Chipinge: Traders boom as villagers starve

CHIPINGE - After another dry farming season, serious food shortages loom in the Save valley area of Chipinge.

While for most these are trying times, food traders see it as manna from heaven.

Since April they have been buying maize and mealie-meal from areas that had good harvests and reselling to the hungry villagers at exorbitant prices.

Tonderai Magodo, one of the villagers, looks a pale shadow of himself after a busy day at the local Macdom ethanol plant where he works as a general hand.

Magodo’s family expects him to bring food when he comes home from work but his job pays him a paltry dollar-per-day, which is not enough to feed his family throughout the month.

He now runs a makeshift bicycle repair shop at his house to supplement his meagre wage.

This does not bring in much money, as his clients do not pay in time due to the same food shortages affecting the whole area.

Magodo’s wife is nursing a two-month-old child so she cannot do much to help as most of the time she is attending to the baby.

The traders at the local business centre, Checheche charge high prices for maize meal, which they get from as far as Mashonaland Central and in some cases Mozambique.

“We pay up to $7 for a 20kg of maize meal,” Magodo said.

Magodo’s situation represents the challenges faced by villagers in Chipinge after erratic rains and persistent dry spells crippled their agricultural activities leaving them at the mercy of traders who are clearly out to make a killing from the villagers’ misery.

Villagers said that life is tough, as they had no other means of getting food besides their fields.

“We survive on farming and most of us do not work so we do not have the money to buy maize meal, especially at such high prices,” said Innocent Machona, a villager.

Machona added that their dire situation had become a business opportunity for other people and this was painful. A business owner, Charles Dhliwayo of SM Cash and Carry Investments at Checheche Growth Point said they are alleviating the food crisis by providing maize at the villagers’ doorstep.

“Without us you could be writing that people are dying of hunger in Chipinge but we are improving the situation because we have resources to bring maize here for them and sell it at reasonable prices.

“We understand they do not have money but do they want us to operate at a loss? We can do that but tomorrow they would not find anything to buy for their families,” Dhliwayo said.

Another business trader at Manzvire Business Centre, Phillip Dhundu concurred with Dhliwayo saying they were helping by bringing maize to the villagers.

“Villagers used to rely on food donors but it is not the same this year as donors have not yet turned up to hand out food.

Johannes Sigauke runs a grinding mill at Mabhiza Township. He said high transport costs forced them to charge the $7 against the normal price of $4 for a 20kg of maize.

“We cannot charge anything less than $7 — otherwise there would not be any business to do,” Sigauke said.

Wedzerai Gwenzi, a villager from Chisumbanje area said the situation was desperate, as people had no means of raising money to buy food. “I cannot raise money to buy maize every week so we no longer have lunch to allow the 20kg of mealie-meal to last a bit longer but it is really hard because children do not understand that,” Gwenzi said.

He blamed the government for not doing anything to address the dire situation that is almost crippling community relations as people are clashing over the insufficient GMB grain food loan distributed once every month.

A local councillor, Zekias Sithole appealed to donors to step in with food aid.

He said that GMB grain loan scheme was being administered by Zanu PF structures and traditional leaders accused of pushing partisan interests leaving many people without food.

“We are worried because GMB grain loan scheme is being used as a campaign tool by Zanu PF and this is bad considering that drought affected everyone regardless of political affiliation,” said Sithole.

Reports from Chipinge rural areas indicate that traditional leaders are working under strict instructions not to include names of those people suspected of supporting the MDC.

However, Zanu PF has refuted the allegations of interference in the GMB food aid. Zanu PF Manicaland provincial secretary for administration, Kenneth Saruchera said his party was not involved in the distribution of food aid.

“I am not aware of that,” Saruchera said.

Chipinge South Member of Parliament, Meki Makuyana said the situation was bad and there was need for urgent action.

“Businesspeople should not take advantage of hunger,” Makuyana said. Makuyana said there was need to address the situation as failure would lead to negative developments such as child labour and girl child pledging, a practice where rich men in the community are promised children as future wives in return for food hand-outs or money.

According to World Food Programme (WFP), the majority of livelihoods in Chipinge are dependent on farming, which in most years hardly meets the household food requirements.

The area is predominantly in natural regions four and five, and is perennially drought-prone.

A few households engage in cotton production and unfortunately low producer prices this season have affected their incomes, especially as many had to pay back loans advanced by contracting companies.

Some people are engaged in formal employment in the plantations and commercial farms in the Eastern Highlands, but few such farms remain productive.

Others are formally employed on the sugar plantations in Chiredzi or Chisumbanje/Checheche areas in Chipinge.

About 4 500 are reported to have been employed on the ethanol plant at Chisumbanje, but stalled operations have affected this livelihood source as well.

Livestock conditions are deteriorating due to pasture and water shortages affecting marketing and prices. - Thomas Madhuku

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