FARMERS in Zimbabwe face a serious food shortage due to insufficient rainfall, Tearfund warned on Tuesday. The charity’s country director, Earnest Maswera, warned that 6.7 million people were going hungry every day.
Since 2016, erratic rainfall levels in the country have led to streams and boreholes drying up, leaving farmers with no means to access water, and their land too arid to grow food. Many cannot grow a surplus to provide an income, which, combined with rising inflation leading to food price increases, has meant that many families cannot afford to buy food, access medical care, or send their children to school.
Mr Maswera suggested that uneven levels of rainfall were largely due to climate change: “When I was a young boy, my family would be able to produce 40 to 50 bags of maize. Now, on the same piece of land, it’s very difficult for us to get four or five bags. . .
“The time that rains normally come is the end of October to November, but we had a dry spell and rains came very late; so it was difficult for farmers to know when they should be planting and harvesting. We have also seen sources of water, even streams, that have become just a trail of sand.”
Cyclone Idai, which hit Zimbabwe as well as Mozambique and Malawi (News, 21 March 2019), meant that soil had been washed away.
Asked about solutions to the food shortage, Mr Maswera spoke of the promotion of “simple but effective agricultural techniques” as a core part of Tearfund’s strategy, designed to encourage “a return to effective ways of producing on a small piece of land the size of a basketball pitch and retaining moisture through that process”.
“We are not talking about mechanised farming, but people in rural areas and marginalised communities,” he said.
Part of the charity’s strategy has also been to teach farmers a method of conservation agriculture known as “Farming God’s Way”, which seeks to teach farmers low-tech skills to obtain the highest yield from their land, including making their own compost and fertiliser.
Among the stories shared by Tearfund is that of Mtshale, a 60-year-old father of seven, who described how his land “resembles a semi-arid desert. . .
“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.”