NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS MORE THAN 5 YEARS OLD
Perched on the edge of the milky brown waters of the Zambezi River, the former colonial port of Chinde is a place lost in time, with little connection to — or support from — the outside world. Concern is here, working with some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities to help them transform their lives.
“We waited there for almost a week for a steamer to take us to Chinde, a mouth of the Zambezi River. The only way you could find Chinde was to spot two trees on the shore, and if you missed them you had to turn round and go back and wait for the tide. In those days a German tug came out and you were lowered over the side in a sort of large linen basket, and if it was rough you were thrown about inside as you swayed over the water. You then waited in the tug whilst the baggage was taken aboard…On shore we went to the British Concession and stayed in the Mandala Boarding House…Eventually the steamer “Empress” arrived, unloaded, and we were sent aboard. I would have gone home any time after leaving Chinde. It was a terrible journey, terrible.”
Mrs. Grace Snowden recounting her 1912 voyage to Nyasaland (present-day Malawi) via the port town of Chinde in Mozambique; Published in The Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 33, No. 1 (January, 1980), pp. 39-42
In the 1800s, Chinde, a sleepy, sandy, remote town situated along the Indian Ocean coastline, was part of a colonial territory owned by Portugal in what was then called Portuguese East Africa — present-day Mozambique. For the Portuguese, this marshy place was nothing special. But to the British, Chinde was opportunity.
In the late 19th century, Great Britain held a territory adjacent to Portuguese East Africa called British Central Africa — modern-day Malawi. It was a landlocked interior region, and the British could only access it from the sea by going through Quelimane, a city just north of Chinde, and making their way inland through a series of roundabout rivers and tributaries. But then in 1889, British explorer Daniel J. Rankin discovered Chinde.
Chinde provided better, direct access into British Central Africa. By entering through Chinde, ships could offload their British passengers and cargo onto boats and steamers that would navigate the short distance from Chinde’s boggy waters to the Zambezi River, which took them directly to the Shire, a river that led straight into British Central Africa. To secure this route, in 1891, the British signed the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty and leased a portion of Chinde from Portugual, establishing what would be called the “Chinde Concession.” What followed was a three-decade golden period for Chinde as a transit port for British Central Africa, welcoming incoming and outgoing ships bearing goods and people from England via the Indian Ocean.
These golden years would come to a precipitous end in 1922, when Chinde saw its importance sink into a mire as dense as its own sandy shores.
On February 24th, a powerful cyclone hit the mouth of the Zambezi, causing massive destruction to the town. Then, on April 18th, just as meager efforts to rebuild were underway, a new railroad originating at Biera, a coastal city south of Chinde, opened up, carrying passenger trains and freighters straight into British Central Africa with an ease and speed never known by the ships and barges that struggled in Chinde’s shallow waters.
Chinde’s importance had been as a transit hub, and now those days were over. In 1923, the British finally left and cancelled their lease with the Portuguese, ending Chinde’s era under the light of the British imperial sun. The shine of its former glory soon became lost to the shadows of history and time.
Today, the city of Chinde has the aura of a place forgotten by the outside world. The broad main street and elegant connecting avenues are overgrown and virtually traffic-free. There are only a handful of vehicles here, mostly belonging to the local council and Concern. Foot and bicycle are the main modes of transport for the remaining 15,000 or so residents.
The city was without electricity for three decades, the result of conflict and neglect. Today, there is a system in place that powers streetlights and the homes of those who can afford it. Flush toilets sit unused in many houses, and sinks have been stripped of their faucets and piping. Chinde does not a have a functioning water system.
Portuguese colonial buildings have been slowly deteriorating in the tropical climate, among them the offices of the sugar cane company, which was once a major part of the economic engine of the region. Many miles away in the city of Luobo, the giant processing plant, which received Chinde’s sugar cane, is a hulking skeleton — a legacy of Mozambique’s brutal and prolonged civil war.
There is a health center with basic facilities, but for some, the journey to get here is time consuming and arduous. If you are unfortunate enough to fall seriously ill, the challenges you face in accessing high-level healthcare are great.
Chinde has a market where small farmers from the surrounding area can sell their wares. One traditional crop is coconut, but in recent years the arrival of lethal yellowing disease has devastated the plantations of Zambezia province, depriving many poor families of a source of income.
For kids in a place like Chinde, educational opportunities are often limited. There is a high school, but the families of most elementary school students in outlying areas do not have the means to get them to the city or to pay school fees.
In short, Chinde is a place lost in time, with little connection to — or support from — the outside world.
But Concern is here, working with some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities to help them transform their lives.
Concern in Chinde
While Chinde is remote, it is far from the end of the line, and it is once again serving as a transit hub. But instead moving commercial goods and passengers for Britain, Chinde is now a launch pad for the Concern team to reach extremely isolated communities scattered across the Zambezi River and its tributaries. Most of them can only be accessed by boat.
With both flooding and drought commonplace and the soil sandy, the environment along the Zambezi River can be very challenging to farm. It is also not uncommon for families to have their homes and everything they owned and planted washed away by floods during the rainy season, which runs from January to March.
Most of the people who live in these communities are subsistence farmers. If crops fail, they have nothing to eat, let alone sell, making each and every grain of rice precious. Even successful harvests often do not last families for the year, leaving many with little to eat from December to March as they wait for their next crops to mature.
However, the way of farming often does not reflect the realities of their environment, often because new methods have not been introduced and they do not have the resources to buy new seeds and tools.
This is where Concern Worldwide’s farmer field schools come in. The format is simple — bring farmers together around test plots where they can learn new techniques for farming rice and how to grow other crops, from lettuce to beans, tomatoes, and sesame. To help reduce food spoilage, Concern also trains farmers to build storage containers where harvests are better protected.
Even slight adjustments can make a big impact in terms of farmers’ yields. For example, optimal spacing between rice seeds can lead to up to three times more rice. Concern is also helping farmers grow two kinds of rice — a short-cycle that is ready in March and a long-cycle that is ready in April — so that farmers have two harvests instead of just one.
For some, the farmer field schools catalyzed a new income stream. Sold for its seeds, which are used in a variety of foods from hamburger buns to oil, sesame is proving to have enormous potential as a cash crop for poor farmers in rural Mozambique.
Gastene Nhamadinho, 46, who lives in Bento, a small community on the banks of the Zambezi, started producing sesame three years ago through Concern’s farmer field schools — a shift that he says more than tripled his income. At the time we visited Gastene, he expected his harvest in 2014 to bring in about $810, his highest earnings yet.
The farmer field schools may not make Chinde the commercial hub it once was, but for people like Gastene, they can be the catalyst that moves them, bit by bit, out of extreme poverty.