Locusts are a lifeline as hunger strikes villagers

It’s early Saturday morning when 10-year-old Ratidzo races against time through corn fields to catch lobsters while they are still immobilized by the morning frost.

Several rural children are making it a daily routine to catch insects to eat, as the El Niño-induced drought is taking its toll on many of Zimbabwe’s rural communities.

Armed with a bucket and an old mosquito net, Ratidzo ventures into the countryside every morning without fail, as this means a lot to her family.

“We must arrive in time to catch as many lobsters as possible,” said the young woman from the Makanda farm, located about 80 kilometers east of the town of Karoi, under the command of Chief Mjinga in Hurungwe East.

“This is part of our daily enjoyment. “We didn’t have enough corn because of the drought.”

For many people, including resettled farmers around the farming towns of Tengwe and Karoi, catching lobsters is now a daily routine.

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“These locusts in our fields are a blessing because they relieve us from hunger,” explained Makina Makina, from the Deve area.

Swarms of locusts have descended on arid corn fields, providing a welcome meal to communal farmers and their families currently beset by El Niño-induced drought.

Zimbabwe is facing severe food shortages and has appealed to the international community after President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the drought a national disaster, with an estimated half of the country’s population, including residents of urban, needs food help.

Tobias Murenga, a resettled farmer along the Karoi-Chirundu highway, said lobsters were now a commercial enterprise.

“Selling lobsters can make a difference because you can buy basic products such as salt, sugar, soap, among others,” he explained.

Elsewhere, some villagers under Chief Kazangarare, about 65 kilometers north of Karoi, enjoy an avalanche of wild fruits called nhunguru in the Shona vernacular, which they sell in Karoi town.

Nhunguru, the governor plum, is scientifically called flacourtia indica. In Tonga it is called ntumbulwa, while in Chewa they call it nthuza or ntheme.

Zimbabwe National Association of Traditional Healers (Zinatha) Education Secretary and board member Prince Mutandi said traditional African beliefs reported that dry seasons are characterized by an invasion of locusts and other insects.

“History has taught us through the popular gore rehwiza (year of locusts) in 1946 and 1947, when the people of Masvingo survived by eating harurwa. That season was a national disaster,” he said.

Harurwa is an insect that when prepared can be a delicacy not only in Zimbabwe, but also in countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.

Mashonaland West proportional representative legislator Mutsa Murombedzi said women and children were the most affected by the drought situation.

“Women and girls often have primary responsibility for providing food, collecting water and caring for family members, exacerbating their vulnerability in times of drought,” she said in a written response.

“The health risks for women are high due to water scarcity. Poor sanitation falls disproportionately on them, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, reproductive health problems and malnutrition.

“In addition, women remain vulnerable to the economic challenges of small-scale agriculture and informal income-generating activities in which women play a leadership role.”

He said some students, especially girls, are often forced to drop out of school during dry seasons.

“Some are forced to do child labor to support the family. It affects education and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, limiting their opportunities for personal and professional development in the long term,” he stated.

Murombedzi also indicated that droughts fuel gender violence.

“Generally, families expect women to provide food and fetch water for the family. If such resources are scarce, disputes break out in the family and the blame falls on women, some of whom are victims of sexual abuse, while girls may be forced into early marriage,” Murombedzi said, suggesting a holistic approach to address the impacts of drought.

“It requires a multi-faceted adaptation approach that includes sustainable water management, drought-resistant crop varieties, improved irrigation systems, community early warning systems and social safety nets to support vulnerable populations.

“Women must be part of the decision-making processes, providing access to education and economic opportunities, improving access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

“Empowering women and girls to build resilience and adapt to climate change is essential to achieving sustainable development and gender equality in our communities,” she added.

Zimbabwe, the former breadbasket of southern Africa shortly after its independence, has suffered successive droughts attributed to climate change.

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