Mozambique: Agriculture rescues many young people from absolute poverty
Amelia Macie’s childhood dream had been to become a secondary school teacher, but family poverty and the civil war which gripped Mozambique after independence shattered it all.
Growing up in the Mafuaine village of Namaacha District, some 40 kilometres in the south-west of the capital, Maputo, the young woman, now 29, had to endure all the difficulties a rural girl-child is
Her parents were not employed and had no source of income, which means when her body could now handle it, she had to help them or even take over in duties like fetching food, water and firewood, as well as ensuring other daily family needs are catered for.
“I only did my first year of primary education and I could not go further because of the war; and my parents wanted me to help them with some domestic work,” she told APA in an interview.
Soon after the fall of colonial Portuguese rule in 1975, the authorities in the then neighbouring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) felt the Mozambican independence would fuel up and accelerate the war of liberation Zimbabwean guerrillas were waging from the east.
The Rhodesians decided to sponsor some disgruntled former Mozambican guerrillas to fight their new government, to cause as much instability as possible.
Although the white colonial government in Rhodesia finally fell and Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, the Renamo bandit war in Mozambique continued from 1977 to 1992 after a shaky ceasefire deal which remains fragile up to now.
Major victims of the armed civil unrest are people like Amelia, who today, desperate and frustrated, without formal education and five children to look after, has had her dream to become a teacher rendered far from reality; and at the same time she and her dependents must survive.
Yet all is not lost. Government emphasis on agriculture after the cessation of hostilities is proving to be the major, if not only, source of employment for the rural Mozambique masses.
Amelia says the sector has become her pillar of livelihood: “I started doing piece jobs in my neighbour’s fields, but it was not always paying off because there were no formal contracts. And it always demanded a lot of energy,” she recalls.
Due to the paltry wages she got from the piece jobs, Amelia had to look for other families with farms to be worked on, but very few were willing to hire her labour.
She says things took a turn five years ago, when she secured a permanent farm job from a local farmer, Mariza Esculudes, whose business specializes in agro-processing.
Her new employer turned to full-time agriculture after benefitting from United Nations International Labour Organization, ILO training courses in 2015.
Esculudes also attended many other technical courses on business development for women, with particular focus on agriculture, which allowed her to improve the business; now set to create more
sustainable jobs in the future.
Amelia’s story is shared by the majority of young people in mineral-rich Mozambique, which, ironically, is facing a dire unemployment crisis despite the country experiencing impressive
Huge projects run by multi-national companies extracting natural resource create few jobs for the domestic market, and give little support to home-grown industries; many of which were destroyed during the 16 years of Renamo civil war against the government.
The firms are failing to absorb a labour force that grows by hundreds of thousands each year, with the highly-sought after public sector jobs are reserved for the politically connected.
Thirty-three-year-old Salomao Massasse also had dreamt of becoming a medical doctor after completing school; but failed to proceed with education in his home province of Inhambane.
He was left with no option but to migrate to the capital, hoping Maputo would give him a job from which he could earn enough money to start his own business.
Massasse says he would sell goods in informal markets when the job did not materialised. But this was yet another failure, because his income could only sustain him and not reach a figure with which to start a business.
The young man also ended up joining others at Mariza Esculudes’ farm in Mafuiane.
“I have been working here for three years now; and I’m happy that I earn a salary by month end, which I use to look after myself, my family and build a house”, he says.
A 2016 report by the Open Society Foundation estimated 70 percent of people under 35 years of age in Mozambique, who form the majority of the 25-million population, cannot find stable employment.
First-time entrants to the labour market and unskilled youths such as Amelia and Massasse, who are illiterate and speak Changana instead of Portuguese, Mozambique's official language, are worst off.
Lack of jobs in their immediate neighbourhoods is forcing many Mozambicans such as Massasse and Amelia to migrate and work in the informal sector in the capital, which also has high levels of youth
Relative peace and stability since 1992 when the Renamo war ended make Mozambique attractive to investors. The economy has grown by more than seven percent each year over the last 10 years, spurred by schemes such as the multi-million dollar coal mining project by a Brazilian giant firm in the western Tete province.
Recent discoveries of huge quantities of natural gas also continue to push growth upward.
But the mineral and gas extraction projects create few jobs; less than four-thousand two years ago, according to ILO Chief Technical Officer Igor Felice.
“We call this jobless activities in the sense that the investments have no direct impact on job creation, because they are capital intensive and not labour intensive; while the few jobs that
Mozambique's megaprojects create tend to be highly qualified positions that are often taken by foreigners,” Felice says.
Unlike in other countries with mining industries which need huge labour forces and provide jobs, the capital-intensive projects in Mozambique use heavy machinery to extract coal and gas and require
Meanwhile, Mozambique's impressive post-war progress in reducing poverty and child mortality has stalled in recent years, and it remains one of the world's least developed countries, still greatly
dependent on agriculture and foreign aid, with about half the population living in absolute poverty.
Internal industry and much of national infrastructure was destroyed during the civil war. And Felice says today, the private sector creates a few jobs with proper rights and regulations for the bulk of
the youth who enter the labour market yearly.
“Most of them end up in informal employment like washing cars and other unstable informal markets, while running errands directly linked to informal economy,” he says.
But Mariza Esculudes also says strengthening Mozambique's agricultural sector is the key to generating sustainable employment for young people.
Esculudes says training in investment and development means agriculture is key to reaching its potential as a job and income generator and as a result, young people will not be associated with
“I look into the future with hope and security. Many young people in rural areas grow up watching their parents working the land and may even have contributed as child labourers.
“This taints their perception of agriculture and its potential. Like myself, my childhood dream was to have a chemistry laboratory. That is why today I have passion for mushrooms, because to work with them, you need a white coat and gloves, which brings back memories of a laboratory," she says.
Back at Esculudes’ farm, where she employs Amelia and Massase, who both plan to invest in agriculture once they have saved enough money to put into agro-business equipment; an idea inspired by their employer.
The two young people say they will have their own salaries and employ some people, so they will not feel tempted to look for jobs elsewhere rather than learning more about agri-business.
“I am happy here, and I learn new things every day like processing using homemade equipment. I only want to live and learn more to start my own things using the soil, which is cheaper and sustainable,” Massasse says.
Just like Marisa Esculudes who is now a successful farmer, she says there are a lot of things the youth can do to create their own jobs in Mozambique; such as aqua-culture and honey making.
“There is nothing like lack of opportunities in Mozambique, there is no lack of employment and if we cannot be employed, we can be employers and employ ourselves, just look around yourself and you will see a lot of opportunities.”
However, Esculudes recommends the most important priority for job creation in Mozambique is to address low levels of agricultural productivity, which will help reduce poverty. And such a situation
requires rural infrastructure investments, use of basic technologies like organic fertilizers, as well as opportunities for diversification of work.