Masvingo Bureau — Villagers across most parts of Masvingo are grappling with severe food shortages following a series of droughts that have blighted the province over the past 10 years.
Calls have been made by community and political leaders for the province to intensify irrigation development to stem recurrent droughts. At least 400 000 people in Masvingo require food assistance after crops failed last year while the crop situation across the province also paints a gloomy agricultural season for one of Zimbabwe's most populous provinces.
The precarious food situation across the province has been worsened by erratic and inconsistent supply of food relief under the government's grain loan scheme owing to shortage of maize grain and a lack of transport to move the grain to remote parts of the province.
Masvingo provincial administrator Mr Felix Chikovo conceded that hunger posed the greatest challenge to communities across the province saying shortage of maize grain and transport was hampering efforts to provide food relief to those in need of food relief.
"There is indeed a big challenge in terms of food across the whole of Masvingo province because the food which people are getting under the grain loan scheme is not enough and we also do not have enough transport to move the grain because of payment problems.
"Currently Masvingo is getting maize from other provinces that had surpluses in the last farming season and the maize is channelled to those in need through the Social Welfare Department which administers that Grain Loan Scheme but the deliveries have not been consistent because there isn't enough maize.
"There is also a problem of transporting the maize to areas where people need it, the transporters are not willing to continue working without being paid because money to pay them is a problem," he said.
The Masvingo provincial administrator said they had already appealed to the World Food Programme to help with more supplies of maize grain and also in transportation.
"The World Food Programme has come in and is chipping in to close the maize deficit and also transporting the maize to areas where it is needed and we hope the move will mitigate effects of food woes afflicting communities across Masvingo,"said Mr Chikovo.
Masvingo governor and resident minister Titus Maluleke said the problem of food shortages in Masvingo was of major concern as it was now perennial.
The Masvingo Governor said there was a need for a mindset shift among communities on the need to concentrate more and more on small grains.
"We have quite a big problem when it comes to hunger in Masvingo because most communities are grappling with severe food shortages because of drought. There are problems in transporting the maize grain to areas where it will be needed in time and that is a big problem.
"There must also be meeting of minds between agricultural extension workers and communities on the need to grow crops that will give yields because we cannot continue to tolerate write off of crops every year and hope to be able to feed ourselves. There has to be a shift to small grains if we are to have food security at household level," said Governor Maluleke.
The Masvingo governor said the province had crafted a provincial irrigation master plan that emphasises the identification and development of irrigation schemes across the province under a new thrust to engender sustainable development through the use of numerous water bodies.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union Masvingo regional manager Mr Jeremiah Chimwanda said hunger had become the biggest threat to most communities across Masvingo province saying irrigation development and production of small grains were the only panacea to ending Masvingo's basket case tag.
"We are facing a very serious shortage of food across Masvingo after 75 percent of crops last year were written off due to drought and in most areas people do not have food especially districts in the southern parts of Masvingo. In Mwenezi, Chivi and Chiredzi the food situation is very dire at the moment and not enough supplies of food are being sent to these areas so there is a problem. However, in the short to medium term we must develop more irrigation schemes and also turn to small grains,"he said.
Zimbabwe Chiefs' Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira said chiefs were concerned about the precarious food situation in most communities in Masvingo saying in some areas maize supplies even under the grain loan scheme were erratic.
Chief Charumbira said there was a need for GMB to set up more satellite depots so that people get easy access to maize grain. Chief Murinye, Mr Epheus Munodawafa said the Masvingo provincial leadership was supposed to be aggressive in the development of more irrigation schemes as the province had many dams that were underutilised.
"We cannot continue to be talking of hunger year in year out when we have so many big dams that can be harnessed for irrigation. At the moment the major problem which we have is lack of an alternative plan to circumvent these chronic food shortages. We need lasting solutions and there must also be commitment of more resources to transport food to hunger-stricken villagers in remote areas as there are some areas that are not even able to access food assistance under the grain loan scheme.
Most villagers in remote parts of Masvingo complain over the way in which the grain scheme is being implemented as some areas hardly receive enough supplies of maize while in other areas transporting the maize was difficult.
Others have also been urging humanitarian organisations to desist from giving villagers stricken by hunger food handouts as such moves promoted a dependence syndrome.
Masvingo has less than 4 000 hectares under irrigated cereals yet the numerous dams in the province can sustain up to 50 000 hectares of irrigation. The province has also pinned its hopes on Tokwe-Murkosi dam that will open up 25 000 hectares for irrigation.