Living by borrowing food in Mozambican cities

by Inês M. Raimundo

Food security touches many different issues, among them poverty, hunger, price levels,  and land and food policy. For URBANET, Inês M. Raimundo describes the situation in the Mozambican cities of Maputo and Matola, where the urban poor have resorted to food borrowing to survive.

Available studies on urbanisation of Mozambique mainly deal with the worsening of urban conditions, which includes housing shortage, sewage and waste mismanagement, urban transport problems and land 1. Few studies look into how people access food, especially the urban poor and all those with a low income. In 2014, the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) released a report on the state of food security in Maputo 2. In the same year, a survey on the Household survey was conducted in Maputo and Matola 3 as part of the AFSUN project, and resulted in an extensive study entitled “Urban infrastructure and household vulnerability to food insecurity in Maputo, Mozambique”4. Another study, “Analysis of Food Insecurity trend in Maputo City in 2008 and 2014”, was published in 20165. The data in these four studies and surveys reveals a significant number of households who live on an income of less than 50US$ (24%) per month. These households are often made up of 6 or more members. Observing these numbers makes us wonder, how do these people access food and with which strategies, and what kind of food do they consume?

The studies demonstrate that the geographic location does not make a household secure in terms of food: even though situated in the capital city (Maputo) or the major industrial park of Mozambique (Matola) with access to markets and close to South Africa (the most robust economy in Africa), many households still do not have food security. There is no shortage of shops and supermarkets in the two cities, but the high food prices make it difficult or impossible for many people to purchase food there. This has led to many low-income Maputeans and Matolans relying on a borrowing system (“food borrower households”), and some of them on a “food for work” system. These systems have caused them to be “borrowers for life”, as they find themselves caught in a cycle of debt that is difficult to exit, since jobs are scarce and the costs of living are high.

To make things worse, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to alleviate food insecurity by ways of urban agriculture. In the past, households had been able to grow and sell vegetables and fruit6, even during the midst of the civil war (1976-1992)7. Since the General Peace Agreement was signed in 1992, the country has returned to peace but has embarked on a free market economy that resulted in the descent of many households into poverty. Today, urban dwellers are not able to produce any food in the former “Green Zones”8 because the land has been turned into settlement building ground. What is left of the “Green Zones” is not cultivated anymore because people spend increasing amounts of time searching for cheaper food, and have no or little time left to devote to urban agriculture.  Thus households depend entirely on the market – they have become buyers of everything, including fruit and vegetables.

The term food insecurity also relates to the types of food that people consume, particularly the poor. Studies indicate that poor people are more likely to eat highly processed food, since it is much cheaper compared to non-processed food. People have abandoned the consumption of natural, traditional and healthy food such as cacana (Momordica balsamica L.) and mucapata – a dish made of rice, beans and coconut9. A study on migration and poverty undertaken by the Southern Africa Migration Programme in 2008 found that “new” diseases are increasingly common in poor households, while they were traditionally found only among rich segments of the population. These diseases include high blood pressure, strokes, and diabetes.

All studies mentioned agree on the missing policies for addressing urban food (in)security. There is no coherent and comprehensive approach for people in more or less permanent need. What exists is aid for people affected by natural disasters and other related events. Municipal governments are still struggling with these situations as the intensity of food insecurity is growing and the cities’ streets are full of people who have to resort to begging. In the face of this development, the Municipal Government adopted a new Municipal order in 2016 that forbids giving alms to beggars, and fines those who disregard the new order.

Municipal governments seem to view poverty, begging, and food insecurity primarily as something to be tackled by lawfully banning certain practices and punishing citizens for transgressing these bans. As of yet, there are no policies that lay out sustainable and far-reaching visions for fighting poverty and decreasing food prices. To improve food security, cities need to analyse which inhabitants of the cities are the most severely effected by poverty or hunger, and to develop strategies that curb the roots of poverty and hunger. Food prices, land for urban agriculture, and the stimulation of “traditional food” must be the policy areas to be considered in the fight for urban food security.

Ines Raimundo

Associate Professor and Senior Researcher at Eduardo Mondlane University
Inês Macamo Raimundo holds a PhD in Forced Migration and Master in Human Geography (focus on internal migration) by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and a Licenciatura (Bhonors) in Geography by Eduardo Mondlane University (Mozambique). Raimundo has taught at Eduardo Mondlane University for 25 years where she trained several undergraduate and postgraduate students in Human Geography, Geography of Population, Geography of Migration, Environment and Population and Development. She is Associate Professor and Senior Researcher of Eduardo Mondlane University. Prof. Raimundo is Representative for Southern Africa of Commonwealth Geographical Bureau (CGB) and member of International Council for Sciences (ICSU) and Regional Committee for Africa (RCA). She is a partner of Hungry Cities Partnership which is funded by SSHRC-IDRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada & International Partnership for Sustainable Societies (IPaSS).
Ines Raimundo

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