With a hoe in one hand and old rosary beads clutched in the other, Netsai Dumba (29) heads in the blazing heat to her empty field. Like many other small-holder farmers, she took a gamble by planting during the late rains, using money borrowed from a money lender to buy seed and fertilizer.
In the past month, Netsai has replanted twice due to poor rains. Today at least, for the first time in a while, after a hard day in the field weeding and chasing rodents that eat her seeds, she will enjoy a full meal at home.
Since December, the World Food Progamme and Government of Zimbabwe have been providing people in Chipinge, some 250 kms south of the Manicaland provincial capital of Mutare, with monthly food rations of maize meal, beans and cooking oil.
Last year's drought
In the past, villagers alternated between working their own fields and walking some 15 kms to the nearest farm to work for small amounts of food or the equivalent in cash from the farm owner. However, the pay was low and, even worse, opportunities for such work dried up following last year’s drought.
“The situation is actually worse than last year, and we thought last year was bad, “says Netsai. “This WFP programme is a God-send. Our children had stopped attending school due to hunger but now they’re back and attending every school day.”
Successive droughts and a series of poor harvests mean that many of Zimbabwe’s rural poor now need food assistance. Nearly one in every five rural Zimbabweans are unable to meet their food needs. WFP and the Government of Zimbabwe have been providing assistance to more than 1.4 million people and will continue to do so till the end of March when the next harvest is expected. In a landmark development, the Government has allocated 35,000 metric tons of grain from its Strategic Grain Reserve for humanitarian assistance and WFP is complementing it with oil and mixed pulses to make a full basket. This help has made all the difference for people like Netsai.