…Some turn to small grains
CHIVI-Villagers in one of the driest districts in the country, Chivi, have switched to growing small grains while some have completely abandoned their ancestral homes for greener pastures due to the effects of climate change.
Yields in Masvingo Province’s Chivi District, have been decreasing decade after decade along with rainfall amounts, as a result of climate change, forcing many people to abandon their homes.
Figures obtained from Agricultural Technical Extension Services (Agritex) show that maize harvests in the district have dropped from over 21 000 tones per year in the 1970s to between 10 000 and 13 000 tones per year in recent times.
The most affected parts of the arid district are ward 2 and 5, which now resemble a desert. Rivers in the two wards are heavily silted compromising the water security in the district.
An investigative made possible through a partnership with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and Friedrich Naumann Foundation established that poor farming methods since independence in 1980, have also contributed to the problem.
“Chivi District has always been a dry area receiving below to normal rainfall, but the situation became worse after Independence as villagers changed their farming methods,” said 61-year-old ward 5 villager Edmore Mamunda, who was born and bred in the arid district.
Census results show population figures going down in ward 2 and 5, although the overall population increased in Chivi District.
In the 2012 census there were 8 892 people in ward 2 compared to 6 061 recorded in 2022.
In ward 5 there were 6 559 people in 2012, but the number went down to 4 093 according to the 2022 census results.
This is despite the district recording an increase in population from 166 277 in 2012 to 208 160 in 2022.
“It is clear that due mainly to climate change people are migrating from the two wards and this is also supported by the delimitation results in the last election where ward 5 was decimated,” said retired teacher Samson Gwenda from Gudhe Village, who stays near the Bulawayo-Masvingo Highway.
“It was moved to the area across the Bulawayo Road. Some households were incorporated in ward 2 and others to ward 6 due to few numbers in ward 5.
“These are the effects of climate change at local level, we saw this happening, but I never thought it would come to this.
“A drive from Chitowa Business Centre to Mandamabwe Township shows there are not less than 10 households that have been left to collapse by their original owners despite being situated near the main road. There is also a dam by the side, which has unfortunately dried up due to siltation.”
There are also strong possibilities of Sukwe Primary and Chamasvinga Secondary in ward 5 closing down in the not so distant future due to lack of learners as a result of migration.
In the 1980s Sukwe Primary had an enrolment of over 900 pupils but that has gone down to less than 200, threatening the viability of the school which is a feeder to Mudadisi, Masunda and Madamombe high schools.
Chamasvinga Secondary School had an enrolment of over 400 when it opened its doors in the early 2000s, but the situation is deplorable as there are less than 100 learners at the school, which had brought relief to many learners from ward 1, 2 and 5 who were walking for over eight kilometers to the nearest secondary school.
A survey in ward 2 and 5 in Chivi confirmed that many villagers are deserting their homes.
This reporter observed that one in five homesteads are deserted, with people leaving in search of greener pastures in areas such as Mashava Mindamirefu, Gokwe, Hurungwe, Mazowe and Sanyati.
The migration started in the 1980s and is continuing, according to ward 2 councilor, Sanders Magwizi, who has been in the position since 1980.
With 43 years of service, Magwizi is the longest serving councilor in the country.
“Some people left from the late 80s when signs of siltation and drought began to be visible,” said Magwizi.
“We have fields that have been lying fallow since 1990 because no one wants to take up farming in the areas and the houses left behind are now resemble ghost houses.
“Most villagers stared going to minda murefu (A2 farms) in Mashava from Musorogomo, Mugwere, Ndhluvu, Maramba just to mention a few villages.”
He said the land reform programme, which started in 2000, also opened doors for many people to leave for greener pastures.
“Soon after the land reform program started, floodgates opened, most left for the new farms in droves and the population has drastically gone down as well as the quality of life,” Magwizi said.
“Schools have not been spared as those who left, left with their school going children, reducing enrolment at local schools
“As Africans we find it difficult to just leave our ancestral homes no matter the challenges being faced, but the young ones who should be driving the local economy do not care, they are leaving for greener pastures, either to urban areas or resettlement areas where there are job opportunities and better yields.
“Some are leaving for as far as South Africa and this has its own unintended consequences especially for married couples,” added Magwizi.
Norman Shoko who relocated from Huruva Village to Mapanzure in the Midlands Province in 1996 said he left because he could not endure hunger because of successive droughts, yet he had the will to work and farming knowhow.
“I tried a number of maize varieties from short term to traditional grains but ndaingopedzisira ndoshuzha (I ended up getting handouts from others). So, I decided to migrate to Mapanzure where the rainfall pattern is much better,” he said.
“The soil in Chivi is now beyond redemption, its only good for building houses and maybe roads, but not for farming. People did not listen to extension workers to practice good farming methods resulting in siltation.”
The district has small holder farms which used to be forested, but are now bare due to wood poaching and poor farming methods.
All the dams in the four surrounding communal small holder farms commonly referred to as, KwaMukomana, KwaMutabheni, KwaHuruva and KwaMuzira whose original owners are all late have dried up.
“Farms like number 5 (KwaHuruva) used to have thick forests until the 1980s when we won Independence. Some farm owners started parceling out farm lands for a fee resulting in the degradation of the soil and random cutting down of trees for sale and firewood to people from outside the area.
“Some started settling people in the small holder farms and tree cutting started at unbelievable levels coupled with poor rains, until the situation became worse,” said Eggness Machuve, a single mother in her late forties from Gondo Village.
Machuve has lived in the area all her life.
The rainfall patterns also show a sharp decline in the amount of rains received from 1963 to 2009 in Masvingo Province. This also reflects on Chivi District where there is no rain gauge.
On average Masvingo Province receives between 200mm and 540mm per season compared to the national average of 500mm and 900mm.
According to research done by David Chikodzi from the Great Zimbabwe University, in the 1960-61 season, Masvingo Province received above 200mm, while in the 1963-64 season it got below 200mm as there was a drought.
In the 1973-74 season the province received 400mm, in 1977-78 it got 393mm and in the 1982-83 season there was a serious drought and there was only 30mm of rainfall received.
Between 1986-87 as the frequency of drought had increased the Province received 50mm and in the 1991-92 season there was drought again there were only 30mm of rains received.
In the 1999-2000 season there good rains and the Province received 540mm of rainfall.
Huruva Dam in ward 5, which services over 30 villages, does not have capacity to accommodate all villagers desiring to do communal gardening.
The dam water is now reserved for domestic animals and home use.
A dam in Mugwere Village in ward 2 is dry. Gudhe Dam in ward 5 is also dry, leaving Huruva Dam left to service the vast two wards.
“We have since restricted the use of the dam as it is over used, we now allow animals only and a few gardens downstream so that it does not dry up quickly,” said a distraught Martin Muzira, who is the Huruva village head.
“Every year we witness children drowning in the dam trying to catch fish for domestic consumption and we are appealing to donors to help us fence off the dam which is the only source of water available for over 30 villages in the area as most water bodies dried up a long time ago.”
A retired Agritex official who declined to be named for professional reasons said some of the dams in Ward 5 and 2 dried up due to siltation.
He said some dams had outlived their 40-year lifespan citing a dam at Farm number 5 in Jenya, Mugwere Village and Gudhe Village.
“These dams need to be desilted and the upstream farmers need to change their farming methods to reduce sand being washed into the dams,” he said.
“The other cause of migration from the two wards is poor farming methods practiced by villagers and random cutting down of trees.
“The poor farming methods led to serious land degradation and climate change. The cutting down of trees without replacement led to the disappearing of the thick forests in Farm 5 Jenya and the other three nearby farms.
“This also contributed to climate change hence families ended up leaving the area for greener pastures,” he said.
He also said drought in Chivi is being recorded more frequently than before due to serious climate change,
“We used to experience drought once in 10 years, but that has since changed to four years of drought and one year of above normal rainfall,” he said.
He said villagers are being advised to stop growing maize and switch to small grains like rapoko, finger millet and sorghum.
Some fortunate farmers in the Mandamabwe area were contracted by traditional beer brewer, Delta Corporation to grow rapoko.
According to figures obtained from Agritex Masvingo Province in the 1970s the district used to produce 21 280 tons of maize per season and in the 1980s the yield had gone down to an average of 15 000 tones due to low rainfall.
In the 1990s maize yield had gone down to around 13 000 tones and in 2018-2019 season the yield had gone down to 10 153 tones.
In 2019 to 2020 there was an increase to 13 574 in the whole district of Chivi.
The Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Ezra Chadzamira said the introduction of Pfumvudza will assist the situation in Chivi as the program has now been extended to include small grains.
“It is a big challenge for Chivi to have food security, but we are doing our level best as government by encouraging the growing of small grains and resuscitation of dams like Denga, Chambwe and many others,” said Chadzamira.
“The Government is also encouraging irrigation in areas that have dams so that villagers do not rely on seasonal rains for farming in order to achieve food security.
“We used to have contours on all the fields, but famers have stopped the practice, either deliberately or out of ignorance leading to serious siltation worsening an already bad situation in Chivi District.”