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In Mozambique, Food Is for Peace and Much More

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In Mozambique, Food Is for Peace and Much More
What began as food distribution in response to a crisis is today supporting a wide array of development goals. With the needs changing on the ground, the historic Food for Peace program has proven to be an extremely versatile development tool in rural Mozambique.

Mozambique, in southern Africa, is a country with vast agricultural potential. More than three fourths of the population engages in agriculture, though almost entirely to make ends meet.

We are visiting a Village called Morrumbala, in Zambezia province, one of Mozambique's poorest regions, but also one of its most fertile.

During 15 years of civil war, starting two years after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, much of the country's agricultural technique was lost.

Here, as in many other villages throughout the northern regions, a long-running U.S. Government program called Food for Peace takes aim at the food security problem. In 25 years operating in Mozambique, the program, administered here by USAID, has made great gains. It has also proven to be remarkably adaptable to the country's changing needs.

As we travel down an unpaved road, we are met by the Joao community farmer's association.

They are expecting us.

Fostering community associations is one of the ways that USAID and its partners are trying to influence behavior: by teaching volunteers, who in turn, spread knowledge in their communities.

We are meeting at the farm of Davane Mesa Paulo, a farmer who has benefited from the program over the past eight years.

As president of the association, Davane gives a presentation showing some of the indicators the community is tracking. This type of organization would have been unimaginable before the program came to town.

But it's not just farmers here.

There's a community nutrition group, mostly mothers. But surprisingly, some of the men are also members.

Through the program, implemented on the ground by the U.S. non-profit World Vision, farmers learn conservation farming techniques for arid climates. They learn that pooling their crops brings better prices in the marketplace.

But when the farmers' and mothers' groups unite, larger messages break through. They are being taught the links between the food they grow and their children's nutrition.

Mothers learn the importance of breastfeeding, and how to make vitamin-packed enriched porridge using locally grown crops.

They learn the importance of boiling water, using latrines, and even how to monitor a child's nutrition by looking at their hair.

Theater, a popular educational medium, relays some of what they've learned.

These approaches to food security -- incorporating health, hygiene and nutrition -- are a far cry from the Food for Peace program's origins.

Food for Peace, which is also called Public Law 480, named after the Agricultural Trade Development Assistance Act that created the program in 1954, was devised as a way to give U.S. farmers an outlet for their surplus produce while helping to feed hungry populations.

It has had no small impact. Over its history, the U.S Government's largest and longest running tool to combat global hunger has aided around 3 billion people.

While it began as direct food distribution, in Mozambique, the program has evolved as the country has progressed.

Bill Hagelman is the Food for Peace officer in Mozambique.

He explains that USAID is no longer handing out food, but instead helping farmers provide for themselves, while also assisting their families tackle other issues such nutrition, hygiene, and health.

"Over the 25 years, the role of this program has changed as Mozambique has gotten back on its feet and as Mozambicans have gotten back on their feet once again. So after free general distributions during that terrible time, we transitioned into food-for-work activities. Then we started free distributions to mothers to make sure their children were healthy by providing them with a corn soy blend to give them the proper nutrients.

From that then we started to monetize, that means we sold a part of the commodities and with those proceeds from the sale we were able to also finance activities to go along with the work being done with mothers and nutrition programs or with farmers-teaching them better farming techniques because so much of that knowledge had been lost in the war.

In fact, handing out food is the last thing the program wants to do, as it pulls farmers from their fields.

In the case of Mozambique, the commodity that the U.S. Government purchases, or "monetizes" from U.S. farmers is wheat, which is sold to local millers, to feed Mozambique's bread habit, a remnant of the Portuguese colonial days.

Bill Hagelman explains: "Ultimately where we are today is we are a fully-monetized program and we are at the point where food commodities from the U. S. are no longer required for mothers to have healthy children because they've learned what the food groups are and that they have access to those food groups, either because they grow it or because it's available in the market.

While full monetization is controversial in some circles, in Mozambique, it is working incredibly well.

"In the beginning, we used to monitor three different indicators, one was the number of hungry months, one was the nutritional status of children under 5, and one was household incomes. We no longer even monitor the number of hungry months because it's negligible at this point."

Mozambique was colonized for nearly 500 years, between 1505 and the country's hard-fought Independence in 1975. Colonization, the post-Independence civil war, and devastating floods that shocked the country in 2000, are still visibly felt.

Although there have been gains, Mozambique is still one of the world's poorest countries, and the country's agriculture industry still suffers from inadequate infrastructure, commercial networks, and investment. But In Morrumbala, it is hard to imagine that hunger once reigned.

Davane Mesa Paulo heard about USAID's program back in 2003. Three kids and a wife to support on just on hectare of land where he grew just a few crops for food, he was struggling.

Now, thanks to the program, he has six healthy children.

His wife understands the importance of breast feeding, of eating healthy, especially when she is pregnant, and of feeding their children three times a day with food that Davane grows. His land has increased dramatically, and he even has animals, a luxury.

Hunger ran away from my house," he tells us. "So people starting coming to ask how."

This is, in a sense, the beauty of the community model. Neighbors see progress, and want to replicate it.

In Morrumbala, enrollment in the community group has steadily grown. Plump children abound.

But as Bill Hagelman says, behavior change takes time.

Hunger may have fled from Davane's home, and from some of the 200,000 other households benefitting from the program across Mozambique.

But nutrition and health indicators are just starting to show improvements. There is still far to go.

This is Kelly Ramundo, FrontLines.

Last updated: July 12, 2021