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Severe Dry Spells Hurt Mopane Worm Business

Severe dry spells have prevented mopane worm harvests in Gwanda, leaving the community struggling for survival. Image by Unsplash

Dry conditions caused by El Niño have stopped mopane worm harvests in Gwanda, Zimbabwe, eliminating a crucial income source for families who rely on sales of the caterpillars called amacimbi.

BY LYNNIA NGWENYA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 19, 2024

MATABELELAND SOUTH (The Citizen Bulletin) — Communities in Gwanda have lost an important source of income due to climate change. Severe dry spells that have hit Gwanda have prevented mopane worm harvests, leaving communities struggling for survival. Many families' income depends on trading and exporting mopane worms.

According to Reliefweb's El Nino Anticipatory Action Plan for Zimbabwe, published in November 2023, the upcoming El Nino event forecast for 2023-2024, which is associated with drier-than-average rainfall, is poised to worsen this problem.

“It is expected to intensify aridity, significantly impacting food and animal production across many areas, including those typically classified as 'dry regions,” the report says.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed a strong El Nino event occurring between October 2023 and March 2024.

“This event is expected to have adverse effects on rainfall from October 2023 to March 2024, potentially leading to drought conditions in Zimbabwe. Anticipated outcomes include a delayed onset of rainfall and prolonged dry spells, which could significantly impact food production and disrupt the food supply chain,” Reliefweb reports.

Regions with typically lower precipitation are particularly susceptible to experiencing drought, which may result in widespread crop loss, livestock fatalities, increased disease incidence, crop pests, and challenges related to water, sanitation, and hygiene. These challenges, in turn, can have cascading negative effects on nutrition, according to Reliefweb.

Sipiwe Ncube, a villager from Matshetsheni, says this season's income has been affected by the severe lack of rain.

“Most villagers here depend on selling amacimbi (mopane worms), so that's where money comes from for food, clothes and school fees. This season, the rains were delayed and rainfall was depressed - almost insignificant, resulting in mopane worm eggs and larvae drying out.”
Siphiwe Ncube

Peak mopane worm production is typically from September to November, with harvesting often in December.

“We are really affected because a drought without amacimbi (mopane worms) is serious. We may be used to harvesting low or no grains, but our hopes were often buttressed by the amacimbi harvest. But this season is different - without any harvest in any area,” Ncube adds.

Rains have been very erratic during the 2023-2024 season. They have generally been very low and very late, resulting in mopane foliage and trees growing only halfway into the season. As such, the larvae destined to mature into edible caterpillars, a delicacy to many, died since there was no food for them to feed on.

They favor mopani tree leaves as a food source.

The community would harvest and sell amacimbi for them to be able to pay their children's school fees and buy other basic commodities. Image by Unsplash

The death of the larvae is a serious blow to most villagers who depend on harvesting mopane worms for consumption and sale. People come from near and far to buy the worms.

A villager, who identified herself only as MaTshuma, will have to find other means to generate income since mopane worms failed.

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“Amacimbi have saved us for the past years. Through sales we have managed to pay school fees and buy other basics. My first-born daughter is now at college through the sale of amacimbi,” MaTshuma says.

“However, this year it's different since we couldn't harvest any. I will have to find other means like brick molding, which I don't know if it will pay since it also requires water,” she says.

MaTshuma stresses that if she delays finding means of income, her daughter risks dropping out of school.

“If I don't act fast, my daughter will have to defer the current college year.”

“Amacimbi (mopane worms) failed us this season, and the upkeep of our families is affected. Brick molding is not an easy option - the nearest river to most of our villages is distant, meaning it will require extra effort for the project to be successful.”

As the dry spell continues, the chance of a second caterpillar harvest in March and April is slim. The struggle therefore continues for the general populace dependent on mopane worms as a source of income.

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