In March 2019, João Guerra’s farm in central Mozambique was hit by Cyclone Idai. The intense storm devastated over 700 000 hectares of crops in the country and caused rivers to overflow, dams to burst, and floods to sweep away entire farms and communities.
With over 80% of the population of Mozambique depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the damage done to food and grain stores, fisheries infrastructure, and livestock assets had a catastrophic effect on farmers and the food security of many.
Over the past year, João and many other farmers have worked hard to repair the flood damage to their farms and gradually recover their livelihoods. However, just as they were getting back on their feet, a new challenge arose: the Covid-19 pandemic.
Overcoming the disaster
João, who lives and farms in Sofala Province in central Mozambique, has been part of FAO-supported Farmer Field Schools since 2014 and now leads a group attended by 31 people, the majority of whom are women. In the wake of the cyclone, FAO provided his Field School group with several agricultural kits including vegetable and cereal seeds and tools, such as hoes and machetes. According to João, these materials and the knowledge previously acquired in the Field School training were essential for him and the group to recover from Cyclone Idai’s damage.
“After Idai, FAO did not forget us. We received seeds and restarted farming activities,” states João.
With this help, João managed to produce enough for his family and sell part of the harvest. Using the money from these sales, he bought and planted cabbage seeds, taking advantage of the high demand for the vegetable in local markets.
João explains that he had extra motivation to restart production. “As a facilitator, I had to be stronger and motivate the group to continue production, so I used my farm as a demonstration field to motivate the team,” he says.
João was also able to open a small seed store in his community. Between this store and his farm, João employs many people in his local community for seasonal work when it is time for harvesting and planting .
“With the land, we already have jobs. We must use this land to employ ourselves and to employ other people,” he says.
As in many countries, it is difficult for female farmers to access farmland and agricultural training. Realising this and seeing that that women in his community were having more difficulty finding opportunities to support their families, João specifically aimed to choose women when employing people on his farm.
The arrival of Covid-19
It was just as João and his community were beginning to get back on their feet that the Covid-19 pandemic hit Mozambique. It was important that they did not let the effects of the pandemic ruin all the progress they had made in the wake of the cyclone.
Through FAO’s assistance in Farmer Field Schools, João and the other members learned about important preventative measures against Covid-19. They went on to share them as widely as possible so that people could continue to support themselves by working in the fields and markets while minimising the risk.
“We had assistance from the Government and FAO. The technicians went through all the field schools to explain the importance of using a mask, physical distancing, and hand washing,” João says. “We have been wearing masks in the field and following the recommendations. But we can´t stop working.”
Beating ongoing challenges
Covid-19, however, also presented an opportunity for João and his community. Restrictions on imports from outside the country meant that producers began looking to small, local farmers to supply them with the necessary produce. “Right now, some countries cannot export vegetables because the borders are closed, so we are having a lot of sales,” João says. “We need to continue building partnerships with small factories to process them.”
Currently, João is trying to find a strong market to sell his products. At the moment, he supplies the trucks from the central market in Beira, a port city and key trading centre for the country, but he says it is vital to find other buyers to expand his business.
João is just one of the 270 000 farmers reached by the FAO Cyclone Response Programme for Mozambique. Since the beginning of the pandemic, FAO has supported the Farmer Field Schools all over the country, helping them continue their work whilst staying safe through key preventative measures. Boosting the resilience of farmers in overcoming challenges is one of FAO’s top goals, helping ensure that we can grow, nourish and sustain our planet together.