Cathy Buckle: Zimbabwe’s farmers defy drought and sanctions, harvest hope amidst hardship

In the heart of Zimbabwe, a harsh reality unfolds as only four out of a hundred villagers manage to harvest crops amid a severe drought. The dire agricultural situation is exacerbated by political turmoil, with the United States imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe’s leaders for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. Amidst this chaos, a resilient farmer named James defies conventional wisdom, recalling his father’s teachings to brave the scorching sun and plant maize. His harvest, a testament to ancestral wisdom, is a beacon of hope in a nation grappling with hunger and hardship.

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 By Cathy Buckle 

Dear Family and Friends,

Only four villagers out of a hundred managed to grow a harvestable crop in my home area this season. The wet season is almost over in Zimbabwe. We’ve only had 16 inches of rain here and normally get around 34. We might be very lucky and receive another 4 inches before the end of the season in a few weeks’ time but for the maize (corn) crops it’s far too late.

While Zimbabwe looks out of the window at the catastrophe of a completely devastated, sunburnt crop devoid of cobs, the Zimbabwe government are very busy blustering about America’s Magnitsky sanctions which are targeting three companies and eleven individuals here. A statement from the Whitehouse said: ‘Today we are refocusing our sanctions on clear and specific targets.’ They named Zimbabwe’s President and his wife, the Vice President, Defence Minister, Deputy Director of the CIO (Central Intelligence Organization) and others. Describing a ‘criminal network of government officials and business people who are responsible for corruption or human rights abuses against the people of Zimbabwe, they said: ‘The United States remains deeply concerned about democratic backsliding, human rights abuses, and government corruption in Zimbabwe.’

‘Sanctions,’ the old villager said to me when me met this week, ‘sanctions mean nothing when you haven’t got any food to eat.’ 
‘How did you do it,’ I asked James, one of the four people in his village who had managed to grow a crop in a drought like this. He chuckled, a big smile spreading across his face. ‘I remember what my Dad taught me,’ he said. James imitated his Dad when he said ‘don’t you listen to the voices on the radio, and don’t trust the forecasts. Just know James that the first rain in Zimbabwe always comes in October, anytime in October. ‘Be ready,’ my boy,’ and James always is. He laughed and looked up at our bright blue March sky. ‘They all think I’m penga (mad) in the village’ he said. ‘I’ve seen them shaking their heads and laughing when I go out there planting maize in the scorching October sun when there’s not a rain cloud anywhere.‘ James dry planted his field on the 12th October 2023 before the rains came and five days later an inch and half of rain (38mm) fell.  It was enough to germinate the seeds and see them through to the next rain which fell three weeks later. James’ harvest will just be enough to feed his small family of three until the next harvest and even have a bit spare to help a desperate neighbour here and there.   

Under the shade of a big green tree James told me many other wonderful stories about his old Dad who had been born in 1935. I had been fortunate enough to know his Dad for the last twenty years of his life and we had shared many a good laugh. Eventually James and I got back to where we started which was talking about how people are going to survive with no crops to harvest this April. Agriculture officials have described the bulk of the 2023/2024 maize crop as a complete write off.  Buying processed maize in town for around US$8.50 for a 10 kg bag, a family of four will need 3 bags a month. ‘A medium goat,’ James declared showing me a height around his calf, ‘that’s what people will have to sell every month to buy enough maize. But they’ll need to sell three goats a month to buy everything else they need.’

Just before we parted James and I remembered the absurdity of the day in 2005 when we had seen all the bags of international food aid being given to people in long winding queues. We had laughed so much that day after watching government officials opening USAID bags behind a big tree and tipping the contents into Zimbabwean bags instead, so no one would know where the maize had come from. ‘As if we didn’t know,’ we chuckled. James and I both laughed at the memory and soon had to go our separate ways, our laughter lingering in the wind for a brief moment before it was gone. So many stories, so much we’ve all been through in Zimbabwe in the past 24 years, and so much pain.  

As I watched James go I remembered the last time I had seen his Dad. It was in the middle of land invasions. A lost soul, his job gone, home taken over, no more income after the farm he had worked on for decades was seized by a mob of government supporters. James’ Dad passed away soon after that, shaking his head all the way to the grave. What a man he was, and what a man his son is now, a man who gives history and wisdom about the old ways to the people around him.  

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 24th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)
Love Cathy

7 March 2024. Copyright © Cathy Buckle

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