FRAIL-looking Esnath Mapato does not remember when she last had three meals a day.
Her face is gaunt and pale. The 52-year-old now makes-do with just one meal a day.
Mapato lives under Chief Neshuro in the drought-prone district of Mwenezi in Masvingo with her six grandchildren.
“My family and I are suffering. We eat once a day. Often, my poor grandchildren pick wild fruits from the bush and that’s what they live on because I cannot afford to put food on the table,” said Mapato, whose meal consists of sadza and green leafy vegetables.
Life has become so unbearable for Mapato that she cannot only provide descent meals for her grandchildren, but also pay for their school fees.
In the 2014/2015 agricultural season, Mapato, after her hard work, only harvested one bag of sorghum — just enough for one month’s consumption.
Mwenezi is the largest district in Masvingo province, a drought-prone area known for cattle ranching with a total area of 1 315 032 hectares.
The area receives fairly low annual rainfall of between 450-650mm and is subjected to periodic droughts and severe dry spells.
Mapato is one of the villagers in Ward 5, with a population of over 10 000 people, most of them living on just one meal a day.
She, like most people living in the southern and western parts of the country, is now looking for salvation from relief organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and other aid agencies to avert starvation.
The cash-strapped government has extended a begging bowl to development agencies and the private sector to avert a food crisis.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa in June said US$300 million was required to import food to cover grain deficit and see the country through to the next harvest.
Zimbabwe needs about 1,5 million tonnes of maize a year for consumption, but only produced 800 000 tonnes were produced this year. The country is expected to import 700 000 tonnes of maize to avert food shortages after a poor 2014-2015 agricultural season caused by erratic rains.
“I am therefore calling upon all our partners, from development agencies and the private sector, to assist us in providing the necessary resources to ensure that none of the communities nationwide is exposed to hunger and starvation,” Mnangagwa said.
According to the latest crop assessment report released by government, the country’s maize harvest dropped by 49% as compared to last year.
Zimbabwe, which used to be a net exporter of food, has been relying on food hand-outs from aid agencies since President Robert Mugabe embarked on a chaotic land reform programme in 2000, reducing the country from being the bread basket of Southern Africa into a basket case.
Out of 1,5 million people in dire need of food aid countrywide, WFP is targeting to feed 850 000 people, United States Agency for International Development 250 000 and the British Department for International Development 300 000.
The erratic rains experienced this year affected most provinces and Masvingo was one of the hardest hit provinces. Only Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central provinces had surplus maize, the country’s staple food.
Last week on Wednesday, WFP and the Japanese embassy answered Mapato and Mwenezi villagers’ prayers.
About 500 people, who had converged at Tsvimborume Dam, among them Mapato, were engulfed in dust as a convoy of 20 vehicles arrived laden with food relief. The young and old broke into song and dance in the sweltering heat.
Each family received food handouts consisting of 50 kilogrammes of maize-meal, five litres of cooking oil and 10kg of beans.
Not only did the visitors bring food, but they were also there to commission Tsvimborume Dam.
The WFP, together with the Japanese embassy, constructed a dam for the Mwenezi community in Neshuro under the productive asset creation programme to provide long-term socio-economic development aid to the community.
Japan provided US$1,5 million for the food handouts, dam reservoir and one hectare garden for each family, which is expected to ease hunger and starvation in the area.
The dam brings hope to the villagers who can now not only grow vegetables for consumption, but also for sale.
After losing his job in 2008 as a cane cutter at Triangle sugarcane plantation where he worked for nine years, Jethro Phikinini (53), is overjoyed because he now has water to start market gardening.
Clad in a worn out royal blue work suit and dirty gumboots, Phikinini says he used to survive on part-time jobs getting US$50 per month. In the 2014-2015 season, he only harvested four bags of millet.
“I struggle to pay school fess because I have no money. I normally depend on selling surplus from the farm produce, but this year it has been difficult. This reservoir and garden will make my life better as I can now plant vegetables for sale. My livestock will now have a source of water,” said Phikinini, a father of five aged two, five, eight, 11 and 14.
Phikinini said from his livestock of 10 cows and 15 goats, he now only has a cow and a goat left as the others died due to the persistent drought in the area.
He is struggling to pay US$40 for his child in secondary school and US$20 for each of his three kids in primary school.
Grade 7 drop-out Wellington Moyo (15), clad in a tattered t-shirt and track suit bottom, could not hide his joy when he received the food hand-out.
“We harvested three bags of millet and there was no money to buy food. But now with this food and dam, hopefully my family can now pay for my school fees and I can finally complete my primary education and go to secondary school and be someone in life,” said a gleeful Wellington.
Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe Yoshi Hiraishi said the Food for Assets Programme seeks to strengthen the power of resistance of the local community to drought.
WFP country director Eddie Rowe also said besides averting hunger to communities with the provision of food hand-outs, his organisation was now focussing more on the productive asset creation programme.
He said the WFP is mobilising US$56 million for food relief during the lean season.