El Niño : Faces of the Drought in Zimbabwe

Recurrent climate-related shocks are one of the main drivers of food insecurity in Zimbabwe. Current food shortages have been exacerbated by one of the most devastating El Niño-induced droughts in recent history. Agriculture is particularly vulnerable because of the heavy reliance of smallholder farmers on rain-fed maize production. The effects of two consecutive years of drought are evident in widespread crop failure, livestock deaths and dwindling livelihood and income-earning options for the rural populace. Mwenezi, a district in Masvingo, has been hard hit. WFP is rapidly stepping up life-saving operations and reaching a growing number of people with food and cash-based relief as well as with activities designed to improve the resilience of farming communities. These are some of the faces and stories of people affected by the drought.


Spiwe Chindakuda (54) is a smallholder farmer and the mother of 11 children.

“El Niño affected us in all aspects of life. I'm a smallholder farmer and we rely on rain. We plant maize and sell any surplus to get money to pay school fees. Selling livestock is one of our last options. Sadly, we lost three of the five cows we had. They are the only possessions I've had in my life.”

“At times we borrow food but it's not every day that people stretch out their hands to assist us. Without the World Food Programme, things would have been a lot worse for us."

Spiwe Chindakuda, 54, smallholder farmer and mother of 11 children.  “El Nino affected us in all aspects of life.  I am a smallholder farmer and we rely on rain, we plant maize and sell surplus to get money to pay school fees. Selling livestock is one of our last coping mechanisms, but sadly, we lost three of the five cattle we had. That was the only possession I had in my life.” “At times we borrow food but it is not every day that people stretch their hands to assist. Thanks to the World Food Programme, they are our hope.  Without them it would have been worse for us.  We are what we are because of WFP’s assistance.

Spiwe Chindakuda at her home (Photo:WFP/Tatenda Macheka)

Bvire Boroma (68), grandmother

“At 68, I'm old enough not to have to go to the fields, but my stomach forces me to work. I haven't seen a drought like this one since I was a young girl.”

 “I wait patiently for WFP monthly rations, that’s what I look forward to every morning I wake up.” 

Bvire Boroma holds a small maize cob that failed to reach maturity (Photo:WFP/Tatenda Macheka)

Elissy Sipuma (71) is a widow and a farmer from Chiapato village who takes care of two grandchildren.

“On hard days we sleep with empty stomachs. We're trying to adjust. At times I go to beg for food while on other occasions I do casual labour but the demand now is very low and people are not paying."

“I don’t have any livestock or any assets. Sometimes  I crush marula nuts to feed my grandkids. Hunger is my worst fear.”

Elissy Sipuma in her field (Photo:WFP/Tatenda Macheka)

Betina Magunje (35) lost her husband eight years ago

“Life during a drought is tough.  I'm a mother and a father at the same time. I've resorted to making bricks with my children so as to be able to send them to school. The drought has affected everyone, including us. Fortunately, the assistance provided by WFP has kept us going. My kids are my inspiration. When I look at them, I feel the strength to keep going.”

Betina Magunje instructs her daughters while they mould bricks for the local school (Photo:WFP/Tatenda Macheka)

Mahlatini Nuanetsi (64),a farmer in Mukanya village, has nine children.

“I lost three of my cattle to the current drought. This drought is the worst I remember. The heavens have not been kind to us this season. It looks like there is no hope, it has brought us suffering and it's hard to look forward to the future.”

“Hunger is our greatest fear. Not having blankets is better than not having food.That's why WFP support is so important for us.”

Mahlatini Nuanetsi lost three of his cattle this season (Photo:WFP/Tatenda Macheka)

Mirirai Hungwe (32) is a mother of four from Pikinini village. 

"We've been seriously affected by the drought. We planted maize but it wilted because of the sun and lack of rain. We have only a few options, like gathering wild fruits and doing some casual labour. My greatest fear is to see my family perishing from hunger."

Mirirai Hungwe and her six month old baby (Photo:WFP/Tatenda Macheka)

In Zimbabwe alone, it is estimated that more than 4 million people will be food insecure at the peak of the lean season.

The World Food Programme has declared a Level 3 emergency - its higest  level of corporate emeregency - for seven priority countries : Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique , Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

For more stories on the Southern African drought click here.Southern Africa Emergence page