Catastrophic drought

15 January 2016



Dear Family and Friends,

On a dust road soon after sunrise the children were already out, walking to their first day at school. You have to smile at the first timers in their bright crisp uniforms; creases still new from the shop. Navy blue, bottle green or bright red uniforms, all looking just a bit too big; bought to last as long as possible by parents struggling to make ends meet. A tiny little poppet in bright blue uniform with a pink satchel on her back holds Mum’s hand as they walk the long, long dusty road to get to school. You know that so many sacrifices have been made for this big day and Mum and daughter smile broadly as you wave when you pass by. A big male baboon sits in the scraggly bush nearby and behind him you can’t help but shake your head at what you see.

We’ve known since May last year that an El Nino was predicted and that it was going to be a bad drought this season and now we’re living it. On and off for the past few weeks we’ve had sweltering heat waves with temperatures in the top thirties and early forties every day. Searching for a spot of shade to stand in is the top priority for man and beast alike. Livestock deaths due to high temperatures and insufficient grazing are increasing. Reports in NewsDay this week say 5,000 cattle have died in Masvingo; 1,300 in Midlands and 450 in Matabeleand so far, with fears of one million cattle facing starvation if meaningful rains don’t come soon.

Most maize crops which should be shoulder high by now aren’t even knee high yet because they were planted so late as farmers waited for the rain. Some only have four or six leaves and are wilting and purple from nutrient and water deprivation and heat. Early planted crops aren’t faring any better. Most are showing signs of extreme distress: leaves curled up like onions, stalks thin and pale. An Agritex official said a few days ago that crops planted in November when we had a few rain showers were “gone;” most were permanently wilted and he concluded: “there is nothing which will be expected from that.”

The Deputy Agriculture Minister’s words were even more frightening: “Only farmers with irrigation schemes are likely to have a meaningful harvest otherwise for the rest of the farmers the maize crop is completely a write off.”

“The maize crop is completely a write off”: chilling words in a country where maize is the staple food and we need 2 million tonnes a year to meet human and stockfeed requirements. It’s even more worrying because the Finance Minister did not provide funds for maize imports in his 2016 budget.

To put this drought in perspective, in a normal rainy season which runs from October to April we have an average of 850 mm (34 inches) of rain in my home area. Between October and mid January we have about 430 mm (17 inches) but this season we’ve only had 150mm of rain (6 inches) by mid January: one third of normal and already dams and wells are virtually empty and taps dry.

But if anyone’s worried apparently we don’t need to be. Mines and Mining Development Minister, Mr Chidhakwa, who also happens to be the Acting Minister of Finance, reassured us by saying: "We will ensure that we find minerals within the next six months that will allow us to have money to buy food in the event that there is a drought." "If agriculture fails, we will go underground. Zanu-PF is here to stay."

It’s not clear why these abundant minerals couldn’t be resolving any of the country’s other countless problems or why they couldn’t have been used to pay nurses, teachers and other civil servants who waited until January for their Christmas salaries. The underground pot of gold and diamonds that could be saving Zimbabwe remains as elusive as ever.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love Cathy.

15th January 2016.

Copyright:  Cathy <>

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