Mozambique News Agency
President Armando Guebuza on 27 July challenged the new governor of the Bank of Mozambique, Ernesto Gove, to persuade the commercial banks to open more branches in the rural districts, and to improve banking services. Speaking at the ceremony where Gove was sworn into office, President Guebuza also insisted on what has been a constant theme in his speeches, ever since taking office in February 2005 - the fight against "the obstacles to development", which he listed as "red tape, the spirit of apathy and drift, corruption and crime, and endemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria".
The President called on the new governor and his staff to continue the battle against these ills, and "to seek effective and efficient solutions to improve the living conditions of the Mozambican people".
"We know that the Bank of Mozambique, under the wise leadership of your predecessor (Adriano Maleiane, who was governor of the bank for 15 years) has done a lot in this field", said the President, "but we are aware that a great deal more can still be done to speed up our path to development".
President Guebuza's call for more banks in the countryside follows statistics from the central bank at the start of the year which show that, despite the country's impressive economic growth, there are fewer banks now than ten years ago.
Almost all the commercial banks are dominated by foreign capital, and show no interest in providing banking services to the majority of the population, who live in the rural areas.
In 1995, there were 249 branches of commercial banks in Mozambique: but at the end of 2005, there were only 219. Furthermore, there are 114 bank branches in Maputo city and province (the vast majority of which are in the Maputo-Matola conurbation), and only 105 branches in the other nine provinces put together.
The only province other than Maputo where there has been an increase in banking activity is Sofala, where the number of branches rose from 16 in 1995 to 22 in 2005 (and most of these are in Beira). In all other provinces the number of bank branches has fallen.
For his part, Gove told the President that one of the challenges the central bank faces is the modernisation of the financial system, which could only take place against the background of a favourable government monetary policy.
As for expanding the banking system in the countryside, Gove noted that the latest law on banking, passed by parliament in 2004, envisages the creation of "micro-banks". He thought these would be easier to set up in rural areas, than branches of conventional banks, since they do not require a great deal of initial capital.
He also thought it possible to cover the districts through the introduction of mobile savings units, which are envisaged in the strategic plans of some of the commercial banks. These would be much cheaper than building new branches of banks in district capitals.
He also wanted to see more cash dispensing machines in rural areas: but currently these are mostly concentrated in and around Maputo. As of late 2005, Maputo had 214 cash machines, and the northern province of Niassa just six.
The Mozambican government and the United Nations on 27 July signed a framework agreement in Maputo governing UN development assistance to the country in the period 2007-09. This is the third such framework agreement, and it will allow the UN to disburse $311.8 million to support the areas of governance, human capital and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Foreign Minister Alcinda Abreu, who signed on behalf of the government, said that it is expected that at the end of this period the country will have greater institutional capacity in the districts and in the municipalities, and that more patients suffering from AIDS will be receiving anti-retroviral therapy.
"The central objective of this UN framework agreement", said Abreu, "is to support national efforts in the struggle against absolute poverty, through the establishment of good governance, with a view to the sustainable growth and development of Mozambique".
"The signing of this third generation of the UN framework for development assistance is an unequivocal demonstration of the excellent relationship between our government and the UN family, which has played an important role in attaining the objectives expressed in the government's five year programme, and in the Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty", she said.
For her part, the UN resident coordinator, Marilyn Spezzati, said that the UN is in accordance with decentralisation, which is one of the government's strategic priorities, as it attempts to turn the country's 128 rural districts as poles of development. "This decentralisation will lead to an improved provision of public services, from the districts down to the locality, which in turn will help build up the capacity of civil society to complement public services, at provincial, district and local level, thus contributing to poverty reduction", she declared.
Prime Minister Luisa Diogo on 24 July expressed her belief that the new Government Internet Portal, which she inaugurated in Maputo, will serve as a means to deepen and consolidate democratic governance and as an efficient instrument in rendering services to citizens, bringing the government within reach of everyone.
Speaking shortly after inaugurating the Portal, Diogo explained that this is not just another website, but is "the integrated presence of the government on the Internet", allowing all citizens, business people and other actors in development to establish transactions with public institutions in a simplified and efficient manner.
She added that this Portal will also allow access to "reliable, up-to-date, and relevant" information from the various areas of government and to the services offered by state bodies. Citizens will also be able to communicate with the government "in an interactive way".
With the launching of the Portal, the challenge now is to feed it, and the Prime Minister urged all members of the government, the permanent secretaries, all staff and society at large to make the Government Portal their portal, feeding it with relevant information for the use by all citizens and the business sector.
The portal is one of the first objectives attained as part of the "Electronic Government Network", financed by the Italian government to the tune of €1.4 million (about $1.7 million). It was preceded by a pilot phase that cost $434,000, also granted by the Italian government, and which ended in 2005.
This is not the only initiative in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) funded by the Italian government. According to the Italian Embassy in Maputo, that country is currently funding, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a project for training technicians in new technologies at various levels and setting up three new data processing centres, with access to the Internet, in Sofala, Zambezia, and Cabo Delgado provinces, which is budgeted at €1.3 million.
Italy also granted a total of $510,000 to finance projects to computerise the land registry services and the Assembly of the Republic, the Mozambican parliament.
During the Portal launching ceremony, Italian Ambassador Guido Larcher explained that the partnership between the two governments in the area of technologies started in 2002, during the Palermo Conference on "E-Government for Development". He said that on that occasion, Mozambique, in the person of Diogo's predecessor, Pascoal Mocumbi, was extremely enthusiastic about the idea.
"The objective might then have seemed ambitious, but today we feel we have created a useful instrument, an instrument that makes it possible to bring the citizens and the state closer together and also allows greater cohesion of government activity", said Larcher.
The objectives of the Portal include making government information available in an integrated manner, bringing the government closer to civil society, the private sector and other development partners, contributing to the reduction of red tape and corruption in the public sector and increasing the level of accountability among civil servants.
The address of the new portal is www.portaldogoverno.gov.mz
Mozambique and Holland signed in Maputo on 19 July a memorandum of understanding under which the Dutch government will grant a €50 million (about $65 million) loan earmarked to finance Mozambique's Education and Culture Strategic Plan (PEEC) during the next three years.
The disbursement will be phased, with €15 million being made available in 2007, €17 million in 2008, and the remaining €18 million in 2009.
At the signing ceremony, Mozambican Education Minister Aires Aly said that these funds will allow the country to meet its international commitments, under the Millennium Development Goals, which include ensuring full primary education for all children by 2015.
He added that the government will ensure that education plays its role in the fight against poverty and in the promotion of the country's development.
However, Aly noted that "this can only be possible with investments in the education sector and with a rational uses of the existing resources, which are still scarce and do not yet cover the needs".
He pledged that the funds now granted by the Dutch government will be properly used, respecting the priorities established in the PEEC.
For her part, the Dutch Ambassador to Mozambique Lidi Remmelzwaal said that the PEEC is a realistic plan and her country is committed to supporting its implementation, not only through funding "but also through an active and continued involvement in dialogue on strategic issues".
The Norwegian company DNO will continue to prospect for hydrocarbons in the Inhaminga bloc, in the central province of Sofala, despite initial disappointment.
According to the provincial director for environmental matters, Mauricio Xerinda, seismic technologies will be used in this fresh attempt to locate hydrocarbons. It is believed that natural gas exists in this area - but when DNO sank two exploratory wells in the bloc in 1994, it found nothing that could be commercially exploited.
The seismic exploration will cover a wider area, and will be preceded by an environmental impact study. Xerinda told AIM the study will look at impact on the coastal forests, on forestry concessions, and on conservation areas, notably the Gorongosa National Park. This study, said Xerinda, will seek the opinion of interested parties, and contribute towards overcoming any possible conflicts.
No further exploratory wells will be drilled at this stage. Instead, DNO will hire a company specialised in seismic technology, to carry out a seismic survey of the entire block.
Natural gas is known to exist in large quantities further south, in Buzi district in Sofala, and particularly at Temane and Pande in the neighbouring province of Inhambane.
The Pande and Temane fields are exploited by the South African petrochemical giant SASOL. Most of the gas produced is exported by pipeline to South Africa, but some is used in the southern city of Matola, and in the MOZAL aluminium smelter, while in Inhambane itself the gas is used to generate electricity in the north of the province.
The food security and nutritional situation in Mozambique has improved considerably after last year's drought in parts of the central and southern provinces, concludes the government's Technical Secretariat for Food and Security and Nutrition (SETSAN) in a report presented during a meeting in Maputo on 19 July.
Addressing the opening session of the meeting, Deputy Agriculture Minister Catarina Pajume, who is also the chairperson of SETSAN, attributed this improvement to "an increase in the production of food crops following two consecutive years of severely dry conditions".
She said that programmes to promote livestock breeding and the good rains during the last growing season are some of the contributory factors that have allowed an increase in the availability of food.
The country now has food reserves of about 99,000 tonnes of maize, 439,000 tonnes of cassava and 43,000 tonnes of groundnuts, Pajume said - but she noted that there could still be some pockets of food and nutritional insecurity in the coming months.
Speaking of malnutrition among children aged under five, Pajume said that "the country needs new strategies and policies, particularly at district and local levels".
She also noted that one of the factors that may help improve food security still further is good education of the people "to change their mentality about feeding habits, because there are still many parents who do not know how to feed their children properly, even though they have the necessary foodstuffs".
Pajume also attacked those peasant farmers who sell all their surplus crops, rather than keeping a household reserve. That means that these households run out of food before the next harvest and "depend on the government's help in times of need".
The SETSAN survey found that this year's grain harvest was over 10 per cent larger than the 2005 harvest - even though the area cultivated only rose by 2.16 per cent (from 2.256 to 2.306 million hectares). The preliminary figure for this year's main harvest is 2.097 million tonnes of grain - which compares with 1.899 million tonnes in 2005, an increase of 10.4 per cent.
As for pulses the increase is 9.6 per cent (from 332,628 to 364,680 tonnes), and for cassava it is 13.8 per cent, with production rising from 6.634 to 7.552 million tonnes.
The SETSAN document noted that in much of the country this year's harvest is the best for five years. However, in arid and semi-arid areas in the south and centre of the country reserves are only sufficient for three months after the main harvest (which means they are running out about now).
But the second agricultural season is still underway, and a good supplementary harvest will improve the availability of food in the semi-arid areas.
The SETSAN survey found that markets "are reasonably well supplied". Prices of the main crops hit a high point in February, but, as the harvest was brought in, they subsequently declined.
This year's rains have made life easier for animals as well as humans. SETSAN notes an improvement in pastures, and an increase in the availability of drinking water for livestock. "The physical condition of the animals reflects these improvements", the report states.
The meeting is to produce a draft revision of the food security strategy, taking into account government decentralisation policy that seeks to make the districts the basis of development. This proposal is to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval before the end of this year.
Agriculture Minister Tomas Mandlate on 26 July called for diversification of crops, and proper conservation, as keys to food security.
Addressing a meeting of Ministry staff, on the occasion of unveiling plans to fight against HIV/AIDS in the agriculture sector, Mandlate said that food security should not be seen simply in terms of the basic crops such as maize, rice or groundnuts. There were many other crops, notably fruits, which appeared in abundance at a particular time of year, and then disappeared completely, without the country taking full advantage of them.
This situation, said the minister, happens because activities have not been developed for drying and preserving fruit, which would allow them to be consumed out of season.
"We have the knowledge to develop those practices, and on certain occasions we have given demonstrations on how to dry mangoes, and other fruit and vegetables", he said. "So why not create the conditions whereby the population can implement these practices?"
Every year, large amounts of fruit go to waste because nobody preserves them. They are not dried, or canned, or turned into fruit juice.
Mandlate said that food preservation does not always imply huge costs, adding that the problem lies with the lack of initiatives.
He added that everyone should be actively engaged on the identification of other crops that might help mitigate the effects of drought, in the event of future exceptionally dry years.
For that purpose teams from the Food Security and Nutrition Technical Secretariat (SETSAN) should help to identify certain crops that are not part of the people's food habits, but that could be used.
Swedish technicians are working with the Mozambican authorities on supplying the local market with alternative fuels, according to Energy Minister Salvador Namburete, cited in "Noticias" on 21 July.
They are looking at the possibility of producing ethanol. Namburete did not say what raw material would be used, but said there was enough potential to supply the entire Mozambican market and export a surplus to Sweden.
Ethanol can be added to petrol, thus reducing the fuel import bill. Currently, Mozambique's fuel imports cost in excess of $168 million a year. That invoice could rise still further: speculators this week were able to push the price of oil up to $78 a barrel, largely because of nervousness over the spreading conflict in the Middle East.
In addition to the Swedish interest in ethanol, the search for alternative fuels also involves several proposals for bio-diesel. Thus in Zambezia province, the company Madal has proposed to turn copra into bio-diesel, taking advantage of the fact that Zambezia is home to the largest coconut plantation in the world.
The Monapo Industrial Company in Nampula province intends to refine bio-diesel from sunflower oil.
But the most frequently mentioned source of bio-diesel is the jatropha shrub, which President Armandoi Guebuza himself is urging peasant farmers to grow.
Some people have expressed fears that farmers might prefer to grow jatropha instead of food crops, thus weakening the country's food security. Namburete did not share this pessimism, pointing out jatropha will grow in marginal soils where it would be quite impossible to obtain a decent maize harvest.
Namburete warned that, although the problems caused by rising fuel prices are immediate, the production of alternative fuels would take a long time. "We want sustainable solutions", he said, "but these take time to materialise. What is important is to have a perspective, and what we are doing now will allow us to enjoy some autonomy in the future".
Environment Minister, Luciano de Castro, on 28 July said that the cement factory in the southern city of Matola is now being closely monitored to mitigate the effects of the pollution that it causes.
The factory is owned by the company Cimentos de Mocambique, which itself is a subsidiary of the Portuguese cement giant CIMPOR. For years there have been complaints of the clouds of dust billowing out of the cement factory, often plainly visible from the Maputo-Matola highway.
"It's been proved that Cimentos de Mocambique is polluting the environment, though they've tried to deny it", Castro told reporters. "We think it's pollution, and we are working with the factory management to repair the damage caused".
As the company itself recognised earlier this month, the filters are not working properly, and so cement dust escapes into the atmosphere. Castro described this as a high level of pollution, and one with damaging effects on people living and working near by.
"The particles the factory releases may not be toxic", he said, "but they can have an impact on people's lungs and cause respiratory problems. Furthermore, that dust also damages the vegetation in the surrounding area".
Castro said the company has now recognised the problem, and has pledged to undertake serious work to correct it as from September.
The factory dates from the colonial era, and Castro thought the problem was that at the time of its construction there was no requirement for environmental impact studies. Furthermore, the machinery in the factory is obsolete. "The company has ordered new machinery, with more advanced technology", said Castro, "and I think with this the situation may improve".
Cimentos de Mocambique has tried to blame the pollution on the electricity company, EDM. At a mid-July seminar, organised by the environmental NGO Livaningo, a company representative claimed that the electro-filters that should prevent the dust from entering the atmosphere have been damaged by oscillations in the electrical current. He complained that damage to the filters obliged the company to import spare parts.
The Mozambican authorities are preparing to repatriate the 118 illegal immigrants, mostly Ethiopians, who were arrested earlier in July in the northern province of Niassa, and are currently detained in the provincial capital, Lichinga.
This group has joined another 178 illegal migrants, mostly from the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo Democratic Republic), who have been under police custody in Lichinga since April. They had entered Niassa from Malawi - but when they were detained, the Malawian authorities refused to take them back.
Niassa is vulnerable to the entry of illegal immigrants because its borders with Tanzania and Malawi are lengthy and porous, and the Mozambican government simply does not have the capacity to patrol them effectively.
Many of the foreigners who enter the country illegally undertake economic activities including gold mining, in the locality of Lupilicho, fishing on Lake Niassa, and poaching in the districts of Mecula and Mavago.
This is a condensed version of the AIM daily news service - for details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
email: Mozambique News Agency
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