Zimbabwe: Farmers look for other sources of income as crops fail

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Every morning, Josphat Kamwi joins scores of villagers at a muddy dam. He drags his converted mosquito nets through the murky water in Shurugwi, in the heart of Zimbabwe’s maize-growing midlands.

The 52-year-old is a farmer by trade. But the agricultural crisis in Zimbabwe convinced him to turn to fishing during the lean season to supplement his meagre food stocks.

Mr. Kamwi faces challenges as a fisher. He says: “My catch is getting smaller by the day because almost everyone from my village has joined in the fishing. Sometimes our village head comes with police officers to arrest us because it is illegal to use nets to fish in the dam. But we won’t stop because that is the only way to avoid starving.”

Household income in Shurugwi is less than $1US a day and families depend largely on growing maize to survive. This year, the rains came late, flooding the fields. Then they stopped abruptly, leaving crops to wither.

Whenever opportunities arise, local farmers take advantage of alternative ways to earn an income. Some make bricks; others sell dried grass for thatching. Some resort to panning for gold, which is both illegal and highly dangerous.

There is growing anger at the mismanagement of the agriculture industry in Zimbabwe. The country’s Grain Marketing Board, or GMB, is charged with ensuring food security by promoting crop production. But it has failed to pay farmers for grain in recent years.

The GMB is required to hold at least 500,000 tonnes of grain in its strategic reserves, but stores only a quarter of that required minimum. The government says it will need to import 700,000 tonnes of maize to feed those facing hunger in the coming months. But experts estimate that the need is much greater, and doubt the government can raise the funds to pay for such large imports.

Farmers have lost faith in the GMB’s ability to pay because the board has been defaulting on payments for years and is in serious financial difficulty. Farmers are prepared to sell privately for less than half the price the GMB is offering—just to ensure they get paid. Some are holding on to their grain, hoping for higher prices in the coming months as the situation becomes more desperate.

Mr. Kamwi says the GMB has not paid the US$780 it owes him for the two tonnes of maize he sold it last year. He says, “I would have used that money to buy basic foods and inputs for the next farming season.”

In areas where last year’s drought caused crops to fail, households that planted early managed to harvest some grain. But it’s running out fast. The majority harvested nothing. Some have already sold most their livestock to buy food, pay school fees, and meet medical expenses.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa recently announced a US$77 million supplementary budget for drought relief. But, as Zimbabwe struggles to pay its civil servants in the capital on time, those living in remote farming communities aren’t exactly holding their breath.

Emma Mhene is a 40-year-old widow. She looks after three children of her own and two from her late sister. Her brother used to send her money to buy food whenever he could. But he has been laid off, and Mrs. Mhene doesn’t know what she is going to do.

She says, “It is a painful struggle now, and if things continue like this, the children will starve.”

To read the article on which this story is based, Farmers turn to fishing as Zimbabwe crops fail, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/101929/farmers-turn-to-fishing-as-zimbabwe-crops-fail#.Vfj3jNm9Kc0

Photo: A group of children sit on the step of their families temporary home in Epworth, in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Credit: Kate Holt/IRIN