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Emergency response

Mozambicans rebuild after deadly Cyclone Freddy

Mertina Balele and her husband, Lucas Murrure, watched in horror as flooding caused by Cyclone Freddy wrecked the 15ha of groundnuts, maize, beans and cassava that they had just planted.

When the cyclone, one of the deadliest recorded worldwide, hit Mozambique for the second time in 2023, it made landfall just north of Vilankulo, not far from where the couple live, in Pambarra. The super-storm left 198 people dead and 1 074 970 affected in Mozambique alone, according to a World Food Programme report released on 24 March 2023.

Cyclone Freddy, which hit Mozambique in late February and mid-March, is just one of a growing number of weather events that scientists have linked to climate change caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases are warming the planet, changing weather patterns and causing storms that are more severe and frequent. Globally, the first full week of July 2023 is the hottest week on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Like so many others, Balele, Murrure and their four children had to flee their home when the waters rose after Cyclone Freddy hit their area.

The cyclone also left a trail of destruction across Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing at least 1 434 people and affecting nearly two million people. Scientists say that climate change has made tropical storms like Cyclone Freddy more frequent and intense.

"We have no choice but to start again," says Balele.

With no time to waste before the planting season ends, she and Murrure are already nurturing vegetable seedlings on a half-hectare plot around their small home -- kale, cabbage, tomatoes and onion are growing in neat rows. For the time being, these are vegetables for their own consumption, but Balele is already planning how to expand.

"ForAfrika is the first organisation to ask us if we need help. Seeds are very expensive and we need money for fuel. If we can just plant that other land with cassava, we will be able to start again," she says of the 15ha they had originally planted.

ForAfrika is an African humanitarian assistance organisation with more than 700 staff spread across Angola, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan and Uganda.

"The destruction that Cyclone Freddy wreaked in Mozambique was enormous, but our staff in the country were on hand to work alongside other humanitarian agencies to help people get the resources they needed to rebuild," says ForAfrika's country manager for Mozambique, Arsenio Mucavele.

Balele and Murrure were already known to the organisation. They had participated in ForAfrika's first Community Agriculture Project (CAP), which is where they honed their skills. As they expanded their farm, they were able to employ others.

Through the CAP, 900 households in Mozambique have been supported with donations of seeds and livestock, plus training in modern farming techniques such as composting, zero-tilling, agroforestry, early warnings and disaster management.

The CAP also shows farming communities how to set up village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). Through the associations the VSLA groups, 79% of whom are women, can bypass financial institutions to access credit, reducing the time they have to wait before they can afford to buy goods and services.

The CAP in Mozambique had 24 participants who received seeds, tools, livestock and, most importantly, technical training through a partnership with the National Institute of Disaster Risk Management and Reduction and Eduardo Mondlane University.

For Balele and Murrure, much of what they had farmed is gone, but they have decided to focus on the future.

So has Anita Damiano, who farmed at Munavalate, another village in the Vilankulo area of Mozambique, with her husband and four children, before the cyclone hit.

"It rained a lot, a lot. We had groundnuts, maize and beans and we lost everything. We also lost some chickens and goats. It was very bad for us. All we can do now is start again," Damiano says, her eyes revealing her weariness.

Mozambicans rebuild after deadly Cyclone Freddy

Before Cyclone Freddy destroyed their farm, Damiano and her family were growing crops for their own use and selling whatever surplus they had at the local market.

Like many African subsistence farmers, the Damiano family do not have money for commercial seeds to replant crops after Cyclone Freddy destroyed the crops they had already sown.

Most seeds have to be imported from South Africa or elsewhere, and once in the country, there is a mark-up. Now the family have very little to eat and rely on help from neighbours, but the children are back at school.

Farmers in Mozambique often struggle to afford seeds, other inputs, and labour at planting time, says Development Alternatives Incorporated, a private, nonprofit development company working in Mozambique.

While many farmers in Mozambique save seeds from one season's crop to plant in the next season, if these seeds are destroyed by flooding or some other disaster, they have to buy commercial seeds. Commercial seeds are often drought-resistant and have other beneficial attributes, but they are expensive for people who live mainly hand-to-mouth.

Fortunately, the Damiano family did not lose their home and are still in the same village, which is not far from a farm belonging to Tomás Sitoe, a former participant in ForAfrika's CAP. Sitoe has become well known in the area since his farming pursuits have been very successful -- thanks in part to a new cassava variety which he received from ForAfrika. This cassava is a sweeter, tastier and more nutritious variety, and people come from far to purchase it from him.

Sitoe's crops were mostly spared the effects of Cyclone Freddy, so he has been assisting his neighbours with free cassava cuttings. "Since I received help, I also want to help my friends," said Sitoe, who has also been sharing his farming skills with others wanting to replicate his business model.

Damiano and her neighbours chop down and collect the long cassava stems, which have already had their leaves harvested, and take them home to replant. As it is no longer cassava season, it will take some time for them to be able to use the leaves for cooking and a few more months for them to be able to harvest the tubers, which are also edible.

The bundles of cassava are very heavy to carry and it will take the group of women about 45 minutes to walk home with a bundle on their heads.

"But they will help us a lot," she said. "We feel a bit better."

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