ZVISHAVANE, ZIMBABWE — On the drive up to Elfas Chokudla’s homestead, the fields look dry and lifeless.
“The cobs are make-believe. This is the best we could do this year,” Chokudla says of this year’s maize harvest.
The sun is scorching. He says these conditions remind him of 1992, which he describes as ‘the year of hunger’ in Zimbabwe.
“My area is generally wet, the soil is wet. With good rains we get a bumper harvest,” he says.
But this year, the rains didn’t come. Only sun, hot sun.
Chokudla says he harvested only a fraction of what he did last year. “God will take care of us,” he says.
Madeline Magwenzi, a Provincial Crop and Livestock officer in Zimbabwe’s central Midlands province, says Chokudla is not alone. For many, the 2018-2019 farming season was plagued by prolonged heat and poor rainfall.
Vimbai Chinembiri, GPJ Zimbabwe
According to the Southern African Development Community’s Food Security Early Warning System, known as Agromet, this season had the worst rainfall in nearly four decades. Cattle died and crops suffered.
In nearby ward 17, for example, the community requires 463 metric tons of maize to feed the 3,862 people who live there, according to the ward’s agricultural extension officer. But this year, just 25 metric tons, enough for 200 people, were harvested.
Results are still being tallied for other communities in the area. But across the nation the situation has become acute.
A UN report dated August 7 reported that 38% of the country’s rural population is food insecure and more than 2 million urban residents face hunger. The report coincided with a statement from Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who called the drought a “state of the nation disaster.”
Koti Chikona has been a farmer in the area for decades. This year, he says it wasn’t just maize that suffered. His sorghum and nut crops didn’t do well either.
“Farming is no longer a business here,” he says. “The seasons seem to be becoming too dry. In the past I could easily harvest five metric tons, keep one and a half of that and then sell the surplus. This year I am not even bothered with trying to measure the yield.”
Low crop yields in combination with the country’s ongoing economic crisis are worrying. The cost of basic goods and unemployment rates are both soaring here.
Vimbai Chinembiri, GPJ Zimbabwe
But Cuthbert Mpame, the member of parliament for the Zvishavane-Runde constituency, says the government is stepping in to assist.
“The department of social welfare is giving up to 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of maize per month to all vulnerable households in the area,” he says.
The World Food Programme is also providing seasonal help to vulnerable groups as part of their five-year strategy to alleviate hunger in Zimbabwe.
This might solve for immediate food needs. But farmers like Chikona relied on selling or trading their surplus to get other goods too.
Now, farmers are left with little to do until next season.
Magwenzi says she is working with farmers to preserve the moisture from the late rains and to prepare corn stover, or the leftover leaves, stalks and cobs that are rolled and dried into hay.
“This will ensure that at least the animals have feed,” she says.
Vimbai Chinembiri, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.