Drought piles on the agony for vulnerable Zimbabwe farmers

Extended periods of below-average rainfall in Zimbabwe and across the wider southern Africa region have led to extreme hardship for poor farmers, who are struggling to feed their families. 

60-year-old father of seven Mtshale said his land ‘resembles a semi-arid desert as there hasn’t been sufficient rain since 2016. The last time I tilled it was in 2017, but even then, I did not harvest anything as the crops all died in the field.’  His fellow Zimbabwean, 39-year-old widow and mother of three Florence had a similar story: ‘All my crops died before maturing, as they had the year before, because of this drought that has plagued our land.’

Mtshale explained: 

‘The situation wasn’t always this bad. Before the drought, when I was farming, I would plant maize and sorghum and this would ensure we could eat three meals a day. In 2016 I was able to get a good harvest as we got good rains. Since then, my land has been dry. Sometimes it rains, but it is not sufficient and the rains stop abruptly, so I can no longer farm.’

Florence added:

‘What makes this dry spell worse is the economic situation of the country because you can’t be able to afford to buy [enough] mealie meal.  Food may be there but you can’t afford.’  

Tearfund’s country director for Zimbabwe, Earnest Maswera, explained the extent of the problem: ‘

6.7 million people – the equivalent of every ninth person in the UK – are going hungry every day in Zimbabwe.  The rainy season has become more and more erratic, and streams and boreholes have frequently dried up. Poor farmers, who mainly depend on rain-fed agriculture, have nowhere else to go for water, and without that they simply can’t grow food to feed their families, let alone provide a surplus for income.  

‘In previous years, land which would have yielded 30-50 bags of maize or groundnuts now barely produces a bag or two,’ Earnest Maswera continued.  ‘This hits family incomes and makes it difficult for parents to send children to school or access medical care. With percentage inflation rates running into the hundreds, staple food prices have doubled since June 2019, so buying food is often not an easy option either.’

Mtshale stands at his now barren farm which he describes as a semi-arid desert. 
Image credit David Mutua/Tearfund.

Mtshale makes wooden tools and utensils to try to make ends meet, but they don’t bring in much money in the current economic climate:

‘On a good day, I would make at most ZWD 30 (£0.06) a day.’  This would buy less than 3 kgs of mealie meal [at 11 Feb 2020 prices], which will last his family little more than a day if they only eat one meal, in the evening. To add to the difficulty, mealie meal has become an increasingly scarce commodity in Zimbabwe.

Tearfund’s global fundraising director, Jane Pleace, said:

‘In more than 50 countries, our local partners are helping people in poverty survive in the short term and become more secure in the long term.  However, the scale of need both in Zimbabwe and across southern Africa is vast, which is why Tearfund is launching a Lent Appeal to call on help from supporters.’

In Zimbabwe Tearfund’s local partners are equipping people like Mtshale and Florence with practical principles that empower them to become self-reliant, for example to work their land using conservation techniques such as mulching and minimal tillage which are proven to increase yields.  Other projects include enabling communities to set up self help groups, which give people access to capital to start small businesses, and teaching churches to envision people to maximise their community’s resources, for example by replenishing forests to minimise soil erosion and moisture loss.

To donate to Tearfund’s Lent Appeal please visit: www.tearfund.org/foodcrisis

Main image copyright: David Mutua/Tearfund

Louise Thomas

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