Editorial Comment: Region should unite to mitigate drought effects

EARLIER this month, Krisjan Kruger, 34, a cattle and maize farmer from Elliott in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, allegedly told a neighbour he was suffering from depression because of the drought before shooting himself with a rifle. He feared he would lose his farm which he grew up on.

A friend, Jacques Roodt, said Kruger had been severely affected by the drought. “We are currently experiencing the worst drought . . . in years and it was hard for him to wake up and see his dry land. He lived and gave his life for this land and he eventually crashed,” he said. Kruger’s tragic death poignantly illustrates the grave situation in the Sadc region which is going through one of its worst droughts in living memory.

Zimbabwe and the entire Southern African region are experiencing hotter than normal weather conditions caused by a stronger than normal El Niño condition — the worst in 18 years. The lack of rainfall and high temperatures have caused dry conditions across the region and last week, a devastating heat wave exacerbated an already dire situation.

President Robert Mugabe, who is on his annual leave in the Far East, has been briefed of the situation in the country and has urged the nation to pray for rains. Acting President Phelekezela Mphoko on Saturday led the country in kick-starting week-long national prayers and on Sunday, as if on cue, rains fell in most parts of the country.

Zimbabwe has already moved swiftly to mitigate the effects of drought. Yesterday, we reported that the food crisis in the country was expected to ease with the Grain Marketing Board set to urgently import at least 230,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia. The State Procurement Board has since approved the GMB’s request to import the staple food, starting with 30,000 tonnes which are urgently required.

The other 200,000 tonnes are under consideration by the SPB, with sources saying it was a matter of time before the grain was procured. The development is expected to alleviate a devastating food crisis Zimbabwe is facing following last season’s poor harvest due to drought which affected most parts of the country.

Latest figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency revealed that Zimbabwe imported maize worth $149,4 million from January to November last year. The maize has been distributed to the most affected areas in Masvingo, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Manicaland and parts of Mashonaland East.

Provincial Affairs ministers said last week more food was required as it appeared a government committee established to assess the food situation left out a number of people in remote areas. Zimbabwe needs to import about 700,000 tonnes to avert hunger which has stalked thousands following a regional grain deficit which has also affected South Africa, Botswana, parts of Angola, Lesotho and the DRC. South Africa alone is expected to import 5 million tonnes of maize, according to industry sources.

Zimbabwe requires about 1,8 million tonnes of grain for both human and livestock consumption per year. The nation produced about 800,000 tonnes of maize last season due to erratic rains and flooding in parts of the country.

Over 60 grain importers have been licensed by the responsible authorities to import 1,2 million tonnes of maize and so far they have brought in 450,000 tonnes of maize. We commend the government for being proactive and reacting speedily to the drought. We also urge governments in the Sadc region to close ranks and find ways of mitigating the effects of drought and ensure that farmers are assisted to maintain production on their land while preventing cattle and other livestock deaths.

Crop farmers should also heed the advice of extension officers and plant short-maturing varieties while cattle and other livestock farmers should ensure that there is enough stockfeed to cater for their beasts throughout the year. If possible, cattle ranchers should de-stock and maintain manageable herds to alleviate the effects of drought.

The District Development Fund and other government agencies should assist farmers by drilling boreholes and resuscitating irrigation schemes. Priority in food aid distribution should be placed on the hardest hit areas like parts of Matabeleland South which is traditionally a drought-prone area. Non-governmental organisations are also welcome to chip in with aid but their assistance should not come with strings attached.

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