“IF we get rains one more time, then we are good for this season, and we will have just enough to eat,” an old man says, as he turns around to gaze at the vast field of the beautiful ripening maize crop that he has laid his hopes on, as Zimbabwe faces a crippling drought.
BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
With a hint of pride and contentment, Sekuru Mushunje gently rubs his frazzled hand on a budding maize cob.
“This cob is almost ripe and this means we have survived the drought,” he says.
And with some apparent anxiety, he turns to point at the sky: “It all depends on God’s decision to make it rain one more time.”
The excitement and anxiety that Sekuru Mushunje has is not his alone, as many villagers in Chitowa are staring at the prospects of escaping the El Nino-induced drought that has affected the country and the entire Southern African region.
Their story is of a maize crop that, despite receiving generally limited rainfall, thrived.
The effects on El Nino to Southern Africa cannot be overstated, and the joy of Chitowa villagers cannot be underrated, as they are among the few lucky ones to have a thriving crop.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional co-ordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri, “the region faces a predicament, which calls for swift and co-ordinated action”.
“In a region where 70% of the population depend on agriculture, the consequences are dire. Such a sharp decline in production is likely to result in increased malnutrition and hunger,” he said after a meeting convened by Sadc, in partnership with FAO and the World Food Programme.
Southern Africa faces the second successive drought season after the 2014-2015 one decimated crop yields in almost all the countries in the region — the total grain production for 2014 was 43 million tonnes compared to 33 million tonnes the previous year, according to FAO.
“The rain was not good enough, but it came at the right time to help our maize crop grow,” Sekuru Mushunje says.
In addition to getting sufficient rainfall, some villagers in Chitowa could be the example of self-sustained rural life, as several have adopted some simple mechanisms to generate their own clean energy and water, as well as use locally available resources for their communal farming methods.
One of the homesteads, which belongs to the Dune family, runs entirely on solar power, and uses water from a well for its livestock.
The solar power, from a panel that hangs high on a wooden pole, is used for lighting and other electrical needs.
“We have rabbits, chicken — domestic and commercial — and cattle and we try to use clean energy like solar to light up chicken runs,” a Dune family member says.
Further observations revealed that several homesteads have set up low-cost, but effective solar power systems, which if enhanced and subsidised by government, could see some rural areas entirely depending on solar energy, instead of the scarce and expensive hydro-electricity.
President Robert Mugabe last year hinted that government will introduce a solar power system to deal with the country’s energy problems, but the programme appears to have suffered still-birth, as villagers independently instal their own solar systems
A government public solar power programme in the early 1990s failed amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds for implementation.
But, even without any incentives from government, Chitowa villagers continue to adopt clean energy initiatives, with the use of cow dung as fuel for cooking fires.
“This is to avoid continual destruction of our beautiful forests,” another villager says.
Endowed with a wide variety of indigenous trees, forests and grazing lands, villagers are intent on preserving them.
Traditionally, cow dung has been used only in situations of severe firewood shortages, as the most popular fuel has been wood, derived mostly from indigenous trees.
Trees that are commonly found in rural areas are indigenous types like musasa, munhondo, among others, which can take decades to grow to maturity.
Although it is illegal to cut a tree, according to Sekuru Mushunje, the major reason why many of the villagers in Chitowa are using non-wood fuels is the self-derived conscience against cutting of trees that take long to grow.
According to the Forestry Act, it is illegal to damage or cut down any tree, whether it is on public or privately owned land.
Before any tree is cut, permission should be sought from the Forestry Commission, the body set up to protect Zimbabwe’s forests.
For Mushunje, their preservation methods need to be noticed by authorities.
“Surely, when a whole society quietly, and without any incentive, adopts environment preservation as a norm that must be noted at high levels. Maybe we can become a shining example of how to save the environment,” he says.
A very religious man, Sekuru Mushunje believes God has already blessed them with good rains in a dry season.