Tica, Mozambique – With the aid of a long walking stick, Joao Anthonio waded through floodwaters to check on his maize field which was submerged after Cyclone Idai crashed into central Mozambique.
After a few metres, he stopped and shook his head in disbelief at the calamity.
He muttered a few words to himself as he walked back to the tarmac road to begin the drive to his tent at one of the makeshift camps for thousands uprooted from their homes by flooding in Sofala province.
“I was hoping the floodwaters would have receded so I can try and salvage a bit of my crops. The water level is still very high and I don’t think the crops will survive,” the 52-year-old farmer told Al Jazeera.
“Unfortunately, I can’t do anything to release the water. My farm is my life. I hope I don’t completely lose my source of livelihood,” he said in a low tone as he fought back tears.
Anthonio inherited the 12-hectare farmland 15 years ago from his late father.
With a wife and four children to feed, he is not sure how he can continue to rely on external help to take care of his family for the next year.
“I have been farming for several years and donating food to poor families. It’s so sad I’m now living off handouts,” Anthonio said.
He is among thousands of farmers who have collectively lost about half a million hectares of farmlands to the floods.
The central region is Mozambique’s food basket. Its farm produce has played a vital role in cushioning the country’s food shortage. The government imports 100,000 tonnes of maize annually, according to the agriculture ministry’s records.
Most of the population in this region are subsistence farmers who rely on the crops they grow to survive. They cannot reap the crops which are due for harvest in April and May and will have to wait for the floodwaters to recede.
There are few signs of government assistance in the affected communities, which lack basic amenities like clean water, roads and electricity despite their key role in feeding the country. The floods have further worsened conditions.
Livestock, food storage spaces and grain stores were also washed away, while mud houses were destroyed and some households lost all their personal belongings.
“I left my home with only the clothes I had on. No one cared about anything else but to save the lives of family members,” Kubano Tomas told Al Jazeera.
Cyclone Idai has left more than a million facing imminent food shortages. The UN estimates that 1.85 million people are in urgent need of emergency humanitarian assistance.
“This is a major emergency,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Gerald Bourke told Al Jazeera in Beira, the major hub for coordination of relief interventions.
Humanitarian organisations use boats and helicopters to drop food for people stranded in inaccessible communities [Marco Frattini/WFP]
“So many people have gone without food and other essentials for two weeks now. We are in the emergency phase of just trying to keep people alive with food,” Bourke said. “The emergency phase we are looking at is basically three months.”
The WFP and other humanitarian organisations have been distributing rice, biscuits and cereals to communities they can reach by road while they use boats and helicopters to drop food for people stranded in inaccessible communities.
“We are looking to scale up to 1.2 million people within the next seven days and we are ultimately hoping to help 1.7 million who need emergency food assistance,” Bourke said.
Mozambique has a child malnutrition rate of 42 percent – most of them under five-years-old, according to official records.
At least 598 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced after the cyclone made landfall, causing catastrophic flooding. Most of the survivors are in camps in the port city, Beira.
Some of those displaced are school children who are being encouraged to go back to class with a meal programme.
The World Central Kitchen (WCK), a humanitarian agency is behind the project and is also providing free meals for about 10,000 displaced people daily.
“We are developing intelligent targeted ways of reaching affected communities like hospitals, camps and schools within Beira city,” WCK spokesman Sam Bloch told Al Jazeera.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi recently vowed to provide 100,000 agricultural tools and 1,000 tonnes of seeds for short cycle crops to farmers. But the promise has yet to be fulfilled.
Some farmers are not sure when the pledge will be redeemed.
“We are used to government promises which are not fulfilled. I won’t be disappointed if we don’t receive the seeds,” Anthonio said.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation and other humanitarian agencies have promised to assist the farmers with seeds which can be planted when the floodwaters recede, targeting an October, November harvest.