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Fight against poverty is our new war say Mozambique’s poor

Newspeg: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17th October)

International development agency, Panos London, today launches a collection of oral testimonies gathered from two communities in Mozambique which illustrate that despite seeing themselves as better off than during the country's 20-year civil war, people feel they are still in a battle, but this time against poverty.

"The armed conflict is over…but there is another struggle… against absolute poverty," says Pedro from Marracuene, a district just north of the capital, Maputo.

Since 1997, five years after the civil war ended, official statistics show Mozambique's economy to have grown at a rate of around 8% per year. But poverty, while declining, has not fallen as quickly. Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries – 168th of the 177 nations on the United Nation Development Programme's 2007 human development index. Economic growth has yet to be widely achieved with regard to employment creation and income generation, particularly in rural areas.

The majority of the country's 18.5 million population rely on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, but recurrent drought and increased pressure on the land has reduced agricultural productivity for many of the narrators, and they voice frustration at the lack of alternative work. Furthermore, little access to credit and declining harvests means farmers are living on the brink.

Boafesta, for example, a camponês (small farmer) from Mabalane, a rural district 200 kilometres north of Maputo, highlights how ill-health can stretch a fine balanced survival strategy to breaking point: "When you get sick you cannot work… thus it creates poverty," he says. Yet to cure the sickness, you have to spend money: "there is no way out but to… sell one of the cows."

But people remain proud of their relationship with the land. Pedro, a trained teacher who now works as an unpaid official for the national small farmers' movement, União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC), prefers to refer to himself as "a camponês, and a son of a camponês…" He is disappointed that many young people, however, don't want to farm any more "because it requires some effort… and many people think ‘Because I've been to school…I would rather find an office job.'"

One of the recurring themes in the testimonies is how death and displacement caused by the prolonged conflict weakened one of the most important sources of support for the poor – the family – which is now being further eroded by labour migration.

Many women talk painfully of husbands and sons who went to South Africa to find work and never returned. Maria, for example, a mother of five from Mabalane, was abandoned by her husband and sees this as the main cause of her "extreme poverty". Amélia, a small farmer from Mabalane, observes that the migration of young people in search of jobs, though understandable, also increases the poverty of those left behind. She agrees that those suffering the most "extreme" poverty are "the people who have nobody…"

Migration is having other impacts too. The spread of HIV and AIDS is a common topic in both communities, with several narrators pointing out that the impact of the disease could completely undermine the painstaking advances in development that have been achieved.

Many narrators emphasise the value of farming cooperatives and small farmers' associations – organizações de camponeses and women especially speak about their central role in improving their lives. Jorgina, a widow from Marracuene, vividly remembers her perilous existence during the civil war. It was then (1977) that she joined a cooperative, which 30 years later still enables her to "alleviate my poverty".

"From reading these testimonies you can see how farming cooperatives and other similar groups are a vital economic and social support for many poor people whose own family support structures have broken apart," says Keren Ghitis from Panos London.

Almost all narrators interviewed agree on the main hindrances to development: recurrent drought; lack of agricultural inputs and technical training; lack of access to loans or credit schemes; poor infrastructure, especially transport links; declining natural resources; and few livelihood options. But those living in the more remote communities of Mabalane feel significantly more excluded from development possibilities: "We are in poverty and totally forgotten," says Maria.

In general, however, there is a sense of people looking forward: the war is the past. Pedro says fighting poverty is what matters now:

"This is another war, and we must be able to win…"

Press information

All the testimonies are available in English and Portuguese and can be viewed online at www.panos.org.uk/livingwithpoverty . The testimonies can be reproduced as extracts or in full for free but please credit Panos London and send an email letting us know to info@panos.org.uk

For more information please contact Keren Ghitis, keren.ghitis@panos.org.uk, tel +44 (0)20 7239 7629.

The testimonies collection was coordinated by Mozambican NGO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). For more information on their work please contact Alfredo Libombo, Executive Director, libombo@misa.org.mz , Cell: +258 82 32 00 770, Tel: +258 21 30 28 33, www.misa.org.mz

Notes to editors

The testimonies were gathered in two sites: Marracuene, just north of Maputo, and Mabalane, 200 kilometres from the capital, on the Limpopo River.

The Mozambican testimonies were gathered as part of a wider project on the role of media and communication in poverty reduction – http://www.panos.org.uk/?lid=284 – funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) http://www.sdc.admin.ch

Mozambican testimonies form part of the Living with poverty collection of testimonies, which also explore people's experiences of poverty from Kenya, Pakistan and Zambia.

An opinion article exploring the emotional and social impacts of poverty revealed by the Living with poverty collection and written by Olivia Bennett, founder of Panos London's Oral Testimony Programme, is available for editors to reproduce for free – www.panos.org.uk/comment  

About oral testimony

Oral testimonies are vivid, personal accounts that draw on a person's direct memories and experiences. Panos London's oral testimonies are valued by all sorts of people and used for a variety of purposes, including teaching and student research, community and development work, journalism and creative media, and personal use.

Panos London is part of a global not-for-profit network that promotes the participation of poor and marginalised people in international development debates through media and communication projects. www.panos.org.uk

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10/15/2008