ONE thing Chivi villagers in Masvingo province would want to quickly forget is the ravaging drought that ate away their livestock in 2012.
REPORT BY MOSES MATENGA
From the hunger of 2008 that forced them to compete for chakata (a wild fruit) with donkeys to the menacing dry spell of 2012-13, Chivi villagers and their counterparts from the southern region do not want, never again, to see their livestock dying from hunger.
Most of the southern parts of Zimbabwe lie in Natural Regions IV and V which are too dry for successful crop production without irrigation, but communal farmers have no other choice, but to grow crops in these areas even without access to irrigation.
Millet and sorghum are the common crops, but maize is also grown. Communal farmers occupy 50% of the area of Natural Region IV and 46% of the area of Natural Region V, according to Zimbabwe Agricultural Research Network (Zarnet).
Zimbabwe’s economy is driven by agriculture and the majority of the rural people depend on it for their livelihood. Moreover, about 80% of the rural population live in Natural Regions III, IV and V where rainfall is erratic and unreliable, making dryland cultivation a risky venture.
The success rate of rain-fed agriculture in Natural Regions IV and V has been known to be in the order of one good harvest in every four to five years, according to Zarnet.
Hundreds of cattle perish each time there is a drought leading many families to give away some of their livestock to other provinces to avert potential disaster.
There is virtually no grazing land in most areas hence their only hope now is the presence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have been helping with projects to arrest a potential disaster.
Councillor Walter Nyambi of Ward 11, Nyevedzanai area in Chivi district, reflects on the drought with a lot of soreness and his face reflects a farmer in deep pain after sending his livestock for safekeeping in Midlands province.
“There was no grazing land and we lost our livestock. The situation is still the same and my cattle, nine in number, are in Mberengwa pasturing for safekeeping. We don’t have the exact figures of the cattle that people lost in this whole village, but the situation was dire with some families losing almost their entire herds,” Nyambi said.
Drought and poor rainfall ravaged communities mostly in the southern parts of the country namely Chivi, Chiredzi, Beitbridge, Mberengwa, Zvishavane and Gwanda causing fear of a severe humanitarian crisis.
Last week, NewsDay, on a tour of the southern regions of Zimbabwe, witnessed first-hand the fear of the villagers who feel they were not ready to face another possibility of their livestock fading.
The timely intervention through a $11,5 million scheme by the UKAid has significantly transformed the lives of villagers in the named areas. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also financed, among other things, stockfeed at half the price.
The villagers pleaded with FAO to keep on financing their project by ensuring they continue getting livestock feed for $7 instead of $15.
Leaders in most of these provinces said that the NGOs must be allowed to operate and save the villagers who, if left without aid would perish with their livestock.
“This is not a political programme and we don’t look at which church one goes to, but it’s just a programme to help the people,” said Nyambi, whose ward was hit hard by the drought.
Nyambi explained how his village was affected and how, “by the grace of God”, FAO came in to assist.
“From our reports, FAO came to our rescue and gave us survival feeding. We sent a proposal and then thought of pen fattening and feeding our livestock. After that things have never been the same again,” Nyambi said.
He said the cattle in his ward had become useless due to hunger and could not even be used for agricultural purposes, but after the intervention by NGOs, a lot of people were now transforming their lives.
In the named areas, villagers lost their cattle in large numbers due to depletion of pasture caused by poor rains over the past two seasons.
Villagers survived on chakata which they shared with donkeys, but their livestock perished in numbers in an episode they would want erased from their memories.
As a result of the drought and neglect by powers that be, farmers, with the help of NGOs have come up with plans to ensure their cattle live healthy and long.
Feedlots have been built by the farmers working with FAO and other organisations and the structure resembles a kraal where cattle are brought in to feed on stocked feeds.
In the same kraal-like structure, cattle will have to drink water and are kept in there for two to three months.
Upon release, most farmers are realising money in selling them for as much as $1 300.
Several villagers, according to a livestock exchange worker in Chivi district, were still resisting the new method out of ignorance, but said they might learn through demonstrations.
“People have little knowledge of this, but we think from our demonstrations, they will understand,” she said.
The feedlot in Chivi accommodates at least 100 cattle that take 60 to 90 days to fatten.
“These regions do not have rains and we came up with the programmes to mitigate hunger. Ward 11 has more than 8 000 people with 1 250 households. We lost cattle to Midlands and Manicaland provinces because of drought.”
In Chiredzi, another area ravaged by the disaster, villagers foresee trouble if NGOs stop funding their projects.
In Chiredzi, FAO assisted in the building of a feedlot that now accommodates close to 80 cattle.
Councillor Mashulani from Chiredzi said at the moment, they had 51 cattle in the feedlot with villagers paying $13 each for feed.
At least 28 farmers in that district are benefiting.
“People are now making money because of this project. Instead of selling their cattle for between $200 and $300, they now sell for $1200 or $1300 after feeding them in the feedlot,” said Mashulani.
According to FAO, Zimbabwe has more than 5,6 million cattle.
In Beitbridge’s Lutumba area, the chairman of Lutumba Livestock Drought Mitigation Programme Lovemore Ngulube said the programme had helped to mitigate disaster.
“Cattle and donkeys became smelly and skinny due to the dry spell and goats were not spared also. Donkeys for example are an important part of our social lives this side, but we lost many due to the drought,” said Ngulube.
According to FAO 70% of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
The organisation has worked with the government to increase farmers’ uptake of conservation agriculture — a no-till system that increases yields while protecting fields from erosion, improving soil quality and mitigating the effects of drought.
In Zvishavane, a farmer identified as Chaya won several awards in last year’s competition sponsored by Christian Care and other donor organisations after an impressive show using the conservation agriculture method.
“I had a good harvest on a small piece of land here. I can tell you that even those who planted on tracts of land did not get as much as I did because of the involvement of these organisations,” he said.
Said FAO on the new farming methods :
“In its initial stages, conservation agriculture is more labour-intensive than conventional methods, so FAO has initiated a programme of training and demonstrations, and introduced labour saving mechanical planters to win over farmers. As a result, Zimbabwe has seen “spontaneous adoption,” meaning farmers see gains on their neighbours’ farms and make the decision to adopt conservation agriculture.”
Due to government’s lack of capacity to address the perennial food challenges both for livestock and human beings, hundreds of farmers have pleaded with NGOs to continue with their programmes.
In Beitbridge’s Chesvingo area, the plea is the same that NGOs continue with their action to provide for families to feed their livestock and avert another potential disaster.
In Gwanda, the plea was even louder with all beneficiaries even composing songs to make FAO continue its assistance to farmers.
In various interviews, the farmers said they were poor and could not afford buying household implements, but ever since the intervention of the NGOs, they are now managing to buy assets.
Most of them were now proud owners of wheelbarrows and ploughs, thanks to intervention by FAO and other NGOs in providing necessary material for their farming projects.
Zimbabwe is one of the many countries in dire need of massive hand-handling as it is currently unable to stand on its own due to financial constraints.
The Zanu PF government attributes the concerns to economic sanctions imposed on the country by the West while observers say it was the result of bad governance that has made the country a perennial beggar.
Last year, World Food Programme said it had started distributing food and cash to one million vulnerable people in Zimbabwe following indications that at least 2,2 million people in mostly drought-prone rural areas will require food aid from October to March this year.