Can agriculture be the key to Mozambican prosperity? Report from the 2023 IGM Annual Conference

More than 70% of the Mozambican population depends on subsistence agriculture. As such, the agriculture sector is undoubtedly of fundamental importance to the country’s wellbeing. It has enormous potential to reduce poverty, promote food security, and generate income and employment. 

Despite its potential, the sector is characterized by low productivity and poor profits. It has a lower-than-average contribution to the country’s GDP when compared to other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, and no significant development during the past 20 years. 

On 8 November 2023, I joined the Annual Conference of the Inclusive growth in Mozambique (IGM) programme in Maputo, Mozambique, as a co-author of an IGM draft study on Mozambique’s agricultural sector. The conference speakers presented a somber image of the sector’s challenges. The event highlighted that macro-level factors don’t explain low agricultural yields in Mozambique, especially in relation to other countries. We need more studies at the micro level to better understand what holds the sector back.

A broad consensus

All conference papers, whether elaborated under the IGM programme, commissioned through a 2023 IGM call for papers, or produced recently by other local partners, aligned on the key challenges of the agriculture sector in Mozambique:

  • Varying soil and climatic suitability, with significant local differences
  • Lack of access to land
  • Limited access to technology, such as inputs (improved seeds, irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers, and manure) and modern equipment
  • Poor access to support services
  • Distance of small-scale farmers to markets
  • Distance between high-potential areas and urban centers
  • Lack of rural infrastructure
  • Frequency of shocks and natural disasters and vulnerability of Mozambique to these shocks
  • Quality of institutions

Many presentations pointed out that these challenges lead to additional ones, such as poorly functioning markets for inputs and products, as well as high transaction costs and high price volatility, thereby further aggravating the constraints faced by the sector.

One very poignant observation was that, for many, agriculture is not an income strategy but rather a means of living. Tackling the constraints to improve these unfavorable conditions should be prioritized to secure livelihoods. 

Importance of data 
‘If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it’, they say. One of the key messages was that there is little coherent and rigorous micro-level data on the agriculture sector in Mozambique. The data that do exist are neither harmonized nor easily accessible. 

It was therefore exciting to be part of a conference team sharing work done with data from 11 of the latest national surveys on the sector, the Agriculture Survey Works (Trabalho do Inquérito Agrícola/TIA) and the Integrated Agriculture Surveys (Inquérito Agrícola Integrado/IAI). While the dataset only covers small-scale farmers and there are some gaps, the dataset still represents one of the most ambitious attempts at compiling agricultural data in Mozambique.

What is most powerful in the harmonized TIA/IAI dataset is that it allows in-depth analysis of the sector over time: the dataset includes a wealth of information. It contains the demographic characteristics of smallholder farmers and yields of main crops for nearly 20 years, from 2002–2020. While it lacks pricing data and has limited information on the use of production factors and quantities of some crops, it nevertheless provides robust statistics for the sector. For someone like me, analyzing agriculture and climate change trends at the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Mozambique, this is quite fascinating.

I am confident that the final report on the agricultural sector, based on this new database, and slated for 2024, will answer some of the key questions behind the stagnation of the sector.

Way forward: opportunities for agriculture in Mozambique

One of the paradoxes of the agriculture sector in Mozambique is that, while there is widespread consensus on its importance among the government—after all, it contributes 23.0% of national GDP—this has not translated into concrete long-term public investments. In fact, public spending has often been lower than budgeted. Instead, in the last 15 years we have witnessed an increasing tendency to count on the private sector and public–private partnerships to drive development in the sector.

This need not be the case in the future. The research results presented during the IGM Annual Conference 2023 point to various possible policy solutions, including investments in rural and inter-regional infrastructure, agricultural inputs, irrigation, electricity, and mechanization as potentially transformative in terms of improving the sector’s performance. 

One key point was about diversifying policy approaches: the solutions for subsistence farmers are different than those with potential for growth and commercial transformation. Using a simple and generalized approach may not be effective and might even lead to undesired effects.

There are therefore solutions—and hope—for the agriculture sector in Mozambique. The widespread consensus on its importance among the government should now be harnessed together with the private sector and civil society to allow open and transparent analysis and monitoring of the sector with good quality data. This, in my view, will be crucial for the development and implementation of policies that contribute to the sustainable development of the sector and promote structural changes more widely.


Márcia Chelengo is an analyst at the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Mozambique and one of the co-authors of an upcoming report on the agriculture sector in Mozambique, produced under the Inclusive growth in Mozambique (IGM) programme.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IGM programme partners or donors.