October 8, 2008

Green revolution to eliminate grain deficit

Government strategy towards agriculture is to eliminate the need to import rice and potatoes, and slash imports of wheat, declared Agriculture Minister Soares Nhaca. Addressing the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in response to a request for information on food security from deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party, Nhaca said that, even before the sharp rise in world grain pries, the government "had a clear vision on the need to put food production and job creation at the top of our priorities". The current statistics on agricultural production, he said, showed that that the country only generates a surplus in two staples, maize and cassava. There is a surplus of around 75.000 tonnes of maize and 819.000 tonnes of cassava a year,

But there is an annual deficit of 316.000 tonnes of rice, 467.000 tonnes of wheat, 169.300 tonnes of potatoes, 24.000 tonnes of chicken and 54.000 tonnes of fisheries produce. The "Green Revolution" the government speaks of was designed to eliminate those deficits, said Nhaca, and had been condensed into a Food Production Action Plan, covering the period 2008-2011. A key target was to reduce rice imports to just 21,000 tonnes a year by the 2010/11 agricultural year "which means that the country will import only three per cent of its rice consumption requirements", he said.

As for wheat, the target is to reduce imports by 30 per cent. This can be done by raising domestic wheat production from a planned 21,300 tonnes in the 2008.9 agricultural year to 97,000 tones in the 2011 harvest. Until this year, wheat has only been grown in Tsangano district, in the western province of Tete. But for the first time wheat is also being harvested in Manica, Sussundenga and Barue districts in Manica province, in Chokwe in Gaza, and in Manhica in Maputo. "Because of its strategic importance, the government intends to expand wheat production in all districts or areas in the country which have the proven agro-ecological potential for wheat", said Nhaca. There were also encouraging results from tests in producing bread from a mixture of wheat and cassava flour rather than solely from wheat.
The minister added that the government hopes to greatly increase the country's maize surplus. By 2011 there should be a surplus of 329,000 tonnes of maize available for export.
All this depends on ensuring that new varieties of seeds "more productive, and adapted to local agro-climatic conditions" are available for Mozambican farmers, said Nhaca, and on improved management of water available for irrigation.

The government would also stimulate the use of animal traction, to increase the areas under cultivation, and would "strengthen the institutional capacity of the state to prevent and control the main pests and plant diseases so as to ensure that, alongside increased production, the necessary conditions are created for due protection against eventual economic losses". The government would also ensure that surpluses could be moved from the areas of production and stored. Grains silos for a food reserve are being constructed this year in five fertile agricultural areas in northern and central Mozambique.

As for mechanization of agriculture, Nhaca said that 50 tractors, all equipped with ploughs and trailers have been acquired and are low being distributed. A further 110 tractors will arrive in the first half of 2009. An agreement has been reached under which the supplying companies will guarantee training of tractor drivers, and maintenance of the equipment. Currently the state only employs 590 rural extensionists. Nhaca said that a further 185 are being recruited, and the number of peasant families assisted by the extensionists should rise from 285.000 to around 500,000. He expected that this will lead to a considerable increase in yields per hectare.

Nhaca also pledged that the government would crack down on people who have acquired title to large areas of land but are not using it. A national course for land inspectors would be held that month, and the inspectors would then check whether the individuals or companies who acquired land were complying with the land use plans that they submitted. Those who were not might find their land titles cancelled. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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