By Parkie Mbozi
ON SUNDAY I came back from a part of southern African where it rains almost daily, and is therefore very green. Having left our country in February while it was raining normally, I was expecting a very green and wet ecosystem on my return. For some reason, none of the people I was regularly in touch with ever mentioned how dry and hot it had become back here. As a researcher on the subject, I read online newspapers on a daily basis. However, none of the ‘newspapers’ ever reported the severity of the drought in Zambia. I can’t blame them. According to traditional media logic, you report the agenda set by the news markers, often the leaders.
So, you can understand how shocked I was upon alighting from the aircraft to find that the country was actually dry and hot. I was shell shocked, if you see what I mean. I couldn’t believe it seeing the maize along airport road so dry that you can literary set it ablaze. Not even my two commercial farmer neighbors on Great East Road are spared. The soya and the maize, which looked so promising when I was leaving, are all destroyed. Almost total write-offs.
The following day I travelled to my village farm in Mungule. As I was driving along the 35-Kilometre stretch from the so-called 10 miles, what I saw was not any different from what I had already seen back in Lusaka east. Not a single field has green or fully matured maize. Here and there you see some green cotton and sunflower. However, these crops are not grown on a large scale and certainly not by a lot of farmers.
“Not a single farmer will have a harvest this year. No-one will even taste green maize. It is all gone,” one villager told me. Another one said to me, “Last year (2017/19 season) we had a dry spell but towards the end, we had good rains which resulted in some harvests. This year, we have had no rain since February.” A village headman was more worried about water for the animals. “This is March but the stream (Chuunga) is already ‘breaking up,” he lamented.
Earlier during the day, I met a CEO of one of the largest milling companies, which has depots across the country. As I expressed my worry about the impending price hikes in stock feed prices as a result of what I had seen so far, he said to me that his firm does not expect maize from about half of the country. Sadly, parts affected include districts in Region II (Lusaka, Central and Eastern provinces), which often get normal rains. He said farmers in Choma told him that they are actually more worried about not having enough water for themselves and their animals than about food security. That’s serious! To my mind, the fact that about half the country will not even have enough to eat is a national disaster. I think we have a disaster even worse than what is being experienced in Zimbabwe and Mozambique due to Cyclone Idai. If the national harvest falls below the national annual requirement, money has to be found from the already (evidently) stressed coffers to source food from other parts of the world. That’s a huge national undertaking. Those who were old enough will remember the infamous yellow maize fiasco of 1992/3. It takes a lot of time and effort to successfully undertake such a national operation.
Then on Tuesday I had time to tune to one of my favourite radio stations, Parliament Radio. I tell you what, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from Parliament. The MPs were debating ‘morals’ and ‘values’. Really? Half the country faces imminent starvation in the next few weeks when last year’s harvest runs out, our Parliament is made to debate ‘morals’ and ‘values’? The National Assembly exists primarily to make laws. So I wondered, what laws are expected on morals and values? Is this a top priority and an emergency right now? When will the house of laws and the people’s representatives deal with the eminent national crises? When will the executive get first-hand information on the situation on the ground in order to respond informatively? Soon you will hear they have adjourned sine die.
Is it just ‘ba some of us’ who have our priorities wrong or living in the wrong world? Strange times indeed!
The author is media and communication scholar, research fellow and PhD candidate based in South Africa.