Nelly Bassily | September 12, 2011
Long after the wintry sun sets over her patch of crops, Angelina Jossefa keeps pulling weeds. Many of her lettuce, carrot and beetroot plants died during a cruel winter. Now she has to work harder to feed her three children. Harvesting a few heads of lettuce, she explains, “This year things were hard because of the cold. It was very cold.” For the last 29 years, Mrs. Jossefa has been tilling the same one and a half hectares with her mother, aunt and sister-in-law.
The lack of rain this year combined with a severe winter to put even more pressure on struggling subsistence farmers like Mrs. Jossefa, who make up 80 per cent of the population.
Minimum temperatures were the lowest in 50 years, according to the National Meteorological Institute. Rainfall during the wet season was extremely poor, despite predictions of above-average rains.
Dulce Chilundo is head of Mozambique’s National Emergency Operative Centre. He says, “Already the rainy season is not normal anymore.” Usually, rains begin in October and continue until February. But this year, according to Mr. Chilundo, “The rains did not begin in October. It rained a lot in November, and after that, nothing.”
Mrs. Jossefa explains how she has seen the weather change: “Years ago, it used to rain two, three times a month. Now four, five months pass without a drop of rain.” She worries what will become of her family when her money dries up. She says, “It isn’t enough, because two are studying. I manage at least for the transport and house expenses, but it is little.”
The increasing number of poor people in Mozambique’s cities took to the streets in September 2010 to protest high food prices. But the millions of small-scale farmers spread across the vast country said little, although their livelihoods are threatened by factors beyond their control, such as climate.
Lola Castro is the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique. She says, “I think it is not possible to control such changes locally.” She explains, “Old people tell us it’s difficult to know when to plant, when to harvest, or when it will rain.”
Development analysts have studied ways for farmers to weather the storm. One solution is to change crops with the weather patterns. In Mozambique, the risk of flooding remains high because farmers plant in flood plains. Ms. Castro says, “It is impossible to change people planting in low areas [because] that is the fertile area.”
Authorities therefore encourage farmers to plant crops such as cassava, sorghum, and millet, which can survive in higher, drier areas. Another solution is to use crops that mature in 90 rather than 125 days, so farmers can make the most of one season.
Such solutions may well mean the difference between life and death for Mozambique’s forgotten farmers. Changing traditions that were formed over centuries and generations, however, is a difficult task.