Nelia Bvuma hasn’t had a proper meal for the past two years. The mother-of-two from Makoni, Zimbabwe has been surviving on seasonal wild fruits due to severe food shortages caused by years of drought.
Once a prime agricultural region, crops have been failing and the last time Nelia was able to harvest her field was in 2017, which produced just six bags of maize. Since then she has been forced to forage for masekesa and makwakwa, wild fruits usually only fed to animals.
Eating wild fruits and taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV on an empty stomach, is taking its toll on Nelia’s health. “The excessive intake of these fruits has affected by health and my skin has been peeling off,” she says.
Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst hunger crisis in more than a decade, with 3.6 million people suffering from severe food shortages.
Nelia and her family were among 49,000 people living in Makoni district to receive desperately needed food supplies last month, distributed by ActionAid Zimbabwe and funded by the World Food Programme.
As the situation worsens, the number of families receiving food support will this month double to more than 100,000 people in Makoni and Nyanga districts.
But more funding is urgently needed to prevent the food crisis deteriorating into a famine.
“I do not feel full at all after eating the wild fruit and mangoes,” says Nelia. “My children go to school on an empty stomach and sometimes we spend days eating only the wild fruit.”
Nelia has sold all but one of her six goats to pay for her children’s school fees. She worries that they will have to drop out of school and as she is unable to plant crops in her field, the family is relying on food aid.
ActionAid is running programmes to support families like Nelia in the longer term, by providing training in climate-resilient farming practices, support to start income saving and lending schemes, knowledge-sharing and disaster preparedness and response training.
Rumbudzai grows maize and groundnuts, which are more tolerant to drought, in her family’s fields. But she says recently it is rare to harvest even groundnuts due to the lack of rainfall.
“The rainfall pattern has changed, since I grew up,” she says. “I remember we experienced drought once when I was still young. But since I got married, the rains have been limited. Since Cyclone Idai hit [in March 2019], we have not received any meaningful rains at all.”
She says some families are taking desperate measures due to the hunger crisis, adding: “We have girls who are getting married due to food insecurity and poverty. There are some parents that marry their girls off to well off people from the community.”