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The village elders in Sinhanhe, in Northern Mozambique’s Nampula province, probably never expected they would have to re-learn how to farm their land.
Here in this agriculturally rich area of Angoche District, 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.
But 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
Muahera is not alone. In fact, 90 percent of domestic food supplies in Mozambique are produced by family or smallholder farmers like those in Sinhanhe. And, as the impacts of increasingly extreme weather 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.
Welcome to 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.
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.
“The [farmer field schools] have helped us to understand more about the changes in weather that we see and feel, and which are not only happening in Sinhanhe, but everywhere in the world”, Muahera says.
Even as global climate unpredictability grows, one thing is certain: Muahera and her neighbours are now better prepared to weather the storm.
From 2011 to 2013, the CARE-implemented Adaptation Learning Programme (ALP) formed 8 farmer field school groups which directly involve about 200 farmers, with many more benefiting from the farmer field school approach through their participation in field days where they discuss farming practices.
Farmer field schools are just one of the community-based adaptation approaches being promoted by ALP as part of a five-year programme aimed at reducing the vulnerability of households across sub-Saharan Africa to climate change.
ALP works in partnership with local civil society and government institutions in Ghana, Niger, Mozambique and Kenya and is funded by the UK Department for International Development, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Austrian Development Cooperation.