Zimbabwe’s drought-stricken farmers fear hunger after poor maize harvest

0

* National maize production is expected to fall by 43% this season

* Government orders farmers to sell stock to state

* However, some producers say they barely have enough to eat

By Busani Bafana

BUBI, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Standing next to her traditional wooden maize store in western Zimbabwe, farmer Lindiwe Ncube gestures towards the empty compartments that are hurting her family’s future.

Last June, all five were stacked with sizable cobs of corn ready to be sold. Only one of them is nearly full this year after a mid-season drought ruined the harvest, leaving the 49-year-old with barely enough to feed her own family.

“This season is bad, it’s a season of hunger,” Ncube told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at her home in Alfalfa village in Bubi district, near the country’s second-largest city, Bulawayo.

“The maize cobs are small and I only managed to get four bags (weighing 50 kg each). I won’t sell anything.

Climate change is causing harsher and more frequent droughts in Zimbabwe, threatening the staple crop of maize. At the same time, adaptation efforts are struggling as the country faces an economic crisis aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, farmers in the southern African country have turned to climate-smart practices such as reducing tillage and using water savings. drip irrigationwith certain drought resistant cereals such as sorghum.

However, Zimbabwe’s maize production is still expected to drop by 43% in the 2021-2022 season due to poor rainfall, according to a government assessment released in May.

Farmers were ordered to sell their harvest to the state to replenish national stocks. But many are holding onto their crops due to low yields and low prices offered by the National Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the Commercial Farmers Union said.

Zimbabwean Ministry of Lands and Agriculture officials did not respond to requests from the Thomson Reuters Foundation for comment.

But the GMB and the Lands Department recently announced cash incentives to try to encourage farmers to deliver their maize to the government.

The United Nations World Food Program said in January that more than 5 million Zimbabweans – a third of the population – were going hungry, and fears are growing that the government’s order to sell maize will only make the situation worse. things as people struggle with soaring costs of living. .

“This year there are problems,” said Ncube, who last season sold 50 bags of maize to the GMB for 64,000 Zimbabwean dollars ($174) – enough to pay for a modest new house and school fees for their children.

From now on, “my children will be refused school because I didn’t pay their tuition,” she said. “I will have to do odd jobs like cleaning someone’s garden to raise money.”

BACKGROUND

The government last month asked the GMB to ensure farmers sell their maize crop to the state, after production for the 2021/22 season was projected at 1.56m tonnes, down compared to last year’s record 2.72 million tonnes.

Zimbabwe typically needs 2.2 million tonnes a year for human and animal consumption, and officials said there is grain left over from last year’s harvest.

However, later in May, the Lands Ministry ordered the GMB to crack down on “shadow marketing” – referring to unofficial or black market maize sales – after it received only around 5,000 tonnes of the 30,000 tonnes it he expected to have been harvested.

Farmers who fail to comply and sell their maize to the state risk being prosecuted, fined and having their grain seized, the GMB said.

“Farmers keep what little they have harvested for their own consumption and for livestock because you can’t sell to the GMB when you can’t buy the grain later,” said Winston Babbage, vice president of the Commercial Farmers Union.

The union said many farmers had also been reluctant to sell their maize to the state because of the low price offered – set at Z$75,000 a tonne – and payment delays.

Some farmers put their maize on the black market, where a ton can sell for more than double the public price.

In a bid to fill the loopholes, the GMB said last month that farmers selling maize to the state would receive 30% of their payment in US dollars, seen as more reliable with the Zimbabwean dollar falling due to the inflation.

Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka said the government would offer an incentive payment of US$90 per tonne for prompt delivery to GMB of maize and other grains.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Harare economist Gift Mugano predicted that food security would deteriorate in rural areas if farmers were not allowed to save the maize they harvested.

About half the population lives in extreme poverty according to the latest 2020 government data, he said.

“That means 7.9 million people are living on $1.90 a day and will have difficulty putting food on the table if you take their maize,” Mugano noted.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is struggling to cope with an economic crisis that began under former leader Robert Mugabe.

Inflation soared above 190% this month – its highest level in more than a year – sparking fears of a repeat of the hyperinflation that wiped out people’s savings a decade ago year.

Analysts and aid agencies have warned that rising agricultural costs caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic could lead to crop declines and exacerbate a food crisis not just in Zimbabwe but across the country. Africa.

Zimbabwean farmer Bongani Ndlela spent US$200 on seeds and fertilizer the previous growing season but fears this year’s poor harvest will leave him short of cash to plant a crop next season.

He has harvested four sacks – or 200kg – of maize this season, compared to 104 sacks – or 5,200kg – last year, the father of eight said at his home in Helensvale village in Bubi district.

“I had expected another bumper crop this year, but bad rains dashed my hopes,” the 54-year-old said. “I keep my small harvest for my family’s consumption and there is nothing to sell.”

“This year is going to be tough for me. I will have to sell cattle to take care of my family and pay my bills.

($1 = 367.0000 Zimbabwean dollars)

Originally posted on: https://news.trust.org/item/20220629085818-dbs3o/

(Reporting by Busani Bafana, Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Laurie Goering. (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate))

Share.

Comments are closed.