Eco-Stories: Carmen Munhequete – building a resilient Mozambique

Eco-Stories: Carmen Munhequete – building a resilient Mozambique

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. See the full interview below.

Carmen Munhequete: Principal Consultant at Environmental Resources Management

Carmen currently works as a principal consultant at ERM (Environment Resource Management) based in Maputo, Mozambique.She is an experienced professional, with more than 17 years working in development across the mining-, agricultural-, environment and climate change-, and humanitarian relief sectors. She holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies, a Master’s Degree in Rural Development and a Degree in Veterinary Science.

She is committed to community development, human rights and active citizenship, with extensive experience in research, program development, monitoring and evaluation, and expertise in capacity building and professional coaching.

This interview was recorded on October 21, 2020.



Fiona Martin:

Welcome, Carmen Munhequete, to The Eco-Interviews. How are you doing today?

Carmen Munhequete:

I'm fine, Fiona. Thank you. What about you?

Fiona Martin:

And I apologize for ruining your last name. Please say your name for us so that, that can be corrected.

Carmen Munhequete:

Actually, you pronounced it well. It's Munhequete. It's right.

Fiona Martin:

Carmen Munhequete. Carmen is a Senior Consultant and a Mozambican in the environmental sector, and I'm very excited to speak with her, because we don't often get the opportunity to hear from countries in Africa or other parts of the world about what's going on where you are, and some of the amazing environmental work that you do. Before we get into your personal experience, can you outline Mozambique, where it is on the map, and highlight some features for us so that we can really contextualize Mozambique in our minds?

Carmen Munhequete:

Okay, Fiona. Thank you very much. Well, Mozambique is located in Eastern Coast of Africa and our surrounding countries are Tanzania in North side, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in West, South Africa and Swaziland in South, and the country also has a long coastal area, and it's covered by Indian Ocean. It's a very extensive country, I will say, and it has about a 800,000 kilometer square, and a long Coastline with about 2,700 kilometers square.

It's basically located in Southern Africa region, and its amazing country. It's not because it's my country, but it's an amazing country. And I hope that after this interview, people can search a bit more, and try to find out more about Mozambique.

Fiona Martin:

When I was looking at the map, just that long coastline on the East Coast Africa looks beautiful. And it I guess across the water from you, you're looking at Madagascar, is that correct?

Carmen Munhequete:

Exactly. This is right. We have Madagascar nearby, and I must say that from climate environment perspective, Madagascar is protecting us at some point, especially when it come to tropical cyclones, Madagascar ended up as a barrier in protecting us in that region. We're neighbors and they're playing an important role when it comes to protect Mozambique, especially looking to the current climate hazards we're facing in country.

We also have, I will say, a huge population. It's near to 31,000,000 and is increasing over the years. In 2019, the statistics show that we increased in about 2 to 3% a year. And according to our national statistics institutes, we expected to increase by 2030, we might be at around 36 to 37 million. It's interesting because the majority of population are young people. And in 2019, again, only 47% of the population were people with more than 60 years old.

You can see it's really young population, but unfortunately, the life expectancy is not that long. We're talking about, between 53 to 54 years old. And the majority of the population as well is living in rural areas. We have about 66% of the population living in rural areas. And as you can imagine we're not yet a developed country, so the poverty is higher there. The majority of population live there and the poverty levels are really high in rural areas.

And being an extensive country as I was mentioning, the development becomes a big challenges when it comes to invest in infrastructure, invest in sanitation, invest in other social services, and the quality of the standards of living, I would say. I think in summary, this is Mozambique. The climate is tropical. We only have two seasons, summer and winter. And now with climate change things are changing. The summer is becoming longer than the winter, but still a good place to be.

Fiona Martin:

And historically speaking, Mozambique is a former colony of Portugal, and you guys gained your independence in the 70s, I'm guessing.

Carmen Munhequete:


Fiona Martin:

I still know a little bit of history.

Carmen Munhequete:

It's true.

Fiona Martin:

In terms of the language-

Carmen Munhequete:

That's why the official language is Portuguese, and this still a challenge, especially looking to our location and our surrounding countries. All of them are English speaking countries. When it comes to ... Of course we have our native languages and some of these languages are similar. But even though, when it comes to, I would say development initiatives, when it comes to technology, English is really important.

And this make us or put us in a disadvantage position as a country. Especially when it comes to access to information, when it comes to exchanging learning from what others are doing and share our experience as well. Of course, in big cities, it is a must at least to be able to communicate in English. In big cities as I mentioned before, young population. More and more people are able to communicate in English, but still this still a big barrier, I must say.

Fiona Martin:

Well, not everyone speaks English, but not everyone speaks Portuguese either.

Carmen Munhequete:

Exactly, exactly. This is the point, actually. This is the point. We're still have, I would say a group of people, the majority actually, especially in rural areas that are not able to speak Portuguese. And even our media, the means of communications we have in country in the media, the information is passed through Portuguese, at least the critical information, especially when it comes to science, technology. The general information now, there are efforts.

I must say that over the last three to four years, all these big stations, radio stations and TV stations, they have specific sessions in local languages. This helps but still, when it comes to these means of communication, they don't cover all country. We have what we call community radios, those yes, cover whole country, but still there are people who still don't have access to means, I will say to the tools. They don't have a radio at home. They don't have a TV. They don't have electricity. They're still living in precarious house. So, you can imagine.

Despite the effort, as I said, in terms of coverage the community radios are doing their best in terms of covering all provinces, districts, and sharing information as much as possible. But we're talking about general information, not technical or scientific information like climate change, environmental related topics. At some point they try to cover some topics on agriculture but not much, taking into account that many people have in agriculture their means to survive. They depending on agriculture to survive. It's really critical to pass on information on agriculture.

Fiona Martin:

Well, thank you for setting the stage for Mozambique. Let's talk more about what you do, Carmen, because you have decades of experience in the environmental movement, and in academia and beyond. Tell us about your experience, what you're doing, and what you're doing in Mozambique.

Carmen Munhequete:

First of all I must thank you for this opportunity. It is always a pleasure to have this kind of discussion. Because I look at this as an opportunity to share what we're doing as a country. The challenges we're facing, the lessons we learned so far, and also learn from what's happening worldwide. It is always a chance and an opportunity. And as I mentioned, language is still a barrier, but since I can speak English, at least I'm able to communicate in English.

I have an additional responsibility when it comes to be part of the development process ongoing in my country. As you said, yes, I'm Carmen Munhequete. I'm Mozambican. I've been working for the development sector over the last 17, 18 years, mostly across, I would say, climate change environment, agriculture, gender justice, and sustainable livelihoods.

I have been working as a independent consultant, joining different organizations and companies, also representing different NGOs in development agencies, and playing a role, I would say, starting from decision-making, leadership, also supporting a lot in terms of capacity building, promoting empowerment initiatives, especially targeting communities and in terms of building capacity as well.

I work at Parliament as well, like an advising role to a parliamentarian there. It is been in between capacity building, develop and implement programs, advocacy, lobbying. It's mainly what we have been doing over the last years. And besides parliamentarians in communities, also civil society organizations, politicians, and students. Those are the target groups I have been working so far.

Fiona Martin:

Incredibly busy. I know that. Tell us about the environmental situation in Mozambique, and then how Mozambique in particular is affected by something like climate change. I know that you guys were hit by a cyclone a couple of years ago, Cyclone Idai. When we think of climate change, we think of those big weather events, but there's much more. It's not just a cyclone. There are other elements that come into play. Can you tell us about Mozambique and climate change in particular?

Carmen Munhequete:

Yes. Well, I must say that we started talking, discussing, and trying to understand climate change and environmental related challenges over the last 10 to 15 years. It's slightly new. I will say like that, at least in my country. But I know from my working experience that other African, especially African countries, are facing the same.

I will say that similarly to other African countries, we're also still learning and try to understand a bit more about this phenomenon. And unfortunately, this has been, I would say, a big challenge for us because we have been, I would say, impacted by climate change almost on a yearly basis. We, in country have climate hazards such tropical cyclones mainly, drought, and floods, depending on the side of the country.

When it comes to the coastal area, it's mainly tropical cyclones, inside the country, we have specifications. There are areas where we have droughts, we call arid and semi-arid regions. And then there are areas where we're facing droughts because we host some of the river basins in the region. Very important river basins like Zambezi, is a good example, Limpopo and others. Some of those they just cross the country, and others are really based here.

And the main challenge here is that we don't have the appropriate management structure in place. When I'm saying management structure, I'm talking about infrastructure to manage the water properly. We don't have yet the appropriate technical skills and capacity, and we don't have yet the appropriate technology.

I must say that the government is doing a lot in terms of addressing these challenges, mainly investing in the infrastructure sector, training people to work in these sectors. But still as I said, this has been most on a yearly basis. As such, it doesn't give us enough time as well to prepare ourselves. And when it comes to investments, there are also other priorities, especially on social services, health, education.

The government is trying to respond to all these things, so it will take time for us to be prepared to manage that. Environment/climate change are two critical topics that are undermining the development effort. I will just give you examples. We don't yet have enough in terms of investments, in terms of money to be able to, for example, build the roads using the climate adapted codes.

We're still using the old style codes to build the roads. Because in doing so, we're able to save some money to invest in other priority sectors. But looking to the vulnerability of our country, we should already being doing things really strictly to adapt to climate change. And besides the factors I have just mentioned, I would add our location as well.

When we started the conversation, I mentioned where we're located in Africa, the long coastline, and all these factors transform or make environment and climate change as a priorities. In my opinion, those one should be really included as part of the country priorities. And when it comes to planning and budgeting, we should improve these things, and allocate appropriate resources. I'm talking about financing, and technical, and human resources, technology, everything.

Fiona Martin:

It seems to be that internal struggle to address immediate problems, versus trying to allocate resources for long term improvement. I think every country and government might suffer from this ailment.

Carmen Munhequete:

Yeah, it's true. And we're still a developing country. As such, we're still, besides the factors I've just mentioned, in terms of technology, in terms of skills, I'll say that we're improving. Because in 2019, according to our statistics, we're still have about that 39% of the population that never been to a school, illiterate people about 39%. It is still huge. If you're still fighting to educate people, how can you start discussing technology, science, and all these things?

And I also mentioned the challenge in terms of accessing information. When it comes to climate or environmental information, it's very specific. You will be using technical language. The challenge here is how to translate that content, to make sure that all Mozambicans can understand what you're talking about.

You mentioned Cyclone Idai, happened in 2019. And I was lucky to join one of the teams who went there to do the work after the cyclone, in terms of assisting affected people in rebuilding their livelihoods, and try to understand the main challenges there as part of the agreement. We were hired, me and more consultants we hired to go there and to do that assessment.

And interestingly, while talking to people, we were trying to understand what happened, because people received information, but many of them, they stayed at home. And then they said, "No what happened is that they said that the cyclone is coming, and we have experience with cyclone. So we decided to wait to see what will happen afterwards. But then all of the sudden, we saw electricity, everything went down, even communication. We didn't even know what to do."

But the point here is that they were talking about a category 4 cyclone. How you can translate this information to make people understand when you're saying category 3, category 4, what are you talking about in terms of clear impact in people? They got information, but they didn't understand the meaning of that information. And then all of the sudden, just after getting information, hours later, they didn't have access to electricity, nor to communications.

Phones went down, electricity went down. They couldn't go anywhere because it was raining. The winds were really strong winds. You can imagine, people were desperate without communication. If they could understand the meaning of category 4 cyclone.

And my understanding in talking to authorities and people that are working for the National Disasters Management Institute, they said that they try as much as possible to spread information, and people got access to that information, but they couldn't translate and understand that information. It's really critical here. How do we translate that technical information to make sure that everyone can understand the message?

Fiona Martin:

As a linguist, that really interests me, because I'm thinking some of the, let's say traditional languages don't have terms, just like what you're saying for certain technologies. I think of Scottish Gaelic they use the word helicopter for a helicopter, because there were no helicopters when this language was being determined. And so, I imagine that you face similar when it comes to climate terms.

I don't know the climate terms even in Portuguese. It would be hard for me to say them in Portuguese. And certainly when you're dealing with a lot of traditional languages, it must be quite difficult as you mentioned, so that people are understanding what information that you're putting out and acting accordingly.

Carmen Munhequete:

Yes. And another important thing to mention as well is our poverty rates. We have high poverty rates. The last statistics I could get was for 2015, and there we were about 63% of poverty. Of course, here I should mention that the measure was the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which is composed by health, education, and standards of living, covering all this. Because this discussion about how to measure poverty, still ongoing on what would be the best means of doing that.

But through the United Nations and the other organizations, they came up with the Multidimensional Poverty Index, that it's used mostly by UNDP when it comes to measure. In 2015, we were 63% poverty in Mozambique, which is, I would say huge. We're now in 2020, and during this year is what we had. We had climate hazards, we had the economic crisis. And now with COVID-19, you can imagine how many are we in that situation?

When I'm saying poor, what I'm saying, I'm saying that the infrastructures are really poor. Remember I said that 66% of population is still living in rural areas. The statistics show that about 48% of the population still living in precarious houses, 22% of population have access to electricity, only 22. I would say 48% have access to clean water in their houses, because the rest can get water, but not at home. They need to walk distances to be able to access to clean water, and only 9% of population have access to toilets in their houses.

You can imagine. The poverty is really high. When we're having these hazards, this comes over the situation people were already living with really almost nothing. And I saw in Beira after Idai, I went to Buzi, one of the most affected areas. And it was really sad to see that people already were living with really, almost nothing, and the cyclone came and destroyed everything. They were trying to restart, but without really the appropriate means.

And it doesn't mean that they were not getting help. They were getting. Government were doing what they could. But again, the situation was already ... Before cyclone, the poverty was already high in that region. After cyclone, it was terrible. The climate and the environmental impact is really strong, because I would say the structure of the country to deal with these hazards is not there.

People already are living in minimal standards of living. When they have to face these situations, they really get to a point where they don't have anything to eat actually. Because again, they rely on their own farms, which are rain-fed farms. And in these cases, they stay without anything.

And if there are also lost as in terms of human lives, I must mention that. It is not only infrastructures. It's also human lives. People died there, and this is ... Besides also the economic impact, we're still fighting as a country. There was a study from World Bank, and they were saying that the cost of these disasters in-country, between 1980 to 2003 was near to two billion.

And that study predicts if we don't do much in terms of addressing and adapting ourselves from 2003 to 2050, they're expecting that cost to increase to seven billion a year, because of these hazards for the economy. We already have a very fragile economy. With this, you can imagine. But well, so far I was sharing what is happening- what is this relation, and what contributes for that.

Fiona Martin:

I think it really highlights what we hear about how the developed world is causing much of the human exacerbated climate change, while the developing world are the hardest hit. And you highlighted it. It's not just location, your location plays into it, but it's also the high rate of poverty that's ... It's already behind the eight-ball. How do you catch up when it just keeps getting hit?

And I appreciate you highlighting that, because it is something we have to keep in mind. In a developed country, many people have the ability to protect themselves or shield themselves from the greatest effects of climate change. And there are billions of people in the world who do not have that privilege. On that note, what is Mozambique doing as you're facing these climate change and addressing these issues?

Carmen Munhequete:

I think we are doing quite a lot. I think in the region and in the Africa, we're very well positioned when it comes to climate and environmental issues. Internationally, we defined already the Paris Agreement, and we're also part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2015, we defined our Nationally Determined Contributions. And recently two years ago, we came up with very clear plan, pointing out what are the priorities the country has?

And it's good because it highlights as country priorities, and we are already working on it. The water management systems, the capacity building initiatives, the use of technology, improvement of early warning systems, also improve the quality of infrastructures. The NDC, as we call it, this is a climate term. Nationally Determined Contributions, as part of the Paris Agreement highlights clearly the priority the country has, also highlights what we need to be able to implement these in terms of resources, human, financial.

What do we have and what we still need support. It's a very clear and very useful document. And besides that, also in that document, we're committing to reduce about, I would say 31 in terms of empty CO2, which is the measure, to highlight the amount of carbon, will be reducing in between 2020 to 2025. This is about, I'll say, the international agreements and international bodies that Mozambique is part of, and is trying to comply with all these international regulations.

Internally, in terms of legal framework, I would say that we have an amazing legal framework. We have a National Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Strategy, which also highlights what needs to be done in each sector, as actions to be taken over the next years, supports resources and everything. I will say that the National Strategy is the umbrella of all actions being implemented in-country.

From that National Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Strategy, part of the actions include also the sectoral plans. Each sector should have their specific climate change plan. And there's a process ongoing in our country. As I said, rural areas are really priority. The local level is a key development priority. In understanding that, our government years ago, decided to put in place at the development strategy, which puts the districts, the district is our local level, in center of all development process.

Meaning that the districts have the freedom. They call it decentralization process. Meaning that districts can do their own planning process. There is a staff. Government started investing in at local level, which we call districts. It is, I'll say, the smaller administrative division we have. We have more, locality, and so on, but district, I would say is the center of the development.

And government, I think is from 2010 to 2014, if I'm not mistaken. The government started investing there in terms of putting human resources, in terms of upgrading the quality of resources allocated to districts. And now you have a planning team in each district. The planning team is composed by different government institutions, INGOs, and everyone, like the key sectors represented in their district.

Once a year, they come together to do the planning and budgeting process. At least they can prioritize and they can do their own planning. So using that opportunity today in Mozambique, most of the districts, they have their own climate adaptation planning, which is amazing, because each district prioritize it already key actions to be implemented as part of the climate/environmental agenda.

Of course, the main challenge is still the financial resources to be able to implement and cover all the priorities the district have. But at least is a good step. Besides all planning process from national to local level that covers and integrates climate and environmental-related issues, we also have institutions, the critical institutions are in-country. Few examples include the Ministry of Environment and Land, the National Institute for Disaster Risk Management, the Meteorology Institute, the Knowledge Management Center for Climate Change.

Those are few examples, the Ministry of Planning and Finance. Few institutions, but we have many. We have infrastructures, we have many more. In terms of legal framework, it is there. It's clear, ready to be implemented with action plans and everything. In terms of institutional governance arrangements are also there. It's clear who does what, when, and the political mandates as well.

We're also interestingly investing on Academy. We have few universities now with clear courses and training on these topics. For my perspective, what's still missing here is really the money, the necessary amount to be located to cover. Because as I said, this is really a priority for our country. If we get the necessary resources, we'll be able to implement because we have clarity on what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and institutional arrangements as well, when it comes to coordination between different institutions.

I was pleased to coordinate a big program years ago. One of the first big programs on climate change adaptation implemented at national level. It was also implemented in 20 African countries. It was really an amazing program because the main objective was to reinforce country capacities to get adapted, and to respond to climate change, and covering, I would say, five key main points.

One was access to information in early warning systems. Try to upgrade the systems the country had at that time, to be able really ... Because there's no way to address climate hazards or climate-related challenges without information in advance, in terms of knowing what's happening today and what could happen tomorrow. Early warning systems was one component.

The second component was to look at the institutional arrangements, and the main objective was to have institutions, especially government institutions, collaborating and working together. Because at that time they used to work in silos. Each institution used to look at their own, I will say responsibility, and look at the environment/climate change as an environmental issue, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, assuming that other institutions don't have anything to do with this topic.

And then there was a critical, I'll say, priority in terms of making everyone understand that climate change and the environment are cross-cutting development topic, not necessarily an environmental topic. And each institution could play an important role in addressing these topics. And it was important really to make people understand. And for Mozambique fortunately, we now have what they call Inter Institutional Climate Change Working Group.

It's a group where all institutions are represented, including some civil society organizations as well. They come together on regular basis. They play an important role to draft that country strategy that we have today. And I will say that they're acting in frontline, and each institution now knows clearly how they can contribute for this process.

And the third point was financing. How can we be better prepared to catch funds worldwide? And how can we be organized to be accountable? Most of these institutions that are providing funds worldwide, they have clear compliance and clear guidelines that need to be followed. Otherwise you can't get those funds. And fortunately, now we have in-country the National Sustainable Development Fund, is a clear institution who deals among others with climate, and environmental, and agriculture funds.

They're managing, they know exactly how much we have in-country. They do tracking. They also help the country in approaching donors and development agencies, presenting country priorities. And they are also working ... They're playing an important role when it comes to fundraising. But it's not only fundraising. It's fundraising, monitoring, and management of these funds at country level.

The fourth component was on knowledge management. And we also worked on that. And today we have a knowledge management center for climate and environment in-country. And finally the last component was on piloting small projects. And the main objective of that component was to, I will say, learning by doing. Piloting projects in agriculture. It was mostly on smart agriculture, piloting projects on water conservation, piloting projects on infrastructure, building adapted infrastructures, of course, small infrastructure, especially at community level.

The program covered all these five components, and we can still see these results today. The country is moving. The trigger point here, I think the main challenge we still have is funding, access to appropriate funding mechanisms to be able to implement what we already included, as the activities needs to be conducted at country level as a priority, I'll say.

Fiona Martin:

It's very impressive. It sounds like you have a solid foundation in terms of legal framework, and the way the government is set up. And rightly so, the non-siloing of environmental issues, because environmental issues affect everything and everyone. If we talk about the Earth, we only live on the Earth, and so when the Earth is affected, it affects everything. And that's certainly necessary to have that holistic look, and I would hope that other places can do the same thing.

At times I feel that we still silo our environmental work, but it touches everything from land use, transportation, development, industry. What are the key sectors of the economy that Mozambique is focusing on? Because there must be a priority list, we can't just go and do everything.

Carmen Munhequete:

It's true. I must say that we have been improving over the years in terms of statistics. Years ago, we were struggling really to have our statistics organized, and today, you can easily go to the website of our National Statistics Institute, and you can get information there. Besides, other development - banks, like World Bank, is doing a lot as well in terms of studies and publish their studies, which really helps the country in trying to understand where are we, in terms of numbers, in terms of sectors, in terms of priorities and so on.

In 2019, according to the data available, the critical sectors were agriculture and extractive industry. And extractive industry is gaining space really over the last years, because used to be agriculture, the main sector. These two now are playing an important role in the ... It was almost 24% for the GDP coming from agriculture, and 23 plus 58, 59% coming from extractives industry, and then the rest is service sectors which includes different sectors there.

But I think the main ones currently, is agriculture and the extractive industries. I must say that the extractive industry is something new. Over the last 10 to 15 years, we start discovering. It is also related to the technologies. We had those resources, but we didn't use to explore them, but through these partnerships and the international cooperation, and start open up a bit, the borders and working with international companies, multinationals and so on, we're able to discover these resources, many of them located in North and Central regions of the country.

And since then, extractive industries is really playing an important sector. It became an important sector and it's playing an important role in the development process. Here we are talking mainly about oil, gas, and coal. These three are really playing an important role now. Currently we have multinationals working in country and leading the assessments and leading the business.

What I will say is that they are doing really good things because they're trying to explore what we have, and they're also trying to do their best when it comes to protecting or helping the communities impacted by these projects, in improving their livelihoods. But again, we're still have long way to go, especially in terms of our capacity as Mozambicans. Capacity to be able to be part of this business, and capacity to be able to track what they're doing.

We're talking about resources. The ownership of these resources is really a critical point here. We need to have the right capacity to be there with them and track what they're doing. There, we still have challenges because we don't have, yet, enough Mozambicans with the right capacity to do the work.

Doesn't mean that they're not working with Mozambicans. They're employing Mozambicans, they're training Mozambicans. But as you may know, this process take time. We got the opportunity to explore these resources, which was critical to our country, but we didn't have enough time to prepare ourselves to be under control of the situation.

We decided to not lose the opportunity, and learning by doing. In the beginning, we didn't use to have the appropriate legal framework, today we have, fortunately. And we didn't used to have Mozambicans with the right capacity. Today we have some, but it's not enough. As a results, there are a few situations that we still rely on the skills and human resources, and I would say, the technical expertise and technology from these multinationals to track the business, which is not ... We're working together as partners, of course.

But I think that it will be important to have the ownership of this process as Mozambicans. To be more specific, our government and our people should have control over these resources, and should be able to track what's going on. But still, the results are there, as I mentioned. The contribution for extractive industry to the GDP, it's increasing over the years.

And I think that ... Of course, currently we have issues in country of COVID-19, and we're having armed attacks in North due to these Islamic armed groups there. This is impacting a bit, but I believe that over the years, the contribution to the GDP coming from the extractive industry setup will increase.

And agriculture. Agriculture in 2015, we're about 8% of the families. Even those living in urban areas, not only rural areas, even those living in urban areas used to rely on agriculture as their key source of funding, as their key source to survive. And interestingly, between 98 to 99% of these groups are small holder farmers. Many of them, they are still practicing the rain-fed agriculture, which means that they rely on the raining to start planting.

They don't have enough in terms of, I would say, investments or funds to be able to improve their systems, and we don't really have, I would say, facilities in country, like fiscal incentives or other type of long-term programs. We have many small initiatives promoted by INGOs, of course recently, starting this year, there is a big program called SUSTENTA headed by government, but this is really new.

Before that, we really didn't used to have fiscal incentives, we didn't used to have, I would say enough, in terms of technical assistance to these small farmers. Because of lack of knowledge, lack of technology, weak investment, the practice is doing rain-fed agriculture in a business as usual scenario, which meaning that due to the climate impacts, they have to adjust by themselves, try to change the planting season. Instead of starting in October they have to push and wait for the rain.

And what's happening, the rain is coming late and when it's coming, it's really heavy, so it destroys everything. And there, I would say that the main crops normally are cereals, beans, vegetables, and there are also some commercial crops such as sugarcane, cotton, tea, tobacco, those are the main ones. But the production systems, as I said, they're still also struggling to access, besides technology, technical assistance.

Another important tool also is seeds. Seeds, irrigation systems. As I mentioned before, we're still struggling and we're still weak in terms of having water management system, which includes the capacity as well as the appropriate infrastructure to do so.

Fiona Martin:

It's an interesting situation that Mozambique is in, because you said, 80% of rural families depend on agriculture and 98% of them are small holder and medium-sized, which is a completely different agricultural situation than, say, the United States or Australia where we've had these huge conglomerates come in. Only 1% of our population farms, and it's owned by five massive companies. Now that's not true. The 1% is true, I don't know how many it is.

And so there's a resurgence here of trying to bring the small farm back, and work with things like land in common. But you highlighted the issues that the Mozambican farmers have, and if I understand it correctly, a lot of it is to do, well, with climate change. They're not as resilient, because they don't have the water catchment systems in place. If you have no rain and then a deluge, you're destroying the crops and losing top soil. They maybe, don't have good crop rotation or no-till agriculture which can help with the land, so they're using the land up.

What are some of the programs? I know that we have spoken previously that there are things in place, SUSTENTA, you mentioned that going to these farmers in trying to help them and catch them up with ways to make them more resilient as we move into a questionable climate going forward.

Carmen Munhequete:

It's true. What the statistics shows for near future for Mozambique is really an increasing on temperatures, in between 1.8C to 2.8C, increasing also in solar radiation, reduction in rain. The predictions are really not good. And, I didn't also mention that the challenges the small holder farmers are facing is not only to produce, it's also to store or processing, it's also to access the markets. They're facing challenges over the whole value chain, since the production up to the markets.

What's going on actually, over the years, there are different initiatives, and those initiatives used to be mainly promoted by INGOs and private organizations, private sector as well, and much recently by Government, through the SUSTENTA Program. And there are initiatives on zero tillage, on smart agriculture. But again, as we discuss it before, we're talking about an extensive country with the majority of population working in that sector, many of them, they're small and short term initiatives.

These programs come with limited amount of funds to be implemented in short term, I will say two years, three years maximum. And we're talking about shifting mindsets. We're talking about changing ways of doing things. You can not change the system in two, three years, so what's happening? Why the program is there, so the small holder farmers, they have the right assistance, they learn how to do things.

And here, I must say that we are talking to illiterate people, never been to a school. They learn by doing things. And from my own practice and personal experience, you don't convince a small farmer by sending them an engineer and explain him how to do things and talk about technology. They want to see. They want to see someone who has done what you are saying, who changed things and who got results. They learn by seeing, testing and doing, so it requires time to do that shifting. Short-term programs doesn't help at all.

There are groups of farmers, but they're really few. And they're really isolated groups in countries. Some in Central, few in North region, not many in South, that are really doing smart agriculture. They're cross cropping, they're putting in place systems, they're trying to have those very simple and adapted to community irrigation systems. They learn how to do things, but there are still really, I would say, an insignificant number looking at the size of population that we're talking about.

And what happened? Even these programs normally have to, because this is a requirement, have to involve Government since the beginning of the implementation of these initiatives. What happens is that, over the time when the funds come to the end, when the program closes, normally they hand over the tools, the equipment to government officers to continuing doing the work. But since they're struggling in terms of funding, how they can keep assisting these farmers?

The smart ones, they keep doing things, but it's really a small group. The majority just go back to the comfort zone, these ways of doing things, as they used to do it. There's a need here to invest in long-term programs, especially look at the predictions in terms of what will happen with our climate here.

I hope, SUSTENTA, it's a really big program, it covers the whole country. And is really targeting all the critical points like production, processing, storage, marketing. It's investing a lot in terms of equipment, all type of equipment. They also have a line for credit, and they present different modalities to access to that credit. These allow most of the small holder farmers to access to it, depending on their own condition, if they can manage, because they need to give these funds back.

And most of the funds, they don't have to pay any tax to access to it, which is good. Because the few programs we used to have in-country, the funding programs, the taxes used to be higher. Many of these people, they cannot access to these funds because of the taxing and requirements, which used to be really expensive and difficult for simple people to have access to it.

I hope that this will help really small farmers to go through this moving and get the appropriate capacity to manage and to get adapted to these environmental and climate-related hazards and challenges.

Fiona Martin:

I think the example of the farmer, as you mentioned, these are people who've been farming for generations and having someone from the outside step in for a two or three-year-period and show them something new might not stick. Because again, it's this short term need that's addressed, but we really need to be looking long-term. Highlight some of those-

Carmen Munhequete:

It's true.

Fiona Martin:

... long term country solutions that Mozambique is forecasting.

Carmen Munhequete:

They're actually good examples. Because these small holder farmers, some of them, they're really skilled and experienced. They know how to do things. They only need to shift and do improvements. That's why it's really important to have small farmers working closely with research institutions, and working closely with, I would say agriculture technicians from the ministry or elsewhere. There's a need here to bring these people to work together. And we have done this before and it worked well.

We did this small holder farmers groups. There are those ones we used to call them "champion". You will always find smart people. There are two or three. They need to become, I will say, the lead of all this process. It's not easy if you're bringing someone, an outsider, because each community they have their own, how can I say it in English? Set up? Ways of living, beliefs, value, the culture's values, the culture is also there.

There are hierarchies in terms of who is taking decision? Who is who at community level? An outsider, they before bringing change, needs to start building trust. They need to trust you before they change the way they do things to make you happy. These champions, they really have an important role to play there. I really like that approach to work with these champions.

And then these champions lead the process within the community, because they live there. They're from there. They know the culture, they know the principles, they know how decisions are made there. Working with them, and then they lead the process, it's one way of doing it, because ... And while designing these programs take into account, the time needed to invest on capacity building, which should be the starting point. The investment shouldn't really look on bringing something, teach and go, but look at how can we invest? Doing things is true, but how can we invest?

How can we allocate extra resources, efforts, and support on capacity building? Because the foundations need to be there. This was done before, and it can really function, can bring results, and can help us to get where we're looking to be. Besides that, when it comes to design programs and allocation of budget, I know that we as a country, we have so many priorities. I was mentioning, for example, the challenges we're still facing on social basic services - health, education and so on.

But when it comes to plan and prioritize, how are we going to allocate resources? We should really consider agriculture as well. Fortunately, we have SUSTENTA, but SUSTENTA alone won't respond to all country needs. How can we have more SUSTENTA's or more similar programs in assisting small farmers really to have a long term access to funds, to be able to keep the business, going up to the point that they can generate their own resources and be able to pay for services?

For example, one important thing, it's climate insurance services. Small farmers should be able now to access insurance. But for that, they need to pay for it. I was part of a group that was doing an assessment last year, working with small holder farmers in North region of the country. And we were trying to see what could be the strategy to design a microinsurance program, really in trying to help small holder farmers in dealing with climate impacts.

And one of the big challenges in talking to the small holder farmers was the payment. They were saying that, "I'm already struggling because I'm not getting much from my farm. I'm not selling as I used to do before", especially for those ones working with commercial crops. And he was asking, "I need help. Where I will get money to pay for microinsurance services?"

Then we go back. We will keep moving in a circle in trying to find solutions. For me, it's really considered those two topics as a priority, but consider priority in my opinion is not only to say and include in the strategy and plans. It's to allocate the appropriate budget to address the real needs. Unfortunately, we still rely on developed countries to help us with our budget. We're not sustainable.

We're still relying on developed country to help us in reaching our budgets. But when this support comes, comes also with clear requirements where we should be investing these funds. We don't have the freedom to decide, total freedom, let me say like that total freedom to prioritize the allocation.

Most of these funds, they come with specific requirements on how these funds should be allocated. This doesn't help at all, because sometimes we have to apply these funds as requested, not necessarily as we need. You see. If we can start having, but again, there are already a lot of lobby advocacy awareness raising campaigns going on, on these topics. Because as I mentioned, those are new topics.

Decision makers and people sitting in critical positions people who really make difference in this country needs to know what we're talking about, to be able to take decision in favor of these topics. If they don't understand what is climate change, the impact in our economy and what could be done to address these challenges, of course, they won't take this into account when they sit to take the last decision on where they should allocate the money.

Fiona Martin:

Do you think this has driven the need for this strong legal framework within the country?

Carmen Munhequete:

The legal framework is there, actually.

Fiona Martin:

Well, I'm saying was that part of what drove it?

Carmen Munhequete:


Fiona Martin:

Is that you're receiving these funds and you want to be able to say, "Look, we have this in place and we want to be able to better our future as much as we possibly can in the threat of climate change?"

Carmen Munhequete:

Exactly, exactly. But again, I'm looking there in two points of view. One is that we're not sustainable as a country. We're still depending on international support to increase our country budget and to be able to perform the activities we have listed as a priority for our country. The second, we also have our own money. Of course, we rely on international investment, I would say development funds that are coming, but we also have our own funds coming from the development process and different sectors in-country are all contributing for this process.

I'm looking at this in two different perspectives. One is the requirements, but another one is our own capacity, especially when it comes to the decision making process. Because we're not yet ... I'm not saying that all decision makers don't understand climate and environmental issues, but I'm saying that there is a big group of people who really play a critical role when it comes to take and decide things in our country, that not yet understand clearly. Of course Idai, it was really bad for our country, but at some point helped people to realize what we're talking about.

Because sometimes people need to see and feel it to say, "Oh my God," which is completely different from reading that elsewhere, there's earthquake or something happening elsewhere. It happened to understand, but still there's ... When I'm saying capacity building/awareness raising, it's really explaining, showing, demonstrating. Because if the person understands and become sensitive, of course, when it comes to sit and decide, we'll consider something as a priority.

I think those are some of the long-term interventions that we, as a country need to consider, continuing, as I said, the effort is here. We can feel it. We know that many things are happening, but we still need to continue investing a lot in capacity building for all and different groups of people. We still need to invest a lot in shifting our planning systems, especially when it comes to allocating resources.

We still need to start really demanding to have long-term programs, not short term, because it doesn't help at all. I know, and I do recognize that we have so many priorities that sometimes is difficult, or many times is difficult to prioritize. But we need to try to think about this as serious. We're really very vulnerable country. Our location doesn't help us, otherwise we will keep investing, building roads on a yearly basis. Because we are still building roads using the old style codes while we should build roads now using climate-adapted codes.

Fiona Martin:

Well, I appreciate you sharing the unique situation that Mozambique is in, in terms of its location, geography, the makeup of the people, and the industry. It sounds like you guys have a fabulous legal framework in place and a plan to move forward with. As much as Mozambique is unique as an African country, at the same time it sounds like you share some of the problems that we're sharing around the world with decision makers who are either not aware of climate change or ... Especially in the United States, we still have climate change deniers because they're not directly affected.

And as you rightly said, Cyclone Idai was horrendous on so many fronts from personal devastation to infrastructure devastation, but at the same time, it's a wake up call maybe to some of these people who need to see it to believe it. We experience the same in the U.S. with hurricanes, and wildfires, and crop failure. And you sometimes wish you didn't have to go through those hardships to get to the point you want to get to.

I would love to continue to follow Mozambique and see how you develop, and how these structures that are in place are going to move the country forward, and make it more climate resilient as you face the impending threat of climate change. Do you have any closing thoughts that you would like to leave us with, Carmen?

Carmen Munhequete:

No. Just agree with you and say that it's ... Actually I look at my country as a lucky country, and very rich in terms of natural resources. We have fertile land, we have an amazing sea, our seafood it's known worldwide. We have amazing with forests. In terms of natural, and as I was mentioning, we also discovered these minerals, oil, gas.

In terms of really natural resources, we're lucky as a country. We have an extensive and rich country. We have done a lot because after Liberation, we were really don't used to have Mozambicans. The illiteracy rate was really high. And today you can see Mozambicans, and this is a result of government and development partners as well. And there are also private initiatives that are pushing, pushing to improve the education, to make sure that people can have access to school.

I really would like to highlight these good practices and the example the country has to share as well. It's really matter of having the right planning, and budgeting, and capacity in place to implement. And when I'm saying capacity, it is not only financial, but technical and the technology as well. I think all these things could help us to move forward.

And now I'm really wondering what will be because of the pandemic. We can't continue thinking of the world as used to be. Things are changing and I think the world will keep changing for now. How are we going to deal with all this? We already had climate change, and other pandemics, and diseases, and now we have COVID-19. This is something that we ... And I don't believe that it will disappear tomorrow. It is something that we should now consider.

And for us, especially developed countries are struggling to deal with this pandemic. And for sure this will impact in the size of financial support the country will get over the next years. These also will put us in a very sensitive situation as a country. I'm worried about the future. I'm worried about the near future.

Fiona Martin:

Yeah, very understandable. I agree. COVID has turns the world upside down, and we're all trying to figure out what to do, and I don't know if we have the answer. I would say a silver lining is I feel the people are reaching out, across oceans and countries, even though we're locked down in our homes, or in our offices- we can reach out digitally and try and create communication that way. Because I think with a global problem, it's going to take a global effort. And this could be what we need to have a global response to climate change because that's a global problem as well.

Carmen Munhequete:

It's true. That's really true.

Fiona Martin:

Well, Carmen, I really appreciate it, muita obrigada, and I'll be thinking of you over in Mozambique. And again. I appreciate you taking the time to educate us about your country and all the amazing work that you're doing, and the amazing work that Mozambicans are doing as well.

Carmen Munhequete:

Thank you very much. Hope what I've shared here, it will help us, so people to know a bit more about our country. I hope after these conversation, people start searching and learning more. And I must say that many, many people that I know came to visit and they loved the country. They keep coming as much as they can. It's also a good place to visit. You're welcome to visit. We have good, good and best things here to see.

Fiona Martin:

I really love to. We just need to let Americans leave the country. Nobody wants us right now because of COVID, which is fine. I don't want to go around spreading anything. But I have a big list of places and Mozambique is certainly on there. I would love to see that part of the world and the people.

Carmen Munhequete:

Yes. It's true. Okay, pleasure.

Fiona Martin:

Thank you, Carmen.

Carmen Munhequete:

Pleasure, it was good. Thank you very much.

Fiona Martin:

Have a wonderful evening.