Nearly two decades ago, Mozambique emerged from civil war as one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Since then, its overall economic growth has been impressive, with gross domestic product growing by more than 6.5 percent a year for the past five years.
Nonetheless, the country continues to face serious challenges. Of its population of 22.4 million people, 70 percent lives in rural areas, and economic growth has not yet led to significant reductions in poverty and food insecurity. Mozambique is ranked 165th out of 169 countries in the 2010 Human Development Report. Poverty is predominantly a rural phenomenon in Mozambique. More than 80 percent of the poor live in rural areas, and more than half of them are women.
Small-scale agriculture is an important source of income for most rural women and most national agricultural production comes from smallholder farmers. However, income from farming remains very low, and the risk of food insecurity is high because of recurrent, climatic shocks. Among African countries, Mozambique is the third most affected by weather-related hazards – and deteriorating terms of trade due to increased international food and fuel prices. Although the third National Poverty Assessment (2010) confirms a positive trend in access to essential services, the indicator of poverty based on consumption has stagnated at 54 percent since 2003.
Some 25 percent of the population suffers from acute food insecurity at some point during the year, with the most food-insecure households being located in the arid and flood-prone areas of the south and centre. A reduction in remittances due to a contraction in the regional economy has compounded the problem.
Chronic malnutrition in children under five remains alarmingly high at 44 percent. The underlying causes are inadequate nutritional intake due to poor diet diversity, low meal frequencies, low exclusive breastfeeding rates, high levels of disease infection and teenage pregnancy. Vitamin A and iron deficiencies in children under five are high, at 69 and 74 percent respectively.
The HIV epidemic is still spreading but at a slower pace with a prevalence of 11.5 percent in people aged 15–49 years. The epidemic affects the most productive segment of the population, causing declines in productivity and household savings and the loss of skilled workers. Although acute malnutrition is at a relatively low 4.2 percent among children under five, it affects 25 percent of anti-retroviral therapy) clients in the first months of treatment. Mozambique ranks 16th among countries with the highest tuberculosis (TB) burden; its TB mortality rate (excluding HIV) was 38 per 100,000 in 2009.
Improving education standards is a challenge. School attendance has improved, especially at the primary level, but completion rates remain low. Fewer than half of children complete primary education, with the lowest completion rates being registered in food-insecure, disaster-prone districts. Gender disparity continues, as female drop-out rates are much higher than male.
Recognizing that economic growth alone has not reduced food insecurity and malnutrition, the Government is striving to mainstream these issues into the Poverty Reduction Strategy and sectoral plans.