By Sheron Tazvivinga
The grim and gloomy wooden shack is what 51-year-old Nomalanga Ndlovu and her two grandchildren call home. Inside the stuffy shack supported by pole and mud, the only sign of food is a pot of porridge.
According to her, this has been their meal for the past three days.
“We have nothing the only meal that I can provide for my grandchildren is porridge,” she says emptily looking at her small field of stunted maize affected by drought.
Ndlovu’s situation is part of a broader challenge faced by women farmers in Silobela who were affected by the El Nino induced drought which affected the 2019/20 crops.
Zimbabwe like the whole sub-Saharan region has been severely affected by drought with women farmers still left counting their losses.
According to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report (ZimVac), 53% of rural women are subsistence farmers who are dependent on a climate-sensitive livelihood such as rain-fed arable farming and livestock.
Due to the recurrent droughts in Silobela, there has been low agriculture productivity and increased livestock deaths.
Maize production has been on the decline since 2016.
Kwekwe District Crop and livestock officer Virginia Mare said that Silobela had been receiving poor rainfall which has been ranging from 306 to 310 mm per year compared to the expected 650 mm per annum.
“The rainfall pattern in Silobela has been low as compared to what is expected. During the 2019/20 season, Silobela received 310 mm of rainfall which is far below than the average amount which is 650mm in the region. As a result, the livestock condition in most parts of Silobela has been negatively affected due to poor grazing quality and lack of surface water. Maize production has also reduced since 2016,” said Mare.
She added that crops in Silobela were affected since the germination stage which resulted in poor crop yields.
“Due to poor rains crops were affected since germination. We had been expecting 44 000 plants per hectare but crop we received this year were less than 48% of the expected harvest per hectare and this has resulted in poor yields and eventually threatening the food security of locals in Silobela,” Mare said.
These severe conditions are felt by people like Ndlovu who said that she lost 10 herds of cattle and all her crops to the 2019/20 drought
“I lost most of my cattle and all my crops to last year’s drought and this has left my family with nothing to sustain us,” she said.
As a result, her son left for South Africa in search of employment. However, Ndlovu said that since last year her son has not sent her any remittances to support her and her grandchildren.
“My son left for South Africa two years ago in search of greener pastures as life was no longer easy however since last year, he has not sent us any remittances,” she said.
This has resulted in Ndlovu shouldering the brunt of collecting firewood for commercial purposes.
Ndlovu spends at least three hours travelling long distances to the forest searching for firewood.
Due to carrying heavy loads of firewood on her head and back, Ndlovu had succumbed to back and head pains.
“I spend three hours looking for firewood in the forest so that I will be able to sell it and buy food for my grandchildren. However, due to the distance I travel and the load I carry on my back and head I am now suffering from backaches and headaches, “she says
Late in 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Hilal Elver said that “Zimbabwe is on the brink of man-made starvation with 60% of the population considered food insecure.”
“In rural areas, a staggering 5,5 million people are currently facing food insecurity,” said Elver.
Amid efforts by the World Food Program (WFP) to provide food for farmers in rural areas affected by drought, families in areas like Silobela continue to starve as they are failing to access food assistance.
In an interview, Kwekwe District Development Coordinator Fortune Mapungu recently said WFP has been failing to meet all the hunger needs in Silobela.
“The WFP has targeted 58000 households while the government through the Social Welfare Department has managed to provide grain to 11 000 households. However, due to the current economic situation in the country government has been struggling to meet all the hunger needs in Silobela, “he said.
In a report in January this year, WFP deputy country director Niels Balzar said that the organisation has since scaled up its humanitarian appeal and required $200 million to feed vulnerable Zimbabweans.
“We are in a big humanitarian situation here and I think this is really fundamental. If you look at the numbers, we are up there with other global humanitarian crisis and we are competing for obviously limited funding. I think that the situation here warrants that we receive necessary support as soon as possible to the tune of US$200million,” Balzar said.
In a bid to reduce food insecurities caused by low agricultural production, Mare urged farmers to practise conservation agriculture.
This is a type of farming system that maintains permanent soil cover and increases water efficiency.
She also encouraged farmers to plant drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, millet, sunflowers and groundnuts.
“We are encouraging farmers to do conservation agriculture as it helps in improving the soil cover. They should also practice water harvesting techniques and intercropping. Intercropping helps in reducing evaporation hence water is not lost so the plant would not be vulnerable. To reduce low maize production and food insecurity farmers are urged to plant drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, millet and groundnuts. This is so since they have a deeper root system unlike maize,” she said.
Adding on to the problem, erratic rains coupled with high temperatures and heatwaves have reduced surface and groundwater in Silobela.
Dried out riverbeds and wells are becoming a common feature in Donsa village a remote area in Silobela.
Most of the small streams have run dry forcing women in the area to walk for long distances in search of the precious liquid.
There is only one borehole in the area which is the only source of clean water in Donsa village.
While most people are sleeping at night, women in Donsa get up during the night to fetch water from the borehole.
The borehole is four kilometres away from most homesteads.
Due to the high demand, the pump gives a limited supply of water forcing women to wait for more than 30minutes to fill a bucket.
To beat her neighbours in the morning, 22-year-old Holiness Shoko starts her day at 3 am.
“I wake up at around 3 am so that I’m able to fetch water for domestic use before there are too many people,” said Shoko.
Travelling long distances in search of water and fuel often means that women have fewer hours to spend on income-generating activities.
“I spent most of the time looking for water and firewood and taking care of my children and grandmother. As I result, I do not have enough time to run an income-generating project to take care of my family,” she said.
To help ease the issue of water shortages, the government has recently embarked on reviving irrigation systems nationwide particularly in rural areas.
Speaking during a Field Day in Sherwood, Kwekwe early March, Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrence Shiri said government, through the Agricultural Recovery Plan, was embarking on resuscitating and increasing irrigation projects to promote agricultural production in rural areas.
“There is need to speed up irrigation development programmes through capacity building for the department of irrigation to effectively develop irrigation systems to boost productivity, food security and promote agriculture as an engine of pro-poor and inclusive economic growth,” he said.
” Currently we are working on resuscitating the Exchange Irrigation Scheme in Silobela which had not been functional which will benefit 900 villagers, ” Mare said.
The Exchange Irrigation Scheme covers 165ha and is located 83km northwest of Kwekwe.
Member of Parliament for Silobela Constituency Manoki Mpofu said the government had put in place plans to drill a borehole in Donsa since last year.
However, due to the current economic malaise in the country, the project has since been abandoned.
” They had been plans by the government to drill a borehole in Donsa as a means of solving the water crisis however that has been put to hold due to the current financial situation in the country, “Mpofu said.
With the government taking a snail pace to drill boreholes in the area, it is not known when Shoko and her neighbours’ predicament will end.
Mpofu also said that the government has set up nonagricultural projects to empower women in Silobela.
“The government started a bakeries program at Crossroads where women are being taught how to bake bread so that they can use the skills they would have acquired to start their bakeries. Most of the women have been invited to apply for loans at the Women’s Bank to start their projects,” said Manoki.
However, most women in Donsa bemoaned government’ s efforts arguing that due to poor road infrastructure and poor access to information they were not able to attend some of these programs.