The Final Delivery

How the World Food Program provides life-saving food assistance and a pathway to self-sufficiency
Jan 23, 2018 1:20 PM ET
Campaign: Thought Leadership
Ash Kosiewicz | World Food Program USA

When Jeremias Ngwenya opened his eyes one morning last March in Mozambique, he remembers exactly how he felt.

He rested upon a soft, white mattress with a faded blue flower print, just underneath a teal-colored mosquito net. Small rays of sun burst through the uneven spaces in the walls of tethered reeds surrounding him.

“When I woke up, I had a lot of will,” he said. “I didn’t sleep yesterday. I hadn’t eaten anything. I had will to thank God. I had a desire to go get the food.”

For the Ngwenya family, today was their final food distribution day from the World Food Program (WFP).

Because of a historic drought in 2016, their plot of rain-fed farmland, managed by his wife Anastacia, had little to offer their two young children Josue and Isabel. Jeremias would sometimes buy a small additional amount of food with his earnings as a cobbler, repairing shoes for a few customers a week.

Now, the potential promise of new plantings of corn and beans was still one month away from being ready to harvest.

With the help of WFP, Jeremias and the small-scale farmers who call the rural community of Macunene home averted catastrophe. They received life-saving food assistance and learned new skills to become more self-reliant. They took steps to build their resilience to climate change, planting drought-resistant seeds, adopting new irrigation techniques and accessing new markets to sell more of what they grow. Many were now looking forward to the future.

Later that morning, Jeremias and Anastacia walked to a large, green savannah about 45 minutes from their home. It was WFP’s main food distribution point, a central location where families in Macunene had come to receive their monthly food ration during the crisis. The distribution was planned to start between 10 and 11 a.m.

Slowly, more families started to trickle through the trees surrounding the open field. Early arrivals found refuge under the little shade in the area, while others took out umbrellas to protect themselves from the searing sun. The grass fields hummed with the chatter of anticipation.

But then word came. There was a problem.

Whatever it takes

Less than a quarter mile away from the food distribution point, as dozens of families waited patiently, a WFP food truck was desperately revving its engine.

Its bed, filled with 100-pound bags of corn and beans as well as smaller boxes of vegetable oil, had met its match: a deeply set caked mud, trapping the truck’s spinning wheels like quicksand. It was a vestige of Macunene’s floods, now scorched by the sun.

Almost 20 men positioned themselves around it, pushing and crying out as the driver inside put the pedal to the metal, smoke billowing from down below. Small sticks and branches were placed under the wheels to give it traction. But with every try, each lasting 20-30 seconds, the truck veered ever so slightly forward before rocking back to its original position.

This was everyday life on the “last mile,” food drop-offs at distribution points distant from reliable public infrastructure. The drought – the culmination of three years of limited-to-no rainfall – put lives at risk because so many rural families depended on rain-fed agriculture to survive.

In a cruel twist, the unexpected return of rain months later only intensified their plight, bringing intense flooding that washed away once dry, barren fields. In some areas, it cut off access to communities in need, making subsequent food deliveries even more important.

Now families in Macunene once again relied on WFP’s ability to circumvent these weather-related obstacles. In the end, unable to unstick the truck from the mud, WFP staff unloaded some of the bags of food from the truck bed into a smaller cargo truck. Two additional trucks followed, bypassing the mud and successfully arriving to the main distribution point.

Two hours behind schedule, the food finally arrived.

Last exit

During the next few hours, each family received their final food distribution, including bags of corn, a portion of beans and vegetable oil. The food would help tide many over until next month’s harvest.

For Jeremias and Anastacia, it would not only help them feed their children. It would give them the sustenance they would need to wake up with purpose every day.

For Joana Tiago Macuácua, a social worker with one of WFP’s local partners in the field, the National Institute for Social Affairs, she knows how critical this food assistance has been for the most vulnerable in Macunene, including the elderly and others with chronic degenerative illnesses.

“Without this food, it would have been a great tragedy,” she said. “It was one of the most important types of assistance for this community. [During the drought], they didn’t have anything to their name. And what food did exist in stores was expensive.”

Back at their house, Jeremias and Anastacia carried their bags of corn into their home, covered by a corrugated tin roof. They placed the food beside their jugs of water, just under a rope with hanging clothes. It would be all they would have until next month, when he and Anastacia planned to harvest their plot of land.

Twenty five years ago, renowned writer Mia Couto wrote about the weather of Mozambique, his homeland. Today, his words echo, as a more extreme cycle of drought, floods and cyclones has put his people on the front lines of hunger.

At noon, the rain stops.
The sun is right overhead, and so vengeful that in an instant it sucks up the excess water from the savannah.
The earth imbibes the flood, squeezing the smallest puddle dry.
As the scene changes so unbelievably, the drought once again prevails.
Where water had held sway but a few hours previously, dust now pervades the air.
One can hear time scraping its bones against the stones.

For now, the rain had stopped. The sun remained overhead, and the floods had long gone. Would a drought once again prevail? Only time would tell, but Jeremias and Anastacia hope they will be ready for the next one.

“I hope we have food next time for my family,” said Anastacia. “I pray that in the future they can find a job and improve their lives.”

It is this same hope – a desire to be self-sufficient, to no longer need food assistance from WFP to survive – that fuels Jeremias.

To know his family has what it needs to not just survive, but thrive.

Photo source: Guido Dingmas

This article originally appeared on World Food Program USA and was republished with permission.