Vala was reacting to last week’s report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which described the food security situation in Mozambique as “alarming”.
This classification represents an improvement on last year’s report, in which the IFPRI described the Mozambican situation as “extremely alarming”. The IFPRI reports divide countries into five categories according to their levels of hunger – these are “low”, “moderate”, “serious”, “alarming” and “extremely alarming”. These classifications are based on three indicators – the proportion of the population that is malnourished, the percentage of children under five years old who are under weight, and the infant mortality rate.
Even though the report concedes that Mozambique has made significant advances in food security, Vala objected to the term “alarming”. He pointed out that there is no famine in Mozambique, and that in recent years there have been no deaths at all from hunger.
“Nobody can prove that any Mozambicans have starved to death”, he said. “But I agree that we have problems of malnutrition in the countryside – on that we can speak with one voice”.
In the two most populous provinces, Nampula and Zambezia, “there is nobody who does not have access to cassava to eat”, Vala said. But he admitted that cassava alone only provides carbohydrates, and if children do not eat vitamin rich foods as well, they will grow up malnourished.
Vala regarded this as a problem of changing rural dietary habits. “When I came to Zambezia as provincial director of agriculture, I had to wage a titanic struggle to persuade people to eat tomatoes”, he recalled. “There was no culture of eating tomatoes, they were afraid of eating tomatoes. But today the markets are overflowing with tomatoes. It was hard work, but it was a worthwhile investment”.
There have also been important dietary changes in Nampula. In the coastal districts of Angoche and Moma, people used to eat maize or cassava porridge with dried fish and nothing else. Today, however, they have learnt to add vegetable sauces, providing the meal with vitamins and other micro-nutrients.
Analysts from outside often paid no attention to these changes, said Vala, but the government thought it essential to step up nutritional education, particularly in rural areas, so that people would learn how to improve their diet.
Vala admitted that there are isolated cases of hunger in areas that are not appropriate for agricultural production. This was the case, for example, with the arid district of Chigubo in the southern province of Gaza.
“In inhospitable areas such as Chigubo, there are always a few households who are short of food, but that’s not alarming”, said Vala. “We can walk across this entire country and we will not find any alarming situation”.
The latest assessment of the government’s Food and Nutritional Security Technical Secretariat (SETSAN), made in April, was that some 300,000 Mozambicans were in a vulnerable situation.
“Vulnerability is not the same thing as hunger”, said Vala. “It’s the case, for instance, of someone who hoped to harvest 20 sacks of maize, but because of pests only harvests 12 sacks. That household may have to tighten its belt, but it’s not starving”.Post published in: Africa News