Mozambique Works to Break Vicious Circle of Environmental Degradation and Poverty Tue, Aug 5, 2014


The coconut trees along the coastline of Zambezia - a province in northern Mozambique - provide livelihood opportunities for local communities and an estimated at 1.7 million people.

Since 2003, as many as 1 million coconut trees have been lost due to a lethal disease. At the present rate of spread, more than 50 per cent of the coconut area is likely to be lost over the next few years.

The loss of this vital resource has created a ripple effect as communities are now overexploiting local mangrove, which has exacerbated the problem of soil erosion in the area impacting negatively on housing, settlements, and agriculture.

Such vicious circles of poverty and environment are not unique to Zambezia. In fact, nationwide, over 82 per cent of jobs depend on natural resources and it is estimated that natural capital contributes up to 50 per cent of GDP.

Efforts to improve natural resource management are fundamental to poverty alleviation in Mozambique.

Making the environment everyone's business

A key driver of change in Mozambique has been to ensure that the environment-poverty agenda is the business of policy makers across all sectors of the government.

By developing a number of practical tools and procedures for embedding pro-poor sustainable development into the fabric of various ministries - from Defense to Finance to Planning and Development - the government, with support from the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment (PEI) Initiative, has awakened key decision makers to the benefits of growing the country whilst preserving its natural assets.

As a result, pro-poor sustainable development objectives can now be found in at least eight sector plans.

The implementation of these plans is however hugely dependent on accompanying financial commitments - an area the government is currently striving to improve.

Financing the new agenda

A study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment Coordination Affairs (MICOA) and the Ministry of Planning and Development revealed the economic value of Mozambique's natural resources and the current budgetary shortfall the government must overcome if it is to realise its new poverty-environment ambitions.

The valuation showed that the yearly economic loss due to environmental degradation and the inefficient use of natural resources is 17 per cent of GDP, or US$1.5 billion per year. By contrast, the estimated cost to remediate these damages was calculated at only 9 per cent of GDP. Yet, the expenditure on environment was equivalent to only 1.4 per cent of GDP.

The review shows that the government is investing in sustainable development, but that more needs to be done, and finds a need to design a strategy to improve the level of budgeting for sustainable development in Mozambique.

Demonstrating change on the ground

To demonstrate how quickly change on the ground can happen when funding is committed to environmental protection, PEI supported small-scale demonstration projects across the country.

In Zambezia, communities decided that instead of relocating away from the flood and erosion-risk areas - as they have traditionally done - they would employ a programme of ecosystem-based adaptation approaches to mitigate and adapt to the problem.

Measures vary from planting of trees, reforesting the mangrove, using sandbag blocks and more sophisticated concrete walls. In Madal, the results are encouraging. The community has not had to relocate, which has enabled its people to concentrate on income-generating activities inspired by sustainable agricultural practices.

Next steps - going bigger

Partly inspired by PEI's work, the shift in policy making, and the changes on the ground, the Government of Mozambique has now begun scaling up similar initiatives, often supported by other donors and development partners.

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

For more information, contact: UNEP News Desk, email:

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