VICTORIA FALLS — An El Nino stimulated dry spell, characterised by extremely hot and dry weather conditions currently ravaging most parts of southern Africa has left people and livestock in Matabeleland North province in dire straits.
As a crippling drought sets in, the little rains that fell in some parts of the country so far have not been enough to reverse the deteriorating food situation, as farmers in outlying areas lose hope of salvaging anything from the 2015/2016 farming season.
So critical has the situation become that communities are already calling for food aid, as their reserves have dried up.
Those dependant on government and donor-funded food programmes said assistance from these has also become increasingly erratic, a situation which has left many villagers exposed to hunger.
A snap survey in Matabeleland North’s Binga, Hwange and Tsholotsho districts showed that most crops, especially maize, were write-offs.
Those who had planted millet and sorghum still had some hope of harvesting something, if it rains soon.
Matabeleland North farmers have in the past been encouraged to grow small grains owing to the area’s dry conditions.
Alex Nyoni, headman of Ndimakule village in Hwange district, said the biggest fear now was that they might lose all livestock, especially cattle, to the drought.
“None of the rivers have really had inflows and that means we now have a challenge of sourcing drinking water for cattle. There are no grazing pastures at all and if it continues like this we are bound to lose everything,” said Nyoni.
The only option now left for the farmers in the district is to graze their cattle in areas adjacent to Hwange National Park, where predators pose a major threat.
“We have a serious drought and that is compounded by the presence of lions that kill our cattle,” said Nyoni.
Hwange district usually relies on Matetsi Ward which is regarded as its bread-basket because of its black fertile clay soils, but the situation is critical this year because most farmers’ maize crop failed to germinate.
“Those who had planted early had something, but that has all wilted now. In fact, the majority of people had not started planting because there was no rain and to start now even if it rains it won’t help,” said Chief Shana of Jambezi, in matetsi.
Villagers in Dete, one of the driest areas in Hwange district, said they had stopped going to the fields.
Unscrupulous traders are cashing in on the deteriorating food situation and have hiked the price of a bucket of maize from US$5 to between US$7 and US$10, while cattle are selling at as low as US$200, down from around US$400 and US$500 depending on size.
“Most cattle are still malnourished and dealers such as butchery owners are taking advantage. They are now offering as low as US$200 for each beast and because people are desperate and fear losing them to drought they are just selling at that price,” said a Dete villager.
Chief Sikalenge of Binga said people were surviving through exchanging their chickens for mealie-meal. Those along the Zambezi River are relying on selling fish to get mealie-meal.
Lusulu Ward, which is Binga’s bread basket, has not been spared either.
Tsholotsho district administrator, Nosizi Dube, said the district had virtually nothing to talk of as no meaningful rain had been received.
A drive along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway by the Financial Gazette showed that both farms and forests were dry. Villagers in the outlying areas of Hwange town usually survive on selling wild fruits such as baobab, but with these out of season, villagers have been left with no other source of income.
An agronomist in the Ministry of Agriculture in Bulawayo said a crop assessment would be done soon to assess the extent of crop failure.
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