Somabhula Farmers Abandon Cattle Ranching To Sell Grass

By Mark Mhukayesango
SOMABHULA, OCTOBER 28, 2015- What used to be a haven of cattle ranching has since the fast track land reform program in the year 2000 been turned into a derelict land with less production as farmers turn to selling grass to eke a living.
With a sickle in her hand Khetiwe Muzoza, 43 hopes to make R3 per bunch of thatching grass from passers by interested in the thatching material.
Selling thatching grass has become an instant hit in plots surrounding ward 15, Somabhula, Vungu Distict, with women here claiming to make enough money to take care of their families.
With their husbands now redundant following job cuts over the past decade, women here have borne the burden of fending for their families through selling thatching grass, a business venture that has proved profitable.
Radio VOP visited Somabhula on Tuesday and spoke to women in ward 15 who expressed excitement in their new found income generating project.
“last month I sold 760 bunches of thatching grass. This business is quite profitable as I am able to provide a decent meal on my tables everyday,” Muzoza of Pleasant View farmer told Radio VOP.
Muzoza an A2 farmer said the money earned from business venture is also enough to educate her last born child to school.
What started as a veld fire mitigation method where farmers in grasslands are encouraged to cut tall grass and create fire guards has become a blessing for these farmers.
Since they were resettled in the area, these farmers have failed to produce enough for their families , hence the desperate attempt to make ends meet.
“I have a family which needs to be fed so I cannot fold my  hands when yields are not good. Due to drought , i could not harvest enough to take us through the season . So my little business is sustaining us,” Lucia Chirongana of Browns Farm said.
She however bemoaned the imminent start of the rainy season which would scuttle her plans of making money for the festive season if her current stock of grass  is not bought on time.
Somabhula used to be a haven of cattle ranching ,but has degenerated over the years as the new breed of new farmers have somewhat managed to run down a thriving cattle industry.
Coupled with perennial droughts, farmers here have found the going tough ,scrounging enough to make ends meet through basic agricultural practices. 
Although Somabhula is in natural Region 4, crops like sorghum, millet and maize are quite friendly with the climate,good yields have have been difficult to come by as the effects of climate change also set in.
However the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has applauded the farmers for their efforts to combat veld fires in the area.
Through the grass cutting, fatalities related to wild fires have drastically declined over the years , according to EMA provincial spokesperson Timothy Nyoka.
“These farmers are working hard to see veld fires decline in this area. We congratulate them for being innovative through using the grass as an income generating project,” Nyoka said.
Nyoka singled out gold panners and fishermen for starting fires that eventually spread and destroy property worth thousands.
“ Last year one of the farmers here lost a tractor due to veld fires. These fires are coming from Gwenoro dam and from Shurugwi,” said Nyoka.
Last year Midlands province recorded three veld fire related  fatalities at Central Estate  Chirumanzu , where an adult and two children died in an inferno.
“We discourage farmers not to start fires during this fire season because such fires spread faster,” Nyoka said.
The fire season commences from July 31 to November every year and in that period farmers are encouraged to desist from starting fires.
Councilor ward 15 in Somabhula, Sibongile Matavire said urged EMA to put stiffer penalties on farmers who start fires that destroy property.
“Stiffer penalties should be set for such people because they are doing more harm to our environment,” said Matavire.
Currently EMA has grade 1 to 12 which they use to fine offenders depending on the magnitude of damage made to the environment and to property.