Agriculture Induced Hunger on the elderly

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By Tongai Mashonga

The geographical location of Zimbabwe, in the tropics, makes it vulnerable to shifting rainfall patterns while the country depends heavily on rain-fed agriculture.

As a result, this has a devastating impact on elderly people who depend on food support from government and other organisations as well as their own agriculture produce. In Kwekwe and Gwanda districts, the elderly people are in dire need of food support as they bear the brunt of climate change.

Climate change impacts in Zimbabwe resultantly affect water supply and food security. The country is prone to droughts and in recent years, has resulted in the elderly being exposed to food insecurity. This has a negative effect on their health and social security.

Speaking to elderly people in both Kwekwe and Gwanda districts, this reporter discovered that their challenges are interlocked as residents of the two districts fail to engage in intensive productive farming due to drought.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum released a report titled, ‘Politics of Food’. The document articulates how food is being politicised in every part of the country and that, 8.6 million Zimbabweans face food insecurity by the end of 2021, according to World Food Program (WFP) statistics.

Elderly people in Gwanda, Manama area, said the food aid they receive from government is not enough to last a month and it is being politicised.

“The food aid we get is not enough. We no longer have the strength to plant crops and depend on support, largely from Government and NGOs, unfortunately, there is politicisation of food and for one to get support, it now depends on having connections. The distribution of food support is not consistent, as at times they skip a month, when we are supposed to receive a 50kg bag of maize meal every month meant to cushion us. Elderly people, including other needy families, are left scrambling for food.” said Phyllis Dube from Mlambapele’s Ward 16 in Manama.

“This year our crops were attacked by armyworms, some leeched since we did not have fertilisers. Rainfall seasons are changing every year and we have not been aware of this. We receive food aid but this is not enough. To get this aid, we are forced to pay 40 Rand each, for transport which we cannot afford. This is too much for us,” said Mulimisi Kokobele, a village development committee member in Mlambapele.

In Kwekwe district, the need for food aid by the elderly is the same in some parts of Silobela and Zhombe.

“We no longer trust the weather and we don’t know when to start our cropping season. We now receive food aid from the department of social welfare but the 50kg ration of maize meal a month is not enough since we also look after orphans left by our late sons and daughters,” said 76 year old Tulisiwe Mhlanga, from Silobela under Chief Ruya.

“Our health is deteriorating through tilling the land and not harvesting anything. The weather pattern has also compounded our problem. To make matters worse, there is segregation in the distribution of food aid. We cannot afford to buy food from shops as it has become very expensive for us,” said Alfred Jirani, from Ward 12 Zhombe.

District Development Coordinators in both Kwekwe and Gwanda district, who are also drought relief committee chairpersons said they are doing their best under this climate crisis using government adaptation and mitigation policies.

“In Kwekwe we have 19 000 households receiving food aid, of which 6 389 are elderly people. In Kwekwe urban, vulnerable people are receiving financial support from our partners, the World Food Program (WFP).

“In communal areas we give needy families, 50kg of maize meal as one way of cushioning them during the drought period. This farming season, we implemented Pfumvudza under the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), so that communities will be food secure. We are now aggressive in implementing CSA, rehabilitating, and drilling boreholes for the availability of water at all irrigation schemes. The process is already underway in Silobela.

“For transportation of food aid supplies to beneficiaries, we use an army truck,” said Fortune Mupungu, the District Development Coordinator (DDC) in Kwekwe district.

Gwanda acting DDC Thulani Moyo dismissed allegations of politisation of food in the area but said most crops leeched this rainy season thereby affecting the yield.

“No, it’s not like that, we do not politicise food aid. As for transport, they pay R40 because transporters refuse to accept our local currency payments and in Gwanda all service stations sell their fuel in forex.

“Communal farmers in Gwanda did not buy into the Pfumvudza project and that is why their crops leeched. They did not have fertilisers to utilise on their crops. Only Pfumvudza registered farmers received all farming inputs that we normally give them.

“We give a 50kg bag of maize meal every month, per household for the elderly. This project has since been stopped so that we carry out the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Survey,” said Moyo.

Both drought relief committee chairpersons agreed that ZIMVAC determines the inclusion and exclusion of food aid for the elderly people. The survey is conducted at the end of April or first week of May annually.

Climate change activist Perseverance Javangwe said “There is a huge gap that needs to be patched to deal with climate crisis. More awareness is needed specifically for people in rural areas. We need to get everyone involved, the youth, elderly, persons with disability, in the environment discourse then we can move in the same direction”.

According to a book titled, ‘Climate Change in Zimbabwe: A Guide For Planners And Decision Makers’ written by Anna Brazier of Research Advocacy Unit (RAU), it highlights that “In Zimbabwe, climate change will cause average temperatures to rise by about 3°c before the end of this century. Annual rainfall could decline by between 5% and 18%, especially in the south. Rainfall will become more variable. There will be an increase in droughts, floods and storms”.

The impacts of climate change in Zimbabwe are likely to stall the country’s development and pose a serious threat to food security, which will horrendously affect elderly people.

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