Melita Fabio’s destiny and that of her family are as deeply interwoven with the weather as Mozambique’s lush, humid forests are interwoven with thick vines.
Her rail-thin body is evidence of a life lived with little food. Melita is not sure how old she is and hazards a guess – that she’s in her late fifties. She was born in a rural area, where Inhassoro was the nearest town. Her parents subsisted as grain farmers. She says she enjoyed working in the fields with them to cultivate the land. “Farming was easier then,” she says. “We could rely on rain, but now, we cannot.” Mozambique is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world and climate change and drought have scarred her life as savagely as it has the landscape.
She racks her brains to think of happy times. She likes to dance the samba, a dance where the people of her tribe put beads on their legs, dance and play the drums. Life once was briefly happy. When she got married, she and her husband decided to move and settle in Vilankulo. But life there was too hard, as they couldn’t find work and they moved to Pambarra.
Melita is well acquainted with grief. She has lost almost all of her family. She had nine children who suffered under-nutrition, which magnified the effect of disease and they died very young. Only two of her children reached adulthood – her son Chiko, aged 31 and his sister. Her husband died in a car accident in 1997. Her daughter died of Aids, Melita says, matter of factly. Now she is raising four grandchildren. Chiko’s life has been no less traumatic. His wife deserted him and he had to bring up his two children on his own.
Melita has a plot of ancestral land or machava on which she grows maize. She says she farms differently to the way her parents did, as she irrigates. Melita also finds firewood, which she and Chiko sell in Pambarra. They also burn wood to sell as charcoal. Chiko says that life is a little easier now than it was for his mother and father as there are more choices about making a living. She is not sure of whether life is any better. She says that because it is such a tiny family, the important aspect to life is that they support one another.
But in place of despair, there is hope – in the form of the JAM small commercial farm project. Since November the clearing of the land has been ramped up in preparation as the pivot irrigation has already been bought. JAM is starting with four hectares with ten pivots, each one assigned to a farming family. One of these families has been profiled and chosen – the family headed by her. JAM’s plan is for this project and others to help to improve food security and sustainable agricultural growth.
Melita understands pivot irrigation because it has been explained to her. But it seems she has weathered too many storms for her life for her to dare to hope for anything better. With all of her energy is devoted to just staying alive, aspiring to a better future is a luxury. She can scarcely believe that this project is ever going to see the light of day – it seems just like blue sky dreaming. She says that only once she sees her first harvest – she’ll believe it.