APRA in Mozambique: the mechanisation debate

On 19 July 2018, Lídia Cabral (Institute of Development Studies) and Euclides Gonçalves (Kaleidoscopio, Mozambique) presented findings from the APRA policy studies on agricultural mechanisation and development corridors, respectively, at a conference on ‘Public Policies and Agribusiness’ organised by the Observatório do Meio Rural (OMR) in Maputo. The conference covered a range of current government policies, including mechanisation, grain storage and irrigation infrastructures, as well as research on emerging farmers and women’s life trajectories, and commercialisation. The event was attended by researchers, government officials, parliamentarians, businesses, individual entrepreneurs and civil society organisations.

Conference on ‘Public Policies for Agribusiness’, Observatório do Meio, Maputo; credit: Lidia Cabral

The challenges of reaching small peasant farmers was a running theme. Research presented at the conference revealed that government policies and programmes have been designed in haste, and attempts at implementation have highlighted an inequitable distribution of benefits, and a lack of access for small-scale farmers. The vast majority of the farming population in Mozambique does not have the scale of production or resources to access new services, such as fee-for-service mechanisation and large silos – or at least not in the ways that such services have been designed. Tractor services are too costly for the majority of the rural population and the service centres model and machinery available are inadequate to service Mozambique’s small-scale, dispersed and fragmented farming sector. On the other hand, these policy interventions are partial fixes which cannot be effective while output markets and fair prices cannot be guaranteed. Meanwhile, an emerging medium-scale farming sector – farming 5-10 ha and integrated in markets – remains relatively small as yet, and there is limited evidence to suggest that they are expanding or emerging from below.

Mechanisation service centre in Malema, Mozambique; credit: Lidia Cabral

Traditional lineal and clientelistic relations remain important factors in enabling accumulation of resources in the countryside, raising questions about the prospects for the emancipation of the rural poor. The extent to which large farms and agribusiness corporations can drive agricultural development was a hotly debated issue, with old contestations emerging. While some argued that only large farms and agro-industries can ensure international competitiveness for Mozambique’s agriculture, others emphasised domestic markets and the role of peasant farmers in supplying these markets. Production subsidies and tariffs for food imports to protect domestic producers were also discussed. The importance of learning from history was strongly emphasised and it was noted that the void left in rural areas since the dismantling of state farms, which were key sources of services and markets for small farmers (as cantinas had been in the late colonial period), is yet to be filled. The majority of small farmers remain poorly serviced and highly vulnerable to the vagaries of climate and the uncertainty of markets where they are largely powerless players.

Women’s association in their machamba, Posto Administrativo de Mutuali, Mozambique; credit: Lidia Cabral

Written by Lídia Cabral

Cover image: Railway cutting across the Nacala corridor, Mozambique

Cover credit: Lídia Cabral

Click here for a link to the conference programme, and here for a link to the APRA mechanisation and corridors presentation (both in Portuguese)