By Margaret Matibiri
THE oldest form of trade known to mankind, barter trade has been revived in some of the marginalised areas of the country as a coping mechanism to the successive droughts being experienced.
With the distortion of rainfall patterns in the country as climate change continues to take a toll on the land, food security has been threatened and many have been left with fields good enough for a week supply of graze for animals instead of their usual crops, forcing villagers to look for ways of cheating the hunger crawling into their grain silos.
While urbanites spend their days chasing forex exchange rates on the parallel market, 63-year-old Sekuru Wilson Nyabango spends most of his time at the local Nyamubadura Dam which is in his village, fishing.
As the fields refuse to give the people a morsel of sanity and dignified life, the dams have also given up as Nyamubadura is only 50 percent full, making life harder for the fishermen.
Sekuru Nyabango has resorted to barter trade in which he exchanges five catfish for five kilogrammes of either wheat, maize or mealie meal or anything offered to feed his family. After the passing on of his wife, the elderly man has been left to fend for his remaining children as others have been married and relocated. On a good day, he might get 60 catfish which he shares with his three partners.
His children who moved to the capital in search of greener pastures have however not been able to find their footing and offer financial assistance to their father, instead, Sekuru Nyabango dries some of the catfish and gives to his children as his way of supporting them.
With the ever-changing and unpredictable rates of foreign currency on the parallel markets, the people of Pfungwe no longer pay much attention to the economic challenges as they sell their goods at giveaway price out of the need to ensure that everyone has something to put on the table.
“The rains have been very unreliable this season and we do not have much expectations from our fields so this catfish is our source of livelihood,” Sekuru Nyabango said.
“Money is hard to come by and we have resorted to exchanging our catch for food or selling one catfish for ZWL$2.5 which is not much but that way anyone can afford to put food on the table.”
About 20 kilometres from Sekuru Nyabango’s “dam of life” is Mbuya Theresa Karambe (62) of Chapinduka village, who has been disappointed by the rainfall patterns as she braces herself for hard times ahead.
Like most communal farmers, she planted her first maize seed in November last year only for the plants to die prematurely as a result of water shortages. When the rains came through, she decided to abandon replanting the maize due to her farming experience in the area, and instead, she planted cow peas and sorghum which she hopes will save her and her family from the face of hunger.
“After the drought of 2018/2019, we were expecting better rains this year and in November last year I planted my first maize seed after I received inputs from the government,” said Mbuya Karambe.
“The rains were bad and all the plants died and at this point, I received 10kg of maize seed from Caritas Harare in partnership with Cafod and I only used half of it in replanting with the hope that I would still be able to get a good harvest, it rained a bit and all the maize was destroyed by the sun and I tried other crops.
“I realised that it was better to keep the other 5kg of seed for the next season than replant again as it is clear that there will not be enough rains to see the crops giving me a better harvest. Ordinarily, we should be having green cobs this time of the year and other fresh produce from the fields and these current rains should be there to see our crops ripen, but this is not the case as others are still replanting in desperation with the hope they will have something to harvest. I have come to terms with the fact that I will not have any maize from my fields this season and I will rely on exchanging anything that I will harvest for sadza. I will also wait for any donor funding and the government as our source of hope in terms of food security.”
Although the situation looks bleak, there are one or two farmers whose fields have gone against all odds and are promising a decent harvest.
Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube has promised to double efforts in ensuring food security as the country is currently subsidising maize and mealie meal.
“As we move into 2020, we will continue to learn from these “unknown unknowns”,” he said.
“We are already investing in ‘climate-proofing’ our agriculture, including new irrigation techniques, and drought-resistant crops. We must now double up our efforts with our international partners new and old to protect our agriculture and food supply.”
By Margaret Matibiri