Zimbabwe: Failing rains send farmers to shops to buy food (AlertNet, IRIN)

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Esnath Murambasvina fondly remembers helping her parents grow crops like maize, millet and groundnuts on their small piece of land in Masvingo province. She recalls, “My parents were farmers all their lives, but I remember never lacking anything as I was growing up.”

Her parents were able to send her to nearby mission schools with the proceeds from their farm. Today she finds it very hard to accept that the soil which fed and sent her to school cannot even produce enough food for her own family.

Mrs. Murambatsvina farms in Zaka, a town in the southern province of Masvingo. Most farmers in Zaka are losing crops every year to bad weather. Temperatures are increasing and dry spells are longer and more frequent, resulting in droughts and food shortages.

In late February, Mrs. Murambatsvina said that, “It last rained in early January and up to now … there has been not even a drop of rain. The blazing heat has not spared our crops.”

More and more residents rely on humanitarian food donations. Or, they are compelled to spend their meagre savings buying food in local shops.

Mrs. Murambatsvina says, “We are not sure anymore of when to plant our crops, and this is causing us a lot of losses.” She explains that those who can afford it will buy maize. Those who cannot will be at the mercy of humanitarian organizations that target the less privileged.

Last year a 20-kilo bag of maize cost four US dollars. This year, it sells for eight, a figure beyond the reach of most villagers.

Zimbabwe’s farmers are already struggling to cope with land reforms and political upheavals that have cut agricultural production. And now they must battle with the effects of climate change on their land and their food security.

Irene Rwatirera lives in Zaka. She says most residents are aware that the climate has changed but have no idea how to respond. She says, “We don’t have enough knowledge on how to deal with the changing weather patterns.”

Zimbabwe’s government used to provide technical support to farmers through the Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services, called Agritex. But funding cuts mean that most Agritex officers cannot reach farmers.

The US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network said in late February that staple grains remain readily available in Zimbabwean markets. They also noted: “Limited incomes continue to constrain the ability of some poor households to access adequate food.”

According to Network forecasts, about 1.7 million people will need food assistance before the main harvest, which usually begins in late March.

Innocent Makwiramiti is a Harare-based economist. He says, “Prices of maize meal and other foodstuffs will go up, but these people don’t have dependable sources of income  … [so] they will not have options but to go to the shops for their food.”