Hunger stalks rural communities

WHILE cabinet ministers demand upmarket residential stands, top-of-the-range vehicles and hefty financial exit packages towards the end of the inclusive government, villagers still continue struggling as nothing much has changed for them since the advent of the coalition arrangement in 2009.

Report by Faith Zaba

As the country drifts towards the constitutional referendum next week on March 16 and crucial general elections likely in July, the Zimbabwe Independent visited rural areas to see and hear what people are saying about the social conditions under the coalition government.

Although general conditions changed after the adoption of the multi-currency system following the devastating hyperinflation period, for Clever Munengani, a Murehwa villager, and his five siblings and six orphaned nieces and nephews nothing much has changed — they live on only less than US$3 a day.

Over and above that, the Munengani family is among the Uzumba and Murewa villagers in Mashonaland East facing severe food shortages after recent incessant rains destroyed their crops.

Driving along the Murewa-Mutawatawa road, a sorry sight unfolds as crops on most communal farms are a virtual write-off after torrential downpours from December 2012 to February which flooded villages, including homes and fields.

The 22-year old Munengani, who was orphaned several years ago, said the family was likely to harvest one tonne of maize that should last them at least six months. After that, he said they would be forced to sell one beast for about US$600 which they would use to buy food and pay school fees for 10 schoolgoing members of the family.

Munengani and his 26-year-old brother dropped out of school when their parents died several years ago. Clever was only in Form 1 then.
Every year, the Munengani family sells two cows to feed itself, but this year, the situation is dire because of poor crop yields.

“There was too much rain this year. A lot of people planted their crops late and they have been destroyed. It is going to be a year of hunger,” he said.

“We have six cows left now and each year we sell two cows to raise money for food and school fees. This year is going to be even more difficult for us without enough grain to last us the year. We live on sadza, pumpkin leaves and other green leafy vegetables. We eat meat once in a while when we have a little bit of extra cash.”

Communal farmers in Uzumba have not been spared either.

Emily Murehwa of Uzumba was distraught as she stared at her rain-destroyed crop, failing to imagine how she was going to feed her six children this year. She is a widow whose husband died in 2004.
She normally sells her maize surplus to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and uses the proceeds to pay school fees and buy food for her family, but there is none of that this year.

“I didn’t know that maize can rot in the field because of too much rain. Just look at my maize; I just don’t know what I am going to do,” she said as tears trickled down her cheeks.

“How am I going to feed my children? I don’t have any other source of income. I can’t even rely on government hand-outs because the distribution is sporadic and only very few people get the hand-outs.”

Her only alternative would now be to engage in the food-for-work programme being offered by some non-governmental organisations.

Under the food-for-work progamme, each participant receives a 10kg bag of maize-meal, cooking oil, kapenta fish, soya portions, beans and bulgar wheat, but this varies depending on how large the family is.

The heavy rains in Murehwa, Uzumba, Maramba, Pfungwe, Buhera and other parts of the country, coupled with dry spells in some areas like Masvingo and the Matabeleland provinces, have led to a poor harvest in Zimbabwe, and aid agencies expect the number of people facing starvation to rise to more than 1,7 million by end of this month.

Grain milling companies say their current stocks will not last until the new harvest season in May-June. The Agricultural Marketing Association has warned government of the looming crisis.

The grain milling industry has also indicated it requires about 150 000 metric tonnes of maize between now and the new harvest to meet consumers’ needs. Sources at the GMBZBCsaid it only has 92 000 metric tonnes of maize in its reserves and has stopped maize sales to save for the grain loan scheme.

The GMB, however, claims it has enough grain to feed the nation for the next six weeks. GMB general manager Albert Mandizha said: “We have six weeks cover of grain and plans to import will be out in two weeks’ time.”

Zimbabwe needs an estimated 2,2 million tonnes of maize each year and the United Nations has appealed for more than US$131,4 million in assistance for Zimbabwe. More than 80% of this appeal would be for food assistance.

The rains, which hit places like Murehwa and Uzumba, left some of the fields with deep gullies and washed away top dressing fertiliser. In most fields, the maize crop was less than a metre high and most communal farmers were not able to weed their crops due to flooding.
Faith Zanga — a mother of two from Mudzambasekwe village in Uzumba — said she lost her maize crop and groundnuts due to the heavy rains which flooded her fields.

“My maize crop is about 50 centimetres high and it has not tasselled. I don’t think I will get even a 50kg bag,” she said.

Asked how she is going to survive until the next planting season, she said: “I will barter trade clothing for maize.”

Zanga has a vegetable stall and earns a profit of US$10 a week during month-ends and US$5 mid-month.

“It is going to be a very tough year. I am already struggling to feed my children — one in Form 3 and another in Grade 3. For breakfast, we normally have tea and rice. On rare occasions, we have home-made bread and tea,” she said.

“I can’t remember when I last had lunch. For dinner, we normally have sadza with pumpkin leaves or dried green vegetables. During this period of the year, we also pick mushrooms, which are our delicacy.”

Asked how often her family eats meat, she chuckled and said: “Meat; that is a luxury. It’s been months since I last bought meat. I just can’t afford it. The sad part about this food crisis is that even widows like us don’t get anything from the government hand-outs. As far as they are concerned, I own a business and they say I am OK.”
Seventy-eight-year old James Nyakabau has also been waiting for a response from the department of social welfare.

“There is hunger everywhere. We are not harvesting anything this year. We had too much rain and our soils are sandy. I will be lucky to get 100kg of maize,” he said.

“Last year I applied for assistance from social welfare and I am still waiting for them to deposit money into my POSB account. I benefitted once from the food hand-outs, but the problem is the distribution is erratic and the selective.

“To make matters worse, I have lost my two children and grandchildren are still in school. I have no one to turn to. I am worried we will starve this year.”