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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Mozambican Farmers Get Help to Weather Extreme Weather Events

Air Date: Week of

Joao Novage in front of his goat hutch. Thanks to a grant, he and some of his neighbors raise goats. (Photo: Rowan Moore Gerety)

Mozambique is among the African countries most vulnerable to extreme weather events. Cyclones, droughts, and floods have destroyed homes and crops. The organization Save the Children has partnered with the government to promote programs aimed at making the local economy less contingent on the weather. Rowan Moore Gerety reports from Caia, Mozambique.


GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Over the past two decades, Mozambique has suffered more than its fair share of weather disasters. The east African nation has seen more devastating cyclones, droughts, and floods than any country on the continent. Farmers in Mozambique have been particularly hard hit. This year alone, torrential rains in the mountains sent flood waters onto fields below, submerging tens of thousands of acres of crops.

Figueredo de Araujo works at the National Institute for Disaster Management in Caia, Mozambique. (Photo: Rowan Moore Gerety)

Some aid organizations have responded to the extreme weather effects by supplementing their traditional disaster relief efforts with disaster management. Rowan Moore Gerety has our report.


MOORE GERETY: The rainy season in Caia, in central Mozambique, begins in December. This is the time of year when officials at Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management begin to prepare for the worst—rescue missions during floods. Figueredo de Araujo is the information officer at their center for emergency operations here. He points out the tools of their trade.


VOICEOVER: Welcome to the National Emergency Operations Center for the center region. To my left we have search and rescue boats for flood victims. There on the other side are warehouses with various goods for humanitarian assistance: maize flour, tents, tarps, boots, rain coats.

The government’s Emergency Operations Center has search and rescue boats to use during floods. (Photo: Rowan Moore Gerety)

MOORE GERETY: Caia is a truck-stop of a town where Mozambique’s main highway crosses the Zambezi river. It sits in the middle of a vast, flat, floodplain that is home to nearly a million people. In 2000, Caia and neighboring districts on either side of the river were hit by the worst floods in recent memory. The floods killed 700 people, displaced 100,000, and cost Mozambique a 1.5 percent loss in GDP through destruction of crops. Yet the impact of extreme weather in Africa is sometimes disguised, because the greatest losses are often indirect, through persistent food scarcity and illness. To Belem Monteiro, the emergency center's director, much of Mozambique’s misfortune is a matter of geography.


VOICEOVER: The fact that we have a problem is not news to us: given its location, Mozambique could only be vulnerable to these changes in climate.

MOORE GERETY: Nearly 80 percent of Mozambican families are subsistence farmers, relying on rain-fed agriculture to produce their food. Following the floods in 2000, farmers near the Zambezi continued to lose their houses and their crops in what became a nearly annual calamity. Monteiro says the changing weather has forced his agency to change its mission:


VOICEOVER: In the past, it happened every five years, now we have annual emergencies, which shows that the situation has changed. This institution was created in order to intervene in emergencies, but today, with climate change, we have to adapt and create development programs that reflect this reality.


MOORE GERETY: Some 30 miles away from Caia lies a resettlement zone called Tchetcha Um. It’s home to some of the 5000 families in the district who have moved to higher ground over the last decade, just a mile from their villages by the river. The organization Save the Children has partnered with the government in a program promoting livelihood resilience, aimed at making the local economy less contingent on the weather.

The idea is to help people living on the floodplain diversify their sources of income, and hedge the risks from flood and drought. Clemente Lourenço is a project officer in Save's Floodplain Management program. He’s on a site visit today and stops to greet farmer Rui Alberto Campira.


Rui Alberto Campira hoes the soil. He’s part of a group of farmers who received a grant from Save the Children to grow cash crops. (Photo: Rowan Moore Gerety)

MOORE GERETY: Campira is part of a group of 11 farmers who received a small business grant from Save the Children in 2009. The grant was meant to help the farmers grow food not only for themselves, but also for market. Save provided the capital, and the provincial department of agriculture provided the expertise: they brought in tractors and graded a five-acre plot, and installed an elevated tank and a small pump for irrigation. Near the tank, which sits on a concrete platform, Campira opens a spigot in the middle of his field.


MOORE GERETY: He says the dark, sandy soil here is great for cash crops:


VOICEOVER: It's good. Especially for tomatoes. Tomatoes, onions, cabbage, collard greens. That's what we usually plant here. There we only plant maize. Maize and sweet potatoes.

MOORE GERETY: The fertile soil of the flats is a major reason that people have always lived so close to the river, despite seasonal flooding. Campira says when the river floods, the water could now reach his waist, much higher than it got when he was a child. But the irrigation here now allows him to grow cash crops during the dry season, when the temperature is right but the rainfall is too low for market vegetables.


MOORE GERETY: During the rainy season, he grows corn, sweet potatoes, and cassava, to feed his family. If a flood comes, he'll have some money to fall back on from the sale of tomatoes and onions, as well as a second field for household consumption on higher ground. Clemente Lourenço says that unlike many development projects, the beneficiaries of Save the Children’s program chose both their partners and their line of business:


Clemente Lourenco is the project officer in Save the Children’s Floodplain Management program. In the background are water tanks used for irrigation. (Photo: Rowan Moore Gerety)

VOICEOVER: The methodology we use to let the groups get together themselves—either by virtue of being neighbors, or out of trust, or because, as it was with many of them, they all knew that particular kind of work.


MOORE GERETY: Fifty-five associations like Campira's have formed in Caia district, not just growing cash crops, but trading in fish, beans, and clothing, and using animal traction to plow fields. Save's program, called Galamuka, or “Awakening,” supports a total of 4500 households across three provinces along the river. Joao Novage is raising seven goats. He received a grant in April 2010 through an association he formed with nine neighbors.

Two of Joao Novage’s goats. (Photo: Rowan Moore Gerety)


VOICEOVER: When it floods here, people do very badly. It's very difficult to buy enough maize. During droughts, a man can't say a thing. The only way you can fight it is if you have a goat, when a trader comes from Caia or Sena, you can sell it for twenty dollars (five or six hundred meticais) and buy a bushel or two of corn to sustain your family.

MOORE GERETY: Novage says the group's original 40 goats have already borne 20 more. The emphasis of Save's current two-year program has been to improve quality of life for the association’s members. Over the long term, they hope to recoup the initial grants through payments without interest and use them as loans to create more associations throughout the region. Novage says he hopes to repay the initial grant once the association's herd reaches 110 or 120, but first he has other plans:


VOICEOVER: When I see that I have 12 or 13 goats, I’ll take four and sell them to buy school supplies and clothes for my children. Children are our wealth. They’ll bring a better future for us.

MOORE GERETY: The association's experience has attracted more of Novage’s neighbors, prompting Save to give a second grant for four goats each to eight more households in the area. Clemente Lourenço says that roughly half of the associations in Caia have expanded in this way to meet local demand:


VOICEOVER: Save had a target to reach, to form X number of groups in the two year project, and it was reached. Only, it's clear that there is a lot of demand, there are many people who need to participate in projects like this.


MOORE GERETY: As heavy rains and flooding continue, João Novage may have to sell a goat sooner than he planned. But that's exactly what the Galamuka program was designed for: he is one of thousands of Mozambicans who now have a chance at a stable livelihood in spite of a changing climate. Still, the need is great.

Though the government has replicated some of Save's model outside this project, Belem Monteiro, the regional director for disaster management, admits these programs still serve an "insignificant proportion of the population.” And further north on the African coast, in Somalia, the worst drought in 60 years has shown that the need for programs to help people cope with extreme weather is growing around the world. For Living on Earth, I'm Rowan Moore Gerety in Caia, Mozambique.



Save the Children’s Livelihood Resilience Program, Mozambique

National Institute for Disaster Management, Mozambique


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