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One Family's Struggle After Poor Harvest In Zimbabwe

Ishimare's family

Ishimare Sungundai (centre) lives in Masvingo district in Zimbabwe’s south, one of the areas hardest hit by poor rains. He harvested nothing in 2013, and is surviving on his wife’s firewood sales. This year, his eldest son Zondai (far left) stopped attending school because they couldn’t afford the fees, so he helps his mother collect firewood to sell.

Zero harvest

In 2011, Ishimare fell ill and became too weak to cultivate the small plot of land by his home. Despite being given a bag of seeds to plant, he couldn’t remove the tree stumps to prepare his land properly. His children helped plant the seeds in small patches as the rains began last November but there was a prolonged mid-season dry spell which caused the crop to wilt.

Limited income options

Zondai (12) and his mother Loice support their family by collecting and selling firewood to neighbours. They’re known in the village for having a reliable supply of wood. “Each morning I pray that God will show my wife where to find firewood and that there will be customers,” says Ishimare. “When it’s going well, we make around $8 per week,” says Loice.

Brotherly support

When Zondai’s younger siblings return from school, he helps them with their homework. Last year, he attended primary school thanks to a UNICEF-supported programme which pays the fees of vulnerable children.  But it does not yet cover secondary level and his family can’t afford to pay. Zondai dreams of being a policeman when he’s older, “because policemen earn an income.”

Resting at home

Ishimare, Loice and the eight children share this small hut. They have a few pots, some clothing and one blanket to sleep on. Because of Ishimare's illness, he often spends most of the day lying down and resting. 

Evening meal

At the moment, Ishimare’s family has 10kg of maize grain, some oil and one cauliflower donated by neighbours in their village. Loice prepares food for the children in the morning, while she and Ishimare eat in the afternoon, and the family come together for supper in the evening.

Ishimare and his family are among the 2.2 million people estimated to need food assistance in Zimbabwe during the lean season of October 2013 – March 2014. After their crop wilted from poor rains, they harvested nothing and are relying on the sale of firewood and donations from neighbours to feed the eight children. Ishimare is ill and unable to work, so his eldest son, Zondai, helps his mother collect wood each day instead of going to school.