Without Shared Labour, Villagers In Matabeleland South Fear Poor Agricultural Yields
Farmers in rural areas have always shared labour however, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has threatened this long held tradition. Image by The Broker
Shared agricultural labour has in the past enabled communities in Matabeleland South and elsewhere in the country to get good yields from farming. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic this year has threatened this long held tradition—the consequence could be an exacerbation of an already existing food security challenge.
GWANDA (The Citizen Bulletin) — Lihlohonono Malapela (58), a villager at Galanyemba ward 13 in Gwanda South has over the years cultivated his family piece of land with relative ease with assistance from fellow villagers who gladly offer their labour.
In keeping with tradition, Malapela would in turn return the favor in what is commonly referred to as ilima in isiNdebele, a tradition of collectively organised and shared labour .
However, with the advent of COVID-19, the communal cultivating practice has been temporarily suspended.
Ward 13 has about 1000 households covering Sifanjani , Zhokwe, Mawane 1 and 2, Mtandawenhema , Galanyemba and Switsha villages.
Villagers in Malapela's ward have resolved to not avail their labour to fellow villagers.
“It’s a tough call we made as a community.”
Lihlohonono Malapela, a father of four
“Covid-19 has forced us to abandon the long held tradition of ilima. We have no choice but to follow all health protocols to curb the spread of the virus.”
Area councillor, Miclas Ndlovu is worried that with reduced manpower villagers will scale down land under cultivation in the process risking household food security.
Gwanda area is well known for poor rainfall patterns making it difficult for villagers to rely on farming. Image by The New Humanitarian
Matabeleland South Province falls under Region 5 which is characterised by poor rains making it difficult for villagers to rely on farming as a source of livelihood.
Villagers have resolved to work as family units, instead of involving people from different households, in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Sithabile Nare, from Mawane 1, says during the pre-COVID-19 era about 10 people could gather and assist one family with land preparation and planting.
“We used to do zero-tillage with about 10 villagers but this year it is so difficult to gather even five people.”
“People are just too scared of this virus, myself included. We know other pandemics, we had HIV/AIDS but this is worse,” Nare adds.
The community in Ward 13 is concerned that the inability to practice this long-held tradition is going to have long term consequences on food security. Normally the community collectively cultivates between 10 and 17 acres, this year this figure is expected to be less than half of the normal hectarage.
“Estimates are that only six acres will be cultivated and that points to more food shortages. Even with 17 acres under cultivation we used to harvest very little, what about a mere six acres?” he asks.
With COVID-19 showing little signs of abating anytime soon, Malapela is contemplating forgoing planting this farming season.
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“Our area is very dry and most of us struggle to buy fertilizer. What's the point of planting only for crops to wilt away? Due to COVID-19 I doubt I will do any farming this season. My friends are also having second thoughts, coronavirus scares us,” Ndlovu says, adding that farming implements and hiring a tractor to plough is expensive.
Using a tractor would be easier for the farmers but it comes with several challenges. Some tractor owners are requesting specific brands of masks and sanitisers and others are demanding a risk allowance quoted in foreign currency.
In addition to this, other tractor owners are charging as much as US$170 to plough one hectare, an amount farmers say is beyond their reach.
With 25kg of maize seed needed per hectare going for an average of US$80 and fertiliser going for US$25 per bag for compound D and US$28 for top dressing, few farmers have the capacity to plant large tracts of land.
Agriculture experts say a farmer needs 400kg of compound D per hectare at a cost of US$200 and needs 350kg of top dressing at US$190 per hectare.
A farmer thus requires about US$600 per hectare to fully utilise a hectare of maize. Malapela says he would rather save the little money he has to buy food.
“So, this COVID-19 is now used as a pretext to rob communities of the little money they have. I will rather not plant this season.”
In August, the central government announced plans to have a US$8bn agriculture economy by 2025, following the launch of the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy. However, only a few farmers have access to affordable inputs and markets.
Distribution of inputs to vulnerable families under the Presidential Input Scheme with over two million households expected to get a 10kg maize seed, one bag of compound D, one bag of top dressing and sunflower seed or soyabean seed has started.
Nare says though government interventions are noble, she is too scared to gather many people at her fields.
“It’s the number one disease now [COVID-19). With HIV people died after a long period but with Corona it's sudden and I don't foresee myself ploughing this season.”
“Adhering to social distancing is difficult and most people have given up, COVID-19 has negatively affected farming,” she says.
Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department (Met) has warned farmers not to rush to plant saying a prolonged dry spell is expected in October.
The warning comes after most parts of the country received rainfall early October which has seen some farmers across the country planting crops.
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Farming, Ilima, Food security, Matabeleland South, Gwanda, COVID-19
- Last updated on .