Starving Zambian villagers turn to wild fruits, poisonous plants

Starving Zambian villagers

Intermittent drought has wreaked havoc on scores of districts, while Zambia’s 2012/13 farming season saw widespread worm outbreaks that affected nearly 60,000 farmers before being contained

People in several rural areas of Zambia have been forced to survive on wild fruits, grass and poisonous plants as a result of crop failures in the 2012/13 farming season due to drought and worm infestations.

“We did not harvest anything this season because all my crops dried up during the prolonged drought in the last farming season,” Maiden Miluli, a 63-year-old widow and mother of four from the village of Sikongo on the southern outskirts of Lusaka, told Anadolu Agency.

“We are in desperate need of food aid, otherwise my children and I are doomed,” she pleaded. “We only eat traditional porridge in the morning, Nshima in the evening and wild fruits in the afternoon.”

“We always go into the woods to gather wild fruits like masuku and manengu so we have something to eat,” noted the aging widow.

Intermittent drought has wreaked havoc on scores of districts – both in the capital and countrywide – destroying crops and pastures, emaciating livestock, and otherwise eroding family assets.

A snap survey by AA revealed that a number of households in rural areas had little or no food to live on.

One such struggling household was that of Morris Mweemba, who lives in the village of Kanamuswenswe in Mazabuka in the Southern Province.

“In the morning, the little ones feed on porridge without sugar. It tastes funny, but they get used to it,” Mweemba, 55, told AA.

“As for lunch, it’s a luxury. But on good days, they feed on beans donated by rich neighbors. For supper, we all eat boiled vegetables with Nshima,” he said.

Irregular rains

Mweemba blames his crop failure problems on irregular rainfall during the 2012/13 farming season.

According to him, the rains began very late and ended very early, depriving his crops of the moisture needed for their survival.

Zambia’s rainy season generally begins around the end of October and runs through the end of March. But in 2012/13, the rainy season began later than usual – in mid-December – and ended abruptly in mid-February in some places.

The government has confirmed that 28 districts in the southern and western provinces had lost up to 50 percent of their crops in the last farming season due to unpredictable rainfall patterns.

Even if the rains had been adequate, argues Jones Muleya, a farmer in Mumbwa’s Sibuyunji district, many farmers would still not have been able to produce enough food due to the late delivery of fertilizers.

“Also, at the time rains began, many farmers were not even paid for their crops delivered to the Food Reserve Agency for the 2011/12 season to enable them to prepare for the new farming season in terms of  buying farming inputs,” he told AA.

Muleya, 40, also complained that the cattle used for plowing agricultural land had been plagued by three deadly diseases – foot and mouth, corridor and East Coast fever – which left many animals dead.

“Our lives in the village as farmers depend on the number of animals we own.  When our animals die, we become vulnerable,” Muleya said.

Monstrous worms

As if this weren’t enough, farmers also had to contend with an additional menace: an army of worms that largely destroyed local maize production.

“Despite drought in some parts of the country, the 2012/13 farming season was a relatively good year,” Moses Munyumbwe of Kaoma told AA. “But private farmers opted to export a larger component of cereal rather than sell it to local millers.”

He also lamented that several hectares of corn and sorghum in high-production areas had been heavily infested and destroyed by worms.

The crop-eating caterpillars destroyed hundreds of hectares of the staple crop in the country’s top food-producing states, ravaging crops of groundnuts, cowpeas, maize, cassava, millet and anything with green leaves.

According to a report by the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa, Zambia’s 2012/13 farming season saw widespread worm outbreaks that affected nearly 60,000 farmers before being contained.

Zambia produces and consumes some 1.35 million metric tons of maize in a normal year, but maize production in 2012/13 was far below average after worms destroyed close to 2,260 hectares of the crop in less than a month.

Corn prices, meanwhile, have risen by as much as 60 percent within the last year, pushing the basic commodity beyond the reach of many local consumers.

Imwiko Sikufele, a former District Education Board secretary who has since turned to farming in the Central Province’s Mkushi district, said the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that some families were forced to survive on plants, which – if not properly cooked – could end up being poisonous.

“Some people have died after eating roots that were not properly cooked,” Sikufele, 59, told AA.

“But the house was too hungry to wait,” he added.

“People are resorting to poisonous roots, despite knowing that others have died.”




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