Learning how to farm again in rural Mozambique

Posted by , posted on Thursday October 30 2014(4 years ago)

CARE-Emma-Ljungkvist-mozambique-farmer_Blog_optHere in this agriculturally rich area of Angoche District, Sinhanhe, in Northern Mozambique’s Nampula province, growing food never used to be a problem. In fact, so productive were Sinhanhe’s pastures that the village was once renowned for its high yields and neighbouring communities would often visit to buy supplies.

However in recent years, something strange has happened to the climate. The once frequent rains have started to fail.

“We are struggling to have good harvests because the rainfall amount has reduced,” says Muahera Antonia, 32. “This affects our agriculture production and the sources of water available for agriculture and drinking, for both animals and humans.”

With seven children to feed, and as the head of her household, every failed harvest is cause for concern. If Muahera cannot rely on successful crops of cassava, groundnuts and maize, just as her parents and grandparents have done for years, there’s less food to go round at home and less surplus to sell.

That means less money to buy clothes for her kids, less access to essential medicines and fewer opportunities to buy foods she cannot grow, or rear, herself.

Farmer Field Schools

About 90 percent of domestic food supplies in Mozambique are produced by family or smallholder farmers like those in Sinhanhe. And, as the impacts of climate change take hold – including droughts, floods and tropical cyclones – many farming families across Mozambique are struggling to produce more food on less land. It’s no surprise that rural poverty levels are increasing too.

That’s why CARE is working with Muahera and other farmers in her community to help them fight back. Together, Sinhanhe’s smallholders are learning new, more appropriate farming techniques adapted to their increasingly erratic and unpredictable climate.

Nampula province’s farmer field schools.

“Initially, I did not join the [farmer field schools] group”, says Muahera. “But after observing it for one year in the community and seeing its advantages in improving soil fertility and crop production, despite the erratic rainfall, I was eager to learn more”.

In 2011, before Nampula’s farmer field schools began, almost all of Sinhanhe’s residents relied on traditional farming techniques. These included deep tillage (digging and turning the soil over before planting), sewing seeds close together, rotating crops from field to field, and growing a number of plant varieties in close proximity.

Though these techniques have worked for generations, they’re no good for the current, more extreme climatic conditions. They don’t help the soil to retain its moisture; they degrade the soil structure and result in lower yields.

Conservation Agriculture

Fast forward to 2014 and a lot has changed. Today, a growing number of Sinhanhe’s farmers rely on the principles of ‘conservation agriculture’ to beat the lack of rain. They use minimum tillage, cover the soil with green ‘mulch’ (decaying leaves, bark or compost), no longer use traditional crop rotation and divide crops using legumes (such as peas or beans) rather than growing multiple plant varieties together.

And they’ve learnt how to use weather forecasts to better predict when it will rain or not. Muahera says: “Before planting, I pay attention to information about the rainy season through the seasonal and daily weather forecasts. For example, I receive the information through the radio and from other people from the community.”

The new approach has translated into higher yields (and more nutritious crops) for Muahera and her fellow farmers, reducing their vulnerability to climate change, and increasing their capacity to adapt to current and future climatic extremes.

Source: CARE International

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