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Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 19:48 GMT 20:48 UK
Mozambique: Sowing seeds of hope
Woman in fields
After the flood, farming can begin again
By Catherine Mahoney of the Red Cross

It was a race against time. If Delphina, 18, did not plant any seeds by mid- April, there would be no vital harvest this year, aggravating an already desperate situation in central Mozambique.

Delphina lives with her sister, Fiesa, 13, in two small mudhuts in Bandua, one of the regions along the Buzi river which was worst affected in the recent floods.

Red Cross staff
Red Cross volunteers co-ordinated the distribution of seeds
They look after their brother's three children while he works the mines in South Africa.

The sisters are among the 5,000 families in the area - a total of 30,000 people - who in the past week have received seeds and tools from the Red Cross.

"We only have one hectare of maize left after these floods, and nothing in our stores", said Delphina, who spoke with a wisdom and experience well beyond her years.


"We survive on maize, both to eat and to sell. We are very happy that we have seeds now as we can start planting immediately. We haven't been able to do anything yet - no rebuilding, no clean water, we have just been surviving."

The village of Bandua had seen the very worst of the floods. Completely isolated, its roads were still inaccessible until the day before the relief workers arrived.

Mozambican women
Thousands of families received agricultural supplies
Even now, it took us almost nine hours to reach Bandua from the coastal town of Beira.

As far as the eye can see, the flat lands betrayed the effects of the floods: field after field of decimated crops and damaged houses.

Long-term help

Our guide explained that the muddied riverbanks we passed were newly created: the river had widened and taken with it homes, banana trees, livelihoods.

Everyone here needs some kind of support. Until now, these villages had been surviving on airdrops of food, but today the Red Cross intended to supply longer-term help.

Working with the local chiefs and authorities, aid officials had identified the most vulnerable families, and today 577 families were present to collect vital items to help rebuild their future.

Mozambican children
The project intends to make people self-sufficient once more
When we arrived in Bandua at 0700, hundreds of people were already lining up in the extreme heat to collect blankets, pots and pans, plastic sheeting, and tents.

There was no scramble for help. Tim Holt, the British Red Cross relief co-ordinator for the area had explained the process through an interpreter standing on a rickety table.


Those who had lost their homes were to receive tents - others who had lost everything were receiving buckets, blankets, and kitchen equipment.

Families who were returning to damaged houses carried away plastic sheeting to make their homes liveable - albeit in a makeshift way.

But most importantly, there were seeds to take away and plant before the dry season baked the earth. Young children and old women alike hauled huge 18kg of seeds onto their heads to begin the journey home.

Those who lived too far away were given a lift on one of the Red Cross tractors.

In the bags were maize, millet, carrot, onion, cowpeas and okra seeds, and the tools with which to plant them. Everyone carried away a hoe, a spade and a sickle.

"People have been already preparing the land for planting as we were able to get the message out via the local Red Cross volunteers" explained Mr Holt, who had been living out in the bush for weeks preparing for this day with the help of local activists.

"It is important for people to try to get back to normal life - to try to re-acquire self-sufficiency - and this helps families to do just that."

Catherine Mahoney travelled to Bandua as part of the Red Cross team.

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See also:

01 Mar 00 | Africa
Mozambique: How you can help
02 Mar 00 | Africa
Mozambique: A survivor's story
29 Feb 00 | Africa
Flood aid 'not enough'
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