Poverty and Environment cuts across sectoral boundaries

[Stories of Change from Africa] The coconut trees along the coastline of Zambezia - a province in northern Mozambique - provide livelihood opportunities for local communities (an estimated 1.7 million people) and foreign exchange for the government from export of coconut tree products. Since 2003, as much as 1 million coconut trees have been lost, due to a lethal yellowing disease in the palms and at the present rate of spread, more than 50 percent of the coconut area is likely to be lost over the next years.  ‘In this area people depended on the coconut tree for their income…now the community over-uses the mangrove instead…and it exacerbates the problem of soil erosion’ says Tomas Victorino Amissande, the President of the civil society organization Associação dos Naturais e Amigos de Madal. Over-exploitation of mangroves has increased riverbank erosion impacting negatively on housing, settlements, and agriculture. As a result, most riverbank villages have already been forced to relocate at least once. This is expensive and is a ‘situation that affects both the community and the general population…as the coconut palm has enhanced both the local and national economy….it is a disaster affecting the district, the province and the country’ says Mr.Juma Cassimo Amade local officer from the Ministry of Environment Coordination Affairs (MICOA).  

In fact, nationwide, over 82% jobs depend on natural resources and it is estimated that natural capital contributes up to 50% of GDP.  Thus, efforts to improve natural resource management are essential to poverty alleviation in the country. Since 2005 the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) in Mozambique has supported the Government to mainstream poverty- and environment-related objectives into policy and budget processes at the national and provincial levels, to further efforts to achieve national development goals and to reduce poverty. 

Developing practical tools and procedures

In 2011, the Ministry of Planning and Development (MPD) and MICOA, with the support of PEI and the Danish Development Agency (DANIDA), joined forces to develop an integrated cross-sector mainstreaming matrix for eight key cross cutting issues, including environment and gender. MICOA has used the mainstreaming matrix for the annual sector planning process in order to coordinate cross-sector environment unit meetings. Ms. Vilela de Sousa, Planning Director at the MICOA Department of Planning, highlights how many sectoral ministries, including the Ministry of Defence, now increasingly recognize their own responsibilities for promoting pro-poor sustainable development, and why it is beneficial for their own sectoral targets. For example, The Ministry of Energy is planning to strengthen its environment unit and design a national action plan to use alternative sources of energy replacing charcoal which causes respiratory problems to people (especially women and children) from everyday inhalation of smoke in the kitchen.

Estimating the costs and expenditure of natural resource management to catalyse change

MICOA and MPD, with PEI support, commissioned an economic valuation of the environment and natural resources in Mozambique. The valuation showed that the yearly economic loss due to environmental degradation and the inefficient use of natural resources is 17 % of GDP, around 45 billion MZN equivalent, or US$1.5 billion per year. By contrast, the estimated cost to remediate these damages was calculated at only 9 % of GDP. Yet, in a separate study reviewing the level of public environmental expenditure, it was revealed that expenditure on environment was equivalent to only 1.4% of GDP – that is, expenditure is far below what would be justified on economic terms alone.

Such economic paradoxes go to the very core of the poverty-environment problem. For example, the economic valuation estimated that illness and death caused by lack of access to clean water alone results in an estimated annual cost of 3.7 billion MZN or more than US$ 100 million. Agricultural soil degradation leads to an estimated annual damage of 4 billion MZN or some US$ 108 million due to reduced productivity. These findings clearly demonstrate the value of ecosystem services and the sustainable management of natural resources.

Mr. Reinaldo Mendiate, the director of Planning at MICOA, highlights that there is a need to design a strategy to improve the level of budgeting for sustainable development in Mozambique and that MICOA is currently working with the sectors to do so. The Public Environment Expenditure Review (PEER) is an important tool in achieving this and its powerful economic findings alerted the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to the importance and cost-effectiveness of poverty-environment mainstreaming in Mozambique. For the first time, the MoF appointed two environmental focal points to be a part of the cross-sector Environment Unit meetings and other sustainability fora. The focal points have worked towards introducing a climate change budget code for the 2014 budget process. At the same time, MICOA has decided to test the feasibility of using a wider range of available codes, including those related to land management and physical and environment planning.

Demonstrating change on the ground 

For the people that depend on natural resources for their livelihood, increased investments in sustainable natural resource management by the government and other development partners will ultimately lead to improved livelihood opportunities.  Changes are already being seen in Zambezia, where communities decided upon a different strategy and response to the riverbank flooding and erosion. Instead of re-locating, a programme of ecosystem-based adaptation approaches was developed together with local authorities and PEI. Measures vary from planting of trees, reforesting the mangrove, using sandbag blocks and more sophisticated concrete walls. In Madal, the community did not have to be relocated again and is now able to concentrate on income-generating activities inspired by sustainable agricultural practices. Providing the right support to communities and local governments to deal with riverbank erosion is crucial to avoid decreased access to food, education, and health.    

Even though the lost coconut trees of Zambezia are gone, the gains made by communities there and elsewhere in Mozambique offer hope for the future in a country where poverty-environment mainstreaming is becoming business-as-usual in decision making processes.