FOOD-insecure families have to skip meals to budget food rations they receive, as the effects of the El Niño-induced drought, that has left many hungry and unemployed in Manicaland province, deepen.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
The bustling Manicaland capital, Mutare, portrays a gleam picture of hope that despite an economy ridden with cash shortages, high unemployment levels, increasing company closures and a lack of investment, people are managing to survive.
However, the picture quickly worsens when one goes deeper into the eastern province, particularly in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.
The drought has ravaged areas like Nyanyadzi in Ward 8 in the Chimanimani district. At Nyanyadzi Hospital, hundreds of pregnant and lactating women and those with children under the age of two congregate.
Sister-in-charge, Siphiwe Sibanda, said, on average, they registered 50 women a month to receive food rations. Once registered, the women are given cards so they will be easily identified on the day of distribution.
“There is a hunger in Chimanimani. So the mothers end up sharing their rations with other family members,” she said.
“Not less than 80 come, and on average, we register about 50 per month. We also do outreach programmes to ascertain the extent of the problems to be able to distribute.”
Once the women have registered, each of them receive 3kg of corn soya bean, a litre of vegetable oil, 1kg lentils (a type of bean), and 4kg of sorghum through the enhancing nutrition stepping up resilience and enterprise (Ensure) programme. Ensure is one of the many programmes under Zimbabwe’s biggest aid donor, United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
Distribution of food aid takes place at Nyanyadzi Primary School, where nearly 600 women clamour to receive their rations.
Among the expectant beneficiaries, NewsDay spoke to Maida Mutsinzwa, a 32-year-old mother of four, who is struggling in search of food, as her husband is currently unemployed.
“Some of the problems we face are not finding food and school fees to send our children to school. My husband is currently not working, as it is very difficult to find a job. So I get money from selling firwood and vegetables,” she said.
“We make porridge with the sorghum so it lasts and use the oil in our cooking. It takes a month to finish the rations according to how I budget.”
Mutsinzwa said budgeting sometimes includes prioritising and skipping meals.
Others interviewed shared the same sentiment that the rations could be the only meal they receive for a while and as such they have to share with family members. This forces mothers to micro budget, which includes missing meals or eating once a day.
Ensure is a partnership between World Vision and USAid, with the latter backing it with
$56 million over a five-year period.
Chimanimani assistant district administrator, Tawona Nengomatsa, said the eastern side of the area was food-secure, unlike the western parts.
In Ward 4 at Tanganda, Chipinge district, one is welcomed by at least 2km of barren land. As such, USAid identified Birirano village, as having a few good spots of arable land, but lacked an irrigation scheme.
From May to October 2015, USAid provided the community with materials and technical support to build a dam to act as a source to the irrigation scheme to Birirano village.
The dam is 5,4 metres deep and holds 1 200 cubic metres of water, with water also coming from a tributory river.
Since the dam’s completion in October 2015, villagers involved in the works have been working tirelessly to set up the irrigation system, with completion expected in the next few weeks.
Engineer Ability Charlie said the piping to supply the irrigation scheme stretches up to 180 metres, as the dam would be using a gravity system to pump the water to the irrigation scheme.
Construction of the dam came under USAid’s food for assets programme where willing participants from the community came together, formed a group, and worked an average of at least four hours.
The idea was to try and encourage communities to work for and be given a 50kg of sorghum.
The group that the community set up is the disaster risk reduction committee and one of its members, Gracious Makuyana said efforts should be made to increase the dam’s capacity, as the need is far greater.
“We could get another irrigation scheme on the other side and supply water, as the majority of the people are nearby. So that is why we want another irrigation scheme to plant some stuff to grow and supply food in the area,” she said
Makuyana said another irrigation scheme would help with crop, fish and livestock farming, which could sustain the area.
In Betura village, in Ward 16 of Chipinge, the adjacent land near the village is a stretch of soil, dirt, dry wood, and underfed livestock.
Betura is under USAid feed the future Zimbabwe livestock and crop development programmes, with a combined funding of $20 million funding programme over five years.
Assistant district administrator, Freeman Mavhiza said some of the farmers became so desperate that they started selling their cattle at between $40 and $50 in order to get little money to buy food for their families.
“The issue was that unscrupulous buyers or individuals with money would come and buy cattle, which are starving due to a lack of feed because of the drought, buying them at prices of $40 to $50 when cows are worth between $400 and $500 a beast,” Mavhiza said.
To avoid this, the feed the future crop development programme, which has an $8 million designation is targeted at helping small holder farmers improve food security through increased productivity, increase market linkages, and improve nutrition and hygiene practices.
On the other hand, the feed the future livestock development has a $12 million designation, where USAid runs a feedlot-fattened cattle programme aimed at helping farmers fatten livestock to sell to abattoirs. Once the cattle have been fattened, USAid provides technical assistance in helping farmers market their livestock.
This has enabled many livestock farmers to sell their beasts at a profit.
Between February and May this year, four groups of farmers managed to sell 96 cattle to Koala Park abattoir in Chiredzi and Montana Carswell Meats in Masvingo at an average of $380, exceeding the average of $150 according to the local rate.
NewsDay visited other areas in the region that include Mhakwe Irrigation scheme in ward 18 of the Chimanimani district, and Manzvire diptank in Chipinge, which had been affected by low rainfalls as well.
At the end of the trip on Thursday, USAid mission director, Stephanie Funk said more was needed.
“The problem is the drought will continue probably, throughout the whole of next year, so more assistance would be needed, not only from us, but by other donors and the government of Zimbabwe. I think the thing I would change is to try and replicate what we are doing in more places. But we would need more money and currently we are lobbying for that,” she said.
Funk said she hopes for congressional approval from the United States government to get more funds to meet the growing challenges.
One thing became very clear at the end of the media tour, which is, as government continues to bicker over power struggles, foreign donors are keeping Zimbabweans alive and away from the cemetery.