The rainy season is a period when most women in rural Zimbabwe spend the bulk of their time tending to crops in the fields.
However, Ms Vimbai Kaimba (25), from Kademeteme village in Rushinga District, is spending hers under a tree shade crushing granite into quarry.
She says she has been forced into the trade by a month-long dry spell which has left her one hectare of maize wilting.
“The job is incredibly difficult and comes with a lot of injuries so I would rather be in the field plucking out weeds or straightening ridges,” says Ms Kaimba.
“But it has been a month since it rained and there is nothing much left there so it is better to use my energy doing something productive because I still have a family to feed and school fees to pay.
Ms Kaimba is not the only woman in the village who has swapped the hoe for the hammer.
As such, competition has become tougher and the enterprise less rewarding.
It can take her days or even weeks to sell a single wheelbarrow of quarry for just 80 cents.
The money can barely sustain her family but in a place where subsistence farming is the main source of livelihood the young mother has no choice at the moment but to continue with stone crushing.
Ms Kaimba’s plight is reflective of how erratic rains being experienced in Rushinga and other areas across the country have shattered livelihoods.
The district last received rainfall on Christmas Day leaving Ms Kaimba’s crop along with 400 other hectares of maize in her ward written off. About 10 percent of the crop in Rushinga has already reached permanent wilt stage.
With temperatures rising as high as 40 degrees Celsius, the dry spell is so severe even the small grains are beginning to give in.
“The situation is bad because a majority of the crop had reached either the top dressing or the pollination stage which need lots of water,” said an Agritex official, who cannot be named for professional reasons.
“Can you imagine even our small grains which are usually resistant are giving in to severe moisture stress. It’s only a matter of days before we write the maize off.”
Extension officers now agree that drought is becoming a real possibility by each passing day without rain.
Rushinga is a wholly communal district meaning its close to 70 000 population could be facing some sort of food insecurity.
Livestock and cash crops such as tobacco and cotton usually provide cushion but they too are under stress.
But the possibility of drought is not a problem for Rushinga alone as other areas like Mudzi, Muzarabani, Mvurwi, Chiredzi and Nkayi, to mention a few have been reported to be facing prolonged dry spells.
Farmers and extension officers in these places have admitted that crops are at various stages of wilting.
“I have been in this sector for many years but I can tell you that what we are facing this time around is quiet frightening,” said Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, Mr Wonder Chabikwa. “Save for Nyanga, the situation elsewhere is very bad, if we receive rains in time we could salvage something in Rusape, Marondera, Beatrice and other districts in Region II(a).
“As from Region III our officers there are telling us that the crop has had a permanent wilt.”
Although Mr Chabikwa said it is premature to declare a national drought outside official channels, Government should swiftly conclude crop assessment and come up with a position that allows hunger mitigation measures to begin.
Authorities have treated the dry spell and the condition of the crop with caution ever since it became apparent that the country might be facing a drought.
In similar fashion the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) has failed to rule out drought claiming that meteorologically the country will have a normal season.
However, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Command Agriculture had made it possible to meet the country’s grain demand regardless of whether there is a drought or not. “We had food surplus last season and I have no doubt with the model of agriculture we have introduced now, we should be able to produce enough grain for ourselves whether there is drought or no drought,” he said.
“This is because we have created water bodies throughout the country and with support from Spain and support from Brazil, support from Belarus we are bringing in lots of irrigation equipment.”
Chilling Realities of climate change
Having received abundant rains last season it is somewhat an evil twist of fate going from plenty to nothing. But it should be taken as a jolting reminder of the devastating realities of climate change.
Each season, for quite a while now, has brought with it erratic rains, mid-season droughts, flooding, hailstorms and heat waves.
According to World Meteorological Organisation 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been the warmest years on record.
Similarly the UN panel on climate change estimates that crop yields in Southern Africa will decline by between 30 and 50 percent by mid-century due to climate change.
This is a serious threat to UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 which aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Locally climate scientists at the Meteorological Services Department have observed a decline in precipitation of an average 5 percent countrywide since the 1960s.
Experts say these indications are a warning to Government to invest in climate change adaptation through the building of water harvesting infrastructure, irrigation schemes and employing artificial intelligence technology to boost yields.
With research showing that some $35 billion is needed for Zimbabwe to help its agriculture sector adapt to climate change between now and 2030, it’s a huge task for the country given its current economic troubles.
It is against this background that donor organisations and UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) have come up with programmes which assist small-scale and peasant farmers.
WFP has setup water harvesting infrastructure, nutrition gardens as well as advocating the adoption of small grains.
Such facilities have so far been set up in 12 districts which are prone to natural shocks such as Rushinga, Binga, Chiredzi, Mwenezi, Mudzi and Mbire.
In Rushinga, Weir Dams have been built in areas such as Katiri, Rutuka, Nyamagoho and Kuhwira to sustain water harvesting, fisheries and nutrition gardens.
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