MASVINGO – It is back to the old days in Masvingo Province — but not quite to the lovely bedtime folklore tales.
People are resorting to “old age methods” and have resorted to medieval batter trade to make ends meet.
Struggling villagers are back to the traditional batter trading method as the use of multiple currencies bite rural areas where the economy is yet recover after a decade of economic decline.
They are exchanging their cattle for a few bags of maize as hunger and starvation affects the province.
A recent visit to Mwenezi District by the Daily News on Sunday revealed how villagers in the arid district are exchanging a beast for as little as four by 50 kg bags of maize in a bid to save their families from imminent starvation.
The most affected areas are Sarahuru, Maranda, Chitanga and areas in the Runde valley.
Villagers said they had no option but to let their cattle go for the sake of their families.
“We do not have any means of survival,” a villager Wadzanai Chitanga said.
“We are forced to exchange our valued cattle for a few bags of maize to save our families from hunger,” she said.
The villagers said they were being short-changed by surrounding businesspeople who forced them to sell at distress prices.
Villagers said government programmes like the grain loan scheme were benefiting only a few politically linked people.
“We are not benefiting from the government grain loan scheme because only the top officials who are perceived to be politically correct loot all the grain while we, the common people are starving.
“There are some of the people who later come to us to dupe us of our livestock in this batter trade thing,” said Hlekani Shalati from Maranda.
The villagers expressed fear that their livestock, which form part of a key safety net in rural areas, will soon run out.
“The rate at which we are being forced to trade our cattle is dangerous as we risk losing all our herd and once that happens we will be left exposed,” said another villager who refused to be named.
Local MP Kudakwashe Bhasikiti said the situation was troubling.
“The food situation is disturbing in the district because of drought but as the local legislator I am trying hard to help the villagers. I am not only helping the villagers but several groups, including religious sects who are doing their work in my constituency,” Bhasikiti told the Daily News on Sunday at Sarahuru Business Centre recently.
Villagers said besides losing their cattle in unfair trade, their children were dropping out of school at tender ages to trek to neighbouring South Africa in search of a better life.
Mwenezi is not the only district being ravaged by the drought.
The entire Masvingo Province, with districts such as Chikombedzi, Chiredzi, Gutu, Chivi and Zaka, are hard hit by hunger.
Information from humanitarian aid groups shows that over 200 000 households are in urgent need of food in the province.
Zivanai Muzorodzi, spokesperson for Masvingo-based Community Tolerance and Reconciliation Development said the number of people in need of food aid was rising alarmingly.
“The number of people in need of food aid in the province has risen from about 93 000 households in January to over 200 000 now. The situation is pretty dangerous in most districts especially those in the low veld like Mwenezi and Chikombedzi and it is not surprising that they are now trading their cattle for as little as four bags,” Muzorodzi said.
He said urgent government intervention was needed.
Government has since introduced the grain loan scheme where hunger-stricken villagers receive maize from Grain Marketing Board (GMB)depots across the province but the programme is alleged to be benefiting only the politically strong.
“While we appreciate efforts like the grain loan scheme we are disturbed by some political parties who have hijacked the programme and are using it to fix members of rival parties,” said Muzorodzi.
Masvingo provincial administrator Felix Chikovo recently told the media that the programme has since been spread to all of the province’s seven districts.
“We have already started the distribution of drought relief to those in need of food aid and a total of 19 300 tonnes of maize will be required until the next harvest, “ Chikovo said.