Dry and dusty fields in Mozambique become lush carpets of green thanks to a WFP-supported irrigation project. WFP spokesperson Ralf Suedhoff looks at how poor communities can fight the devastating effects of climate change with a little bit of help.
At least the trees haven’t died yet – so there is a patch of shade where you can stand out of the brutal heat of the sun.
At the edge of a field, two dozen women and a few men gather in the shadow of the single tree on their one hectare plot in Zifuva community, fifty kilometres from the capital Maputo in southern Mozambique.
But then the rains stop and never come back
Elisa Auguste Teme
Usually no one would think about working in such heat, but the farmers are on a mission: they want to beat climate change.
Global warming is hitting poor people in developing countries the hardest. If you listen to Elisa Auguste Teme, 57, you get an idea what that means in her everyday life: “In the earlier days, we planted every year in August and our harvests were fine, so as kids we had plenty to eat.”
“Now we can only plant in October and we never know if anything will really grow,” she says.
Moamba district is one of the arid areas of Mozambique. The country has always suffered from natural disasters, but people do not remember it ever being as bad as it is now.
In recent years, the community has been forced to plant later and later in the year. When the seasonal rains finally begin to fall, the maize starts growing - and so do people’s hopes.
“But then the rains stop and never come back,” says Teme. In some parts of southern Mozambique, it has not rained at all for a year and a half.
No rain means no harvest. Teme says that when this was the case people would eat “a sort of mango porridge”. As a result, the community used to be affected by the widespread malnutrition common in Mozambique.
In 2007 alone, Mozambique was hit by a drought, a flood and a cyclone, substantially contributing to the number of natural disasters worldwide, which has roughly doubled from the mid-90s to today. The only solution for the Zifuva community was to adapt to these life-threatening changes.
Their community fields show just how they are doing this: water spills down a hand-hewn dirt canal, bubbling and pooling until it finally arrives at a deep pond surrounded by women.
Springs, canals and reservoirs
A spring slightly uphill from the pond provides a water source for the reservoir all year round to supplement whatever rain water accumulates. Hand and foot pumps direct the water from the new reservoir to the surrounding fields.
Thanks to WFP and its food-for-work programme, the women can invest time and energy in the canals, the pond and the fields.
Just a short while ago all these fields were dusty and dry and the community had a struggle to find food every day. Now green maize leaves are flourishing in the field. The leaves are a symbol of hope and sustenance. According to a saying in Mozambique: ‘If you haven’t eaten maize, you haven’t eaten at all’.
The new irrigation techniques mean Teme’s community can now eat maize all year round. Just behind the green maize plants and even pineapples are sprouting.
Due to WFP support over the past two years, residents of Zifuva can stay in the area where they have lived for decades. They don’t have to follow in the steps of millions of other people who have abandoned their land, leaving behind ghost villages and empty fields, to find a better future in the big cities.
Once the Teme community’s harvest produces enough to meet everyone’s needs, they could even earn some income selling any extra produce.
In support of this, WFP and other UN partners have developed a project from 2008 onwards to build the capacity of small-scale farmers to promote and market any food left over from their harvest.
This, in turn, will help supply WFP’s other programmes in Mozambique – so if it works out, Elisa Auguste Teme and her community might soon supply food to others still suffering from hunger.
The people of rural Moamba district are also looking at the opportunities presented by the biofuels boom.
“That is why we have already planted a bit of Jatropha as well,” says one of the older men.
Biofuels and the future
The Jatropha plant can grow on extremely dry ground and is a good basis for biofuels, which are currently considered a more ecological alternative to traditional fuels which have been blamed for contributing to global warming.
Not only have the residents of Zifuva mastered the skills to produce food in times of unpredictable weather and great uncertainty, but they now intend to reap some benefits from global warming by growing crops that can be used for biofuels. They are a living example of the one important rule of tackling climate change: adaptation is the key.