Villagers facing a serious food crisis are now being forced to trade their livestock for mealie-meal and other foodstuffs, NewsDay has learnt.
Dealers from as far as Gweru are flocking into the area with bags of grain which they are now bartering for livestock as the crisis deepens.
According to the villagers, a beast worth around $300 on the open market can be exchanged for as little as five bags of grain at a time the Grain Marketing Board is purchasing a tonne of maize for $210.
Fears are high that the lopsided deals would affect the district’s efforts to restock its depleted herd and would also leave the villagers poorer.
Villagers said businesspeople, mostly butchery operators, were taking advantage of the food crisis in the area by hoarding maize and ferrying it to Silobela district where they exchanged the grain for livestock.
“The deals are far from being fair because people who are starving are being forced to sell a beast worth around $300 for maize five bags of maize worth less than $100.
The villagers do not have many choices because if they don’t buy the maize from these sharks, they would have to survive on mangoes and wild fruits,” said Wellington Ngirazi of Donza village.
Ngirazi said there was no room for negotiations with the dealers who have a “take-it-or- leave-it” approach.
“There is little room for negotiations. If you try to negotiate, other villagers in a worse situation with starving children would just jump at the opportunity,” he said.
Another villager, Lydia Dube, said some of the villagers were driving their cattle to a nearby business centre where they engage in barter trade for maize with the butchery owners.
“Businesspeople are taking advantage of the crisis and some are driving from as far as Gweru to take up the cheap beasts in exchange for the maize,” said Dube.
She added that it was very difficult to sell the beasts in hard currency in the rural areas owing to the scarcity of cash.
“Money is scarce here. If you have a $5 note people here will look at you as a rich person. You can ask grocery shop owners and they will tell you that this foreign currency thing is difficult to come by in our area,” she said.
Efforts by Zanu PF leaders in the area to force government to act have amounted to nothing. No grain deliveries have been made since Midlands governor Jaison Machaya toured the area in December promising villagers food.
Losing Zanu PF candidate for Silobela parliamentary constituency seat Douglas Tapfumaneyi confirmed villagers were being forced to exchange livestock for maize owing to the food crisis.
“People are using all means necessary to feed their families and will not stop to think of the value of their livestock,” he said.
Following poor rains last season, Silobela recorded a poor harvest and villagers have been surviving on food handouts from various NGOs who have since pulled out following the onset of the rains.
Since the withdrawal of aid, a serious food crisis hit parts of Silobela, especially Donza where villagers are reported to be going for days without proper meals.
Tapfuma said the government was still mobilsing stocks which would be delivered to families in Silobela within the next month.
“Government through the office of the governor is in the process of mobilsing support to ensure that food is brought to Silobela. I am sure by next month the situation will have improved,” he said.
In an earlier interview Silobela MP Anadi Arnold Sululu, attacked the dealers whom he accused of using the food crisis to amass wealth from desperate villagers.
“We need to help each other, this behaviour of people attempting to acquire wealth from a crisis should not be tolerated,” said Sululu.