Sweat drips down his face and neck, soaking his shirt as Tafara Rongai stacks up grass a distance from his homestead.
As the sun sets in Gato village in Masvingo province’s Gutu district it has been another hard day’s work at the office for Rongai who had been wielding a sickle for the past five years to help him wade off poverty for his family.
The 34-year-old ekes out a living cutting and harvesting hyparrhenia hirta plant, commonly known as thatching grass for sale. He fell in love with the trade after visiting his father-in-law to pay condolences in Mutoko, Mashonaland East province, more than 350km away from his home.
“I must admit that before I embarked on the project of selling grass, I lived a miserable life of working in other people’s fields or doing any menial jobs to feed my family,” Rongai told NewsDay.
“Grass selling was never in my to do list, but poverty taught me to do anything which comes my way. I only realised that I could earn a living selling grass after visiting my in-laws in Mutoko. Selling grass for a living is something none of the villagers in my home area ever thought of.
“I ventured into the business in 2018, mainly selling to neighbours and nearby villages, but as time went on, I began to get orders from as far as Bikita Minerals, which is more than 80km away and in Buhera, Manicaland province.
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“Currently I have 13 000 bundles of grass which I am selling at US$1 for six.”
Through hard work, Rongai has seen his business grow from strength-to-strength and is now contemplating buying a grass harvesting machine.
“Given the many orders I am getting, I think it will be help if I buy a grass harvesting machine to meet the demand,” he said.
Despite the country’s harsh economic conditions whereby more than 90% of employable people are not formally employed and living on less than US$1 per day, Rongai is doing exceptionally well.
“I have not only managed to put food on the table for my family, but I have a solar-powered accommodation, the homestead is fenced, I pay school fees for my children and I also bought a scotch cart which I mainly use for my day-to-day business,” he said with a smile.
“Now my main target for this year is to drill a borehole and then venture into irrigation which will make me productive all year round so as to have a reliable source of income, since grass harvesting is seasonal,” he said.
Rongai’s story cannot be complete without mentioning the struggles he faces in his seasonal trade which bids him to be very careful and alert.
“My job is seasonal as I mainly become busy from May to November, so I have to maximise on the time. Everyday when I leave home, I don’t really know what I will encounter in the bush as I have had numerous encounters with such deadly snakes as spitting cobras and black mambas,” he said wiping sweat with the back of his hand while holding his sickle.
He added: “I have big challenges, particularly when harvesting, there is no good road network even for my scotch cart to ferry the grass, which takes me time to travel a distance of about 8km or more in search of grass.
“There is a problem of veldfires which affect my business. In 2021 my working area was razed by fire which threw me out of business.”
In the not so distant future, Rongai hopes to register a company and become a major supplier of grass, while creating employment for fellow villagers.