Smiling Through Trying Times In Zimbabwe
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Published on 6 December 2013

After harvesting nothing this year, Siphelile collects maize, beans and oil for her family (Photo:WFP/Victoria Cavanagh)

This time last year, Siphelile Mahlangu planted maize and sorghum seeds on four acres of land, the equivalent of two football pitches - quite a feat for a 69 year-old woman with limited assistance and two children with mental disabilities to support. With only sticks as a fence for her fields, cows broke through and destroyed her entire crop. WFP and partners are providing food to families like Siphelile’s who harvested little, have few income options and are struggling to buy food as prices continue to rise.

“I’m trying to fix the fence so the cows can’t ruin my harvest again,” she says. 

Over the last few months, Siphelile has struggled to make ends meet with her meagre income from occasional jobs like painting huts and weaving baskets. She’s largely been relying on the generosity of friends in her village. 

“It’s painful to keep asking my neighbours for food,” she says. “There wasn’t much rain last year so they don’t have much to share anymore.”

In Zimbabwe, many farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture and cannot cope with the impact of climate change and variability. Last season’s drought was more severe than in previous years and contributed towards the country’s poor national cereals harvest. As Zimbabwe’s food needs increase, so do maize prices in rural areas; they’re as much as double those of this time last year. 

Heat and sunshine

Siphelile lives in Nkayi district, 150 km north of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. From an outside perspective, the concrete-like soil, hardened by endless days of scorching heat and sunshine, makes it hard to imagine any crops growing here. Despite it now being the ‘rainy season,’ there are few signs of the much-needed rain to start planting for the next season. 

Siphelile’s daughter works in Botswana and sends money home when she can, but, on a maid’s income, this is not often. Her two other children have mental disabilities that limit their ability to do certain kinds of work so Siphelile is the breadwinner.

“Sometimes fetches water or wood for the neighbours and they give him food as payment, but when he gets one of his attacks, he has to stop,” she explains. 

Vulnerable families
WFP’s relief  programme aims to support  vulnerable families like Siphelile’s until the next harvest in April. Food insecurity is at a four-year high in Zimbabwe, with one quarter of the rural population estimated to be in need of support between January and March 2014. WFP and partners began food distributions in the worst affected areas in October and will scale up assistance over the coming months to reach  1.8 million people – WFP funding permitting. 

Despite generous contributions from the USA, the UK, Australia, Japan, the European Union and the Central Emergency Response Fund, WFP has only resourced around half the required US$86 million to implement this relief intervention as planned. 

This month, in order to stretch the food and cash available, people being supported by WFP are receiving half-size rations. WFP continues to work closely with the Government of Zimbabwe, donors and partners to raise the additional funds required.

WFP Offices
About the author

Victoria Cavanagh

Public Information and Reports Officer

Victoria is a Communication Officer for the UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) and is based in Rome.