Hunger grips Midlands province
WADZANAI Maunganidze of Takavata village, Gokwe South, wakes up at 05:00 hours and dashes into a forest near their homestead in search of wild fruits to feed her six-member family that can only afford one meal per day.
Her story is typical of everyday life in both Gokwe South and North districts, where hunger has visited villages in a big way following perennial droughts, which have left villagers with barely enough to sustain themselves.
As the 2015/16 summer cropping season passes the halfway mark, yet another devastating drought looms owing to insufficient rains received in the area as the El Nino weather phenomenon takes its toll on southern Africa.
Hunger is threatening not only the two Gokwe districts, but the entire Midlands province where villagers are surviving on baobab fruits (mawuyu), among other wild fruits because the price of staple maize cereal is now beyond the reach of many.
In the Midlands’ Mberengwa district, the situation is also equally dire after the area failed to receive any meaningful rainfall since the onset of the rainy season.
The situation is now so bad that most of the villagers in Mberengwa have not yet planted any crops.
The few that dry planted crops are devastated as their crops have permanently wilted.
“We dry planted our crop but look, there is no rain and our plants are wilting,” said one villager, who added: “We would be lucky to get anything this year as you can see for yourself that some crops have not even germinated.”
As disaster stalks communities, traders are exploiting desperate villagers by selling a bucket of maize for as much as US$20.
The traders, coming from other provinces such as Mashonaland West, where there is still a bit to spare, are also engaged in barter trade with cotton, which is grown in abundance in the area.
“Life is difficult here because there is barely anything to eat except wild fruits. We only cook sadza once a day because our mealie meal supplies are dwindling,” Maunganidze told the Financial Gazzete during its recent visit to the area.
The 20-year-old carries the burden of searching for food for her siblings following her mother’s death in 2012.
“My siblings look up to me to bring food on the table, but I have since run out of ideas. Last season, we hardly harvested enough to sustain us for six months,” an emotional Maunganidze said.
The baobab fruit she harvests from the forests is used to make porridge for her young siblings who are still in primary school.
During the festive season, Gokwe villagers had very little to cheer about due to food shortages.
Although most Gokwe farmers are dumping cotton farming for small grains, to ensure food security, the heavens have not been kind to them, while government seems clueless on how best to save the situation.
“We have petitioned our Member of Parliament to help us with food, but nothing has been done yet. Some non-governmental organisations which used to help us in times of drought have since left and we are doomed this year,” a Gokwe South village head lamented to the Financial Gazette.
“We need drought relief soon because the situation is getting out of hand. Most school children are dropping out of school due to hunger as they cannot concentrate on their studies,” he said.
Gokwe, once a thriving district where cotton farming activities were the pride of its people, has fallen in status over the years in the wake of tumbling world cotton prices.
Farmers have also been shortchanged by government as they have gone for months without receiving payment for their cotton.
Gokwe used to produce the world’s best cotton, but hunger is stalking the once thriving district such that the Methodist Church had to step in some areas with drought relief.
The Methodist Development and Relief Agency (MeDRA) has been engaging in drought relief programmes in most parts of Gokwe.
Mike Maketho, MeDRA project head, says the organisation’s interventions have so far helped mitigate the effects of consecutive droughts through fish farming, kapenta trading, goat rearing, piggery and poultry.
“The interventions we have had in Gokwe have transformed livelihoods and this year we are looking at increasing the benefitting groups from eight to 24 and give them the necessary support so that they can be self sufficient,” said Maketho.
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