More than resilience: Defying drought in the face of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe


FAO Regional Office for Africa

Wilson Dube, a 43-year-old smallholder farmer from Luseche Village in Hwange, Matabeleland North – is one of the 3,272 farmers from Hwange, who could have lost their livelihoods and food security due to livestock death by starvation.

Wilson Dube and many of the community members of Luseche Village depend on cattle for food security and income. Their area like many other rural areas were heavily impacted by the 2019/2020 drought, which - threatened livelihoods of 45% of the rural population in Zimbabwe.

Drought related cattle deaths reduced livestock productivity and profitability, which resulted in many farmers losing their only source of income and status of wealth. A crop and livestock assessment carried out by the Government in May 2020 showed that the highest cattle mortality was recorded in Matabeleland North province which increased from 4% in 2018/19 to 16% for the 2019/20 season.

COVID-19 had a multiplier effect on the already fragile food and nutrition situation in the country with the numbers of food insecure households increasing from 4.1 million to 6.7 million when COVID-19 hit.

“One of my cattle, named ‘Nyantue,’ was on the verge of dying. The cow had just given birth to a calf in early November 2020 and did not have enough energy to lactate and move long distances to graze. It had to be assisted to stand up and move. I faced the most frightening dilemma of struggling to find stock feed for my cattle and provide adequate food security needs for my six-member household,” says Wilson Dube

To find ways for farmers to protect their herds as climate change brings more frequent droughts, FAO in Zimbabwe is actively involved in creating partnerships, promoting dry-season supplementary feeding through on farm fodder as well as commercial stock-feeds, and using information and communication technologies to provide farmers with agriculture and advisory services.

“With support from the Government of Belgium, through the Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities (SFERA), FAO in partnership with the Government and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) supported Wilson and other smallholder farmers, with survival stock feed, crop inputs and training on the utilization of the stock feed and crop inputs. As part of safeguarding livelihoods, increasing access and to prevent the worsening food insecurity situation in Hwange District,” said Themba Manjiva, the former project coordinator of the “Support to farming communities at risk of being impacted by COVID-19 in Zimbabwe.”

More than 1,272 households (of whom 520 were female-headed) received 699.6 tonnes of cattle survival stock feed, benefiting 6,495 cattle. In addition, the food security and resilience situation of 2,000 households at risk of starvation was improved through the provision of 10 tonnes of sorghum, five tonnes of cowpea seed, 80 tonnes of topdressing fertilizer to 2,000 households as well as training on the utilization of the crop inputs.

“I managed to receive 550 kg of stock feed which I used to feed ‘Nyantue’, until the cow was able to graze and provide the calf with milk on its own. In the absence of this stock feed - by these development agencies, my cattle would have died and my household would be in a worse-off food security situation,” said Wilson.

Saving his herd of livestock from dying during the dry season gives Wilson a gleaming sense of dignity and pride. After his cattle’s condition improved, Wilson’s milk output has increased and he managed to sell, “one oxen at US$550.00,” which before supplementary feeding, he would have sold at less than US$350.00. From the income, he bought groceries for his immediate and extended family and saved some of the money in preparedness for emergency health needs in case of COVID-19 infections.

Wilson is also involved in community mobilization around commercial stock feed utilization and on-farm feed formulation, including skills and knowledge transfer. Through knowledge sharing Wilson is reducing livestock death and improving food security in the community.

“The biggest lesson we got from this intervention is that as a community we should embrace anticipatory actions as a means of preparedness for livestock disasters. As such we have organized ourselves to procure supplementary stock feed to save our cattle from drought while we protect livelihoods," said Wilson.

His success underlines how timely interventions, such as those supported through SFERA, address the underlying causes of food insecurity and poverty in Zimbabwe which results in more resilient and sustainable agri-food systems that empower communities at the roots.

“The strength of partnerships, promoting use of locally available materials in supplementary stock feed production and the value of advancing information and technology systems have unearthed new opportunities for FAO to be more resource efficient while achieving desired results,” said Patrice Talla, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa.

FAO continues to mobilize resources to apply the anticipatory action as a tool for shock responsive programming by systematically linking early warning systems to trigger actions that mitigate against severe effects of disasters affecting vulnerable communities. It increases the capacity of those communities to predict the nature, time and severity of the shock/stress so that they act on time.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Africa.

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