MRDF at work in Mozambique
‘Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’
Isaiah 1:17 (NRSV)
Sussanah Nhambire tends to her crops. ‘[MRDF’s partner] has grown from a sapling to a tree,’ she says.
To the traveller, Mozambique offers miles of white beaches and untouched reefs. Visitors to the country, a little larger than Turkey, can swim with sharks and dolphins or dive into warm waters that span over 2,000 kilometres of the coastline. But this view, although picturesque, is not the predominant image you might have of Mozambique, where over half of the nation’s 21 million people live on less than $1 a day.
Ranked as the fifth poorest country in the world by the United Nations and with an average life expectancy of 42 years, this south-east African country epitomises the type of place where the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) seeks to make a difference. On Josina Machel Island, just over 100 miles from the capital city, Maputo, the charity supports a project that gives people the opportunity to escape extreme poverty – and stay out of it.
Geraldina Semoy no longer has to ask her children to go to bed hungry.
‘My husband, Fernando, went to work in the mines in South Africa six years ago and we were hopeful that he would be able to send some money back home,’ says Geraldina Semoy, who lives on the island. ‘But like most of the men who left, he sent very little money and not very often.’ Menka Jha, MRDF’s Programme Officer for Southern Africa, explains, ‘There is a very high level of migration in this area – a lot of men travel to South Africa to work in the mines. This is often lowly paid and with the cost of living in South Africa being so high, they are not able to save enough money to send home.’
Although Geraldina owns a patch of very fertile land, commercial farming companies did not want to invest in it because it was too small. Rising fuel prices also made it unfeasible for Geraldina to travel great distances to sell any produce. With six children and herself to feed, she had to join a labour force and work on larger farms for a meagre wage. The prospect of telling a child that they have to go to bed without eating would be distressing to any parent, but this was the reality that Geraldina faced many evenings.
Then, in 2006, her husband died of HIV/AIDS and Geraldina became the sole provider for her family. ‘The only good thing was that we were not stigmatised,’ Geraldina says. ‘So many people have suffered the same thing.’ Menka has heard many stories like Geraldina’s. She said, ‘Some of the men find other women in South Africa and many of them come back to Mozambique when they are terminally ill with HIV/AIDS. Their families often have to spend the little money they have on medical treatment.’
Hope for the futureL~
Life changed dramatically for Geraldina in 2007. With MRDF support, a local organisation started working in her area, running training workshops to help increase income from agriculture - essentially ensuring that people in the community could eat and make a living from what they grew.
Geraldina was an enthusiastic student. She learnt how to grow crops such as sweet potato, onions, cassava and maize. After her training, and with support from MRDF’s partner, Geraldina formed an association with other farmers and registered with the government. She, and the other members, are now able to access subsidised seeds, organic manure, tractors and water pumps to farm their land. MRDF’s partner also provides hoes, watering cans, shovels and spray guns to some of the associations. This is the first time that many farmers have been able to use all of their land - significantly increasing their capacity to plant more crops at the same time, and therefore sell more. Geraldina now grows enough produce not to worry about feeding her family. She says, ‘Now, I don’t have to ask my children to go to sleep hungry – and I can eat with them too.’
Arnoldo Sitoy, who also participated in the training, adds that there are other benefits to being part of a government-registered association. ‘The biggest advantage is nobody can take our land away. In the past, companies have cheated communities and taken their land. We even get support from the Department of Agriculture now – this area was not a priority before we registered our land.’ Arnoldo is the group leader for Association Vista Alegra, whose members constructed their own granary to store their produce. MRDF provided the building materials. Arnoldo explains how careful his group is about recording its stock. ‘The treasurer is only allowed to open the granary in the presence of at least three association members,’ he says. ‘Our members make a lot of money from their produce.’
Arnolodo Sitoy is happy that his land is now registered with the government – now it cannot be taken away from him.
Sustaining land, sustaining lifeL~
The training that Geraldina, Arnoldo and other farmers took part in enables them to farm their land without damaging it in the long term. The focus on practising drought-resistant techniques also means that they are more likely to have food in a country that is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Extreme flooding in 2000 affected nearly one million people and destroyed much of Mozambique’s infrastructure. In 2002, a severe drought struck parts of the country. Both events made it difficult for Mozambique to resume the high levels of economic development it had achieved during the 1990s.
As the country is prone to acute changes in its climate, MRDF’s partner encourages residents on the island to earn money in different ways. Its staff train people to make jam, juice, cakes and soups using traditional produce such as banana, paw-paw and maize.
As a result of this and the agricultural training, MRDF’s partner reports that many people now have much better diets. People on the island, including the sick and disabled, no longer have to walk long distances to get food – it is now in their fields. Menka Jha says, ‘Our project is having a particularly significant impact on the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS, who would otherwise find it very difficult to eat well and stay healthy.’
One association is growing onions, thanks to the training provided by MRDF’s partner.
From a sapling to a treeL~
The generosity of MRDF’s supporters means that over 300 farmers have accessed training and support since the project began 18 months ago. For Sussanah Nhambire, who oversees the work on Josina Machel Island, sufficient food and better health are not the only things to be thankful for. MRDF has also spent time sharing its expertise with the project’s staff members, covering topics such as financial planning and organisational management – meaning the partner is able to help more farmers. ‘Our organisation has grown from a sapling to a tree,’ Sussanah says. ‘I feel confident and capable of giving strength and support to other smaller organisations in the region.’ And this is typical of the way that MRDF works – equipping small organisations with the tools they need to bring about positive change in and beyond their communities.
Audrey Sherwin is Media Officer, Methodist relief and development Fund.
METConnexion, Spring 2009, pp. 16-17