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Rice donated to displaced people fleeing violence in Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, is routinely being exchanged for other foodstuffs to try to diversify diet and fight hunger.
“[I want] beans. How many kilos of rice?” asks Awae Bacar, one of the many Mozambican women who fled to the Metuge IDP camp, about fifty kilometres from the provincial capital, Pemba.
In informal markets, goods received from NGOs and international support programmes almost always have one thing in common: rice. An ever-present food ingredient in support programmes, the distribution centres have sacks of it.
Alexandre de Oliveira, another beneficiary of donated goods in Metuge, has the same complaint. “They only bring rice and cooking oil”.
“I have no way of cooking just like that, I have to exchange it for leaves or something else,” he says, as he tries to exchange rice with other vendors in the centre of Metuge.
Rice here is almost the local currency in the fight against hunger.
“I’m scraping by and taking rice to barter” because you have to “vary your diet”, Alexandre de Oliveira says.
Food insecurity also worries the authorities. At the end of last week, the president of the National Institute of Disaster Management (INGD), Luísa Meque, called on displaced people in Cabo Delgado to intensify agricultural production so as to stop depending on donations.
“Each house has space for a vegetable patch, which can improve diets a little bit,” she said, alluding to plots of land allocated for housing made of traditional materials.
“We don’t know how long [our partners] will give food. So, we have to create a sustainable base to minimise the food deficit we have,” she said during a visit to a centre for displaced people in Metuge.
As many of the displaced are from [agricultural] “production areas”, so “they will be able to do something” with the plots of land they receive, she said. Despite the difficulties in Cabo Delgado, they should not stop practising subsistence farming, as most Mozambican families do.
Seeds and other agricultural consumables have formed part of some donations in the province, but the figures reflect urgent unmet needs. Authorities estimate that over 1.8 million people in Mozambique live in a situation of acute food insecurity, about a million of them in Cabo Delgado.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has announced humanitarian food support for the majority of these, but the quantities delivered correspond to only 39% of individual daily energy needs.
Cabo Delgado province is rich in natural gas, but has been terrorized for four years by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.
The conflict has already cost more than 3,100 lives, according to the ACLED conflict registration project, and displaced more than 817,000 civilians, according to the Mozambican authorities.
Since July, an offensive by government troops, with the support of Rwanda, later joined by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has recovered several areas, including the town of Mocímboa da Praia, occupied by the insurgents since August, 2020.