From drylands to fields of flourishing crops, Excellent's former Programmes Officer, Christopher Purnell, reports from a sand dam project in Mozambique...

As we approach the area inhabited by the Wirriam community in Tete province, Mozambique, I am assured its winter despite the roaring sun and 35-degree heat. As the jeep swings around the corner. I see women and children tirelessly irrigating beds of crops. Budding papaya, tomato, cabbage, onion, carrot, and lettuce plants stretch back behind the dam covering the area of three football fields. It is a sight to behold for several reasons.

Prior to sand dam construction, this land was uninviting with no means to support such produce. The vibrant colour and structural finery of the carefully arranged crops is as visually impressive as it is essential. The vegetables grown will not only meet the nutritional needs of the community but provide vital financial income through sales at local markets. I am left in awe of how hard the community works to provide for their families, leaving me with an inherent feeling that I haven’t grafted a hard day’s work in my life.

"Because we now have access to these crops, it will mean that my family will not go hungry."

Inacia Kumbulane (pictured left), Nyungwe community member and farmer, Mozambique.

Equally as striking is the sand dam’s ability to provide the Wirriam community with sufficient water to sustain such vast agricultural work. Funded by the Isle of Man International Development Committee and Jersey Overseas Aid, construction was completed post rainy season in January (2017), with very sparing rains experienced in February. Despite this, the dam has retained enough water for what the community firmly predicts will be enough water to meet agricultural, livestock, and drinking needs until the next rains in November.

Surrounded by flowering tomato plants I gingerly disrupt the work of two Nyungwe women, Inacia Kumbulane and Elisa Siedade, who have been working on the sand dam from conception. I’m told that the pair were sceptical of how their community was going to benefit from the dam during construction, but this scepticism has since been replaced by confidence and optimism that the dam will allow them to provide for their families for years to come.

Elisa spoke of how her grandchildren are her motivation to work and are set to benefit from the income gained selling crops at the local market: "I am expecting to support my grandchildren through their education, also buying their clothes, their food, and medication for malaria." As the mother of six children is it unsurprising that Inacia’s main focus is also how her family will benefit. Inacia tells me of how it was impossible to grow such a diverse range of crops as there simply was no water to do so. She tells me that, "because we now have access to these crops, it will mean that my family will not go hungry." Words that remind me why it is Excellent and I support dryland communities, and how vital sand dams are to sustain the basic human necessities for so many people in rural areas.

What was once a barren area of only Mozambican bush has been transformed into fruitful gardens thanks to the hard work of the community. The Wirriam dam will provide a vital water source for thousands of Nyungwe men, women and children for generations to come and in turn, go a long way to ending the cycle of poverty in the area.

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