About half a million Mozambicans are in need of food aid, a Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) joint assessment has found.
The Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Mozambique from 21 April to 10 May this year to evaluate the current situation and determine needs in the wake of a regional food crisis.
The FAO/WFP report said about 515,000 people in poor households in 43 districts of the southern and central regions of Mozambique "are facing severe food insecurity due to drought-devastated agricultural production and exhaustion of their coping abilities over the last four years".
This was about 15 percent of the total population of the two regions but was less than three percent of the country's total population.
The report said: "These severely food insecure people require food aid totaling 70,050 mt between now and April 2003.
"About 355,000 of the proposed 515,000 beneficiaries require immediate food aid of 53,250 mt through March 2003, while a second group of 160,000 people requiring 16,800 mt should be added in September 2002 because their current-year harvest production will be exhausted at that time."
It was recommended that agricultural inputs, such as seeds, should be urgently provided to allow drought affected farming families to restart their agricultural production during the main planting season of 2002/2003.
Irregular rainfall had hampered agricultural activity in the southern and central parts of the country.
"In these areas, rains started in October, then stopped briefly and resumed in November-December and then ceased completely in January. In some places the rains stopped as early as mid December, while in other locations they stopped in mid January," the report said.
There was virtually no rain from January to March, resulting in poor yields of grain in those areas. It was estimated that about 60,000 hectares yielded less than 10 percent of their usual output. While maize was especially affected, sorghum and cassava were more resistant to the drought.
In light of this, the mission recommended a separate study be done on the "cassava economy". This would focus on the production, marketing and consumption of cassava.
Agriculture plays an important role in Mozambique's economy. Over 80 percent of the labour force is said to be involved in agriculture, as employment in other sectors is very limited. The country's infrastructure was devastated by 15 years of civil war.
Although 45 percent of Mozambique is considered suitable for agriculture, only four percent of the total arable land is presently cultivated.
The report said the widespread failure of crops meant people in affected regions had to develop coping mechanisms and alternative strategies to get food, such as game hunting and selling firewood and charcoal.
"In the most isolated maize deficit localities of the southern and central regions, there are indications that maize prices have risen more than double the price found in recent years. Malnutrition rates are high, and elevated mortality, due to malaria; diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS is showing an alarming trend in the most recent official statistics," the two food organisations said.