counter soaring food prices around the world. Of that, EUR7.3 million (US$9.4 million) was destined to Mozambique, where Europe partnered with FAO to boost agriculture by strengthening the national seed sector.

 

Under the two-year European Union Food Facility (EUFF) project operation, FAO worked with 15 seed companies and some 1000 small-scale seed growers to stimulate local seed production in seven provinces of Mozambique's 11 provinces. An estimated 3 500 tonnes of certified seed for crops, including corn, rice, bean, soy and sunflower, were grown.

 

FAO not only focussed on producing more seeds, but also better ones and also helped the government improve its ability to control the quality of seeds reaching the market. Currently, five seed laboratories are being rehabilitated, while around 300 technical staff, including extensionist in Mozambique's agriculture ministry are getting training in seed quality control, in line with regional standards.

 

Additionally, direct support to increased production of staple crops was provided to some 25 000 smallholder farmers, who received nearly 1000 tonnes of corn and rice seeds, as well as fertilisers and tools at subsidised prices during two consecutive seasons.

 

Farmer Paulo Calção, of Mussacumbira in central part of Mozambique (Manica province), reports he grew 2800 kg of corn from a plot of just over 0.5 hectares.

 

Calção will continue using improved seeds, he adds, even if the subsidies are discontinued.

 

Altogether, the 25 000 farmers assisted by FAO voucher programme using improved variety of seeds and fertilisers, produced an estimated 90 000 tonnes of corn and rice.

 

The gains stemming from the EU-supported FAO project are significant although most smallholder farmers, an estimated four million, continue to need support. Much more is needed to offset Mozambique's yearly deficit of around one million tonnes of food.

 

At the same time, the situation in the countryside is a long way from the 1990s, when most farmers depended on handouts as the country emerged from a long and bitter civil war, recalls Mahomed Valá.

 

Producing improved seeds will continue to be a priority for the government, he says. "At least 15% of our farmers should have access to quality seeds in five to six years time," he states.

 

In a country where only 10% of arable land is cultivated and most farmers still use substandard seeds, this will be one of the keys to unlocking Mozambique's agricultural potential.

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