By Zwelethu Zikhali
Binga, August 29, 2016 – THE ravaging El Nino induced drought seems to have pushed Binga villagers back to the hunter-gatherers’ era as they now survive on eating and selling wild fruits, quite often competing with baboons for fruits such as Nchenje/insuma, Tonga name for African Ebony fruit or umdlawuzo in IsiNdebele.
While hunger and poverty are not new phenomena in poverty stricken Binga, the situation now looks dire as villagers survive on the fruit, which ironically thrives during drought season.
Nchenje fruit, which is green, grape-sized and becomes yellow as it ripens, comes from a large tree with a very dark bark and buttressed stem and found on river banks and around pans.
It ripens in the dry season as opposed to other fruits that are available during the wet season.
RadioVOP recently visited the district where scores of villagers sell the fruit to travellers and visitors at different shopping centres along the Binga-Cross Dete road.
Those spoken to said wild fruits are their only source of livelihood following a very dry 2016 farming season which left farmers with no meaningful harvest and a fishing industry which has since seen government impose permits valued at $500 and are only issued in Harare.
“The Nchenje fruits is extraordinarily plenty this year and has become our source of food,” said Maria Mudenda who sells at Manjolo Business Centre.
She said the process of gathering the fruits involves waking up early in the morning to pick it as villagers often find themselves competing for it with wild animals such as baboons, monkeys, jackals and civet as well as fruit-eating birds.
“I wake up as early as 4am with my children to go and gather the fruits in the bush. In the morning, we take turns to come to the market while others continue looking for the fruits in the bush,” said Mudenda.
A 5 litre container filled with nchenje costs a mere $1.
A life dependant on fruits is now common in Binga with fruits such as pink/red ivory (umnyiyi), wild berries (Umtshwankela), wild medlar (umviyo), apricot sourberry (umqokolo), baobab fruit and others popular.
Anna Dube from Sianzyundu said they were also selling fruits as far as Cross Dete about 100km away.
Chief Sikalenga implored government to increase grain distribution in the area.
“The drought situation is critical such that people now live on fruits which they also sell to travellers to raise money.
“The few fortunate ones who are closer to water sources have vegetables and tomatoes to sell but the majority rely solely on wild fruits. Food for work grain comes occasionally and it’s not really helping the situation,” said Chief Sikalenga.
Chief Dobola echoed the same sentiments saying a majority of families were going without food.
There have been calls for urgent intervention with food aid into the district whose population is about 38 000.
Some villagers are even selling their livestock for a song, with a goat going for less than $20.
Early this year, the United Nations declared Binga as the worst drought hit district in the country with the highest number of malnourished children and school dropouts, where about 18 000 minors faced severe malnutrition owing to food shortages.
Further, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZImVAC) first quarter report, Binga was fourth ranked in terms of food insecurity, as 32,8 percent of its households were food insecure.
The numbers could have trebled by now as close to 4 million people in the country face hunger.
Government initiated a food relief programme for vulnerable groups as well as a feeding scheme for pupils in schools but these have not been effective in Binga as grain fails to reach villages owing to the poor state of roads.
Binga District Administrator Lydia Banda recently said transporters contracted to carry grain shunned remote parts of the district because of poor roads.
Government had to use army trucks to areas such as Chunga, Siabua, Simbala and parts of Siachilaba.