Drought, described by experts as the most severe in decades in Zimbabwe is tipping already-poor farmers into a hunger crisis. Extended periods of below-average rainfall in Zimbabwe and across the wider southern Africa region have led to extreme hardship for people, particularly farmers who are struggling to feed their families.
60-year-old father of seven Mtshale said his land "resembles a semi-arid desert as there hasn't been sufficient rain since 2016. The last time I tilled it was in 2017, but even then, I did not harvest anything as the crops all died in the field."
Zimbabwean widow and mother of three 39-year-old Florence is also struggling: "All my crops died before maturing, as they had the year before, because of this drought that has plagued our land."
Mtshale explained: "The situation wasn't always this bad. Before the drought, when I was farming, I would plant maize and sorghum and this would ensure we could eat three meals a day. In 2016 I was able to get a good harvest as we got good rains. Since then, my land has been dry. Sometimes it rains, but it is not sufficient and the rains stop abruptly, so I can no longer farm."
Zimbabwe is among the world's most food insecure countries with more than half of its 15 million people in need of food assistance, according to U.N.'s World Food Program.
Inflation and lack of job opportunities have compounded the problem. Florence explained: "What makes this dry spell worse is the economic situation of the country because you can't be able to afford to buy [enough] mealie meal. Food may be there but you can't afford."
Christian charity Tearfund's country director for Zimbabwe, Earnest Maswera, said: "6.7 million people - the equivalent of every ninth person in the UK - are going hungry every day in Zimbabwe. The rainy season has become more and more erratic, and streams and boreholes have frequently dried up. Poor farmers, who mainly depend on rain-fed agriculture, have nowhere else to go for water, and without that, they simply can't grow food to feed their families, let alone provide a surplus for income.
"In previous years, land which would have yielded 30-50 bags of maize or groundnuts now barely produces a bag or two," Maswera added. "This hits family incomes and makes it difficult for parents to send children to school or access medical care. With percentage inflation rates running into the hundreds, staple food prices have doubled since June 2019, so buying food is often not an easy option either."
Tearfund's global fundraising director, Jane Pleace, said: "In more than 50 countries, our local partners are helping people in poverty survive in the short term and become more secure in the long term. However, the scale of need both in Zimbabwe and across southern Africa is vast, which is why Tearfund is launching a Lent Appeal to call on help from supporters."