Villagers in some parts of Bikita in Masvingo Province have resorted to eating tree bark, cooked pawpaws and bananas because of the massive food shortages in the district.
Most villagers did not harvest enough food due to the severe drought which hit some parts of the country in the last agricultural season.
Provinces in the southern parts of the country such as Matabeleland South, Masvingo, parts of Manicaland and Midlands were most affected.
In interviews, chiefs and villagers from Bikita said the food shortages were so pronounced that some people were going without food while those with grain reserves were resorting to a meal a day.
“Things are so difficult, there is no food. Quite a number of people harvested nothing from their fields and we are now resorting to one meal a day. In the mornings and afternoons, those with pawpaws or bananas cook them for breakfast,” said Loyce Mumera from Masunda Village.
“If you peel a raw pawpaw, boil it and add salt, it becomes more or less like a pumpkin. That’s what we are having for breakfast. We are also eating barks from certain trees to supplement our diet.”
Chief Nerumedzo confirmed the food shortages, adding that the situation was worsened by the halting of assistance from humanitarian organisations.
“We have many rivers in this area and people have thriving gardens. In terms of relish, we are alright but the problem is that a morsel of sadza is hard to get.
We don’t have grain because most of the crops were wiped out by the drought,” he said.
“For breakfast, most people are cooking vegetables and having them with tea. Others are cooking raw bananas and having them for breakfast. They taste almost like sweet potatoes if cooked. The situation is very desperate, we need help.” Chief Nerumedzo said the fields donated by the community to grow food meant to help orphans and vulnerable people such the elderly and disabled were not spared by the drought.
“I have nothing to feed the vulnerable,” he said.
Chief Marozva, whose area stretches from Rurwi to Nyika, also said the area under his jurisdiction had been hard hit by the drought.
“Most people have exhausted the food reserves they had and already some people have come to me for assistance. I have given them grain, but the problem is that we harvested very little from the fields meant to assist the vulnerable. The number of people reporting shortages is increasing because most people have exhausted their supplies,” he said.
The villagers said in order to have food on the table, most people were resorting to work at farms in neighbouring areas in return for maize.
“There are also a number of people who walk to institutions such as Silveira Mission and Pamushana High School to scavenge for left-overs. When one is full, they wash off the soup on the sadza and carry it home for others to eat,” said Rugare Zvikuva of Marozva Village.
“The most affected by the hunger are the children. For some time they were getting porridge at school but the organisations which were providing assistance have stopped the programme. It used to motivate children because they knew that they would get some food, but now they are going without food,” he said.
It is estimated that over 1,3 million people face starvation by March next year unless drought alleviating programmes are put in place.
The government on Thursday launched the 2010-2011 National Food Deficit Mitigation Programme aimed at feeding the hungry.