Climate Change: A bane on the availability of Mophane worms

Phane harvesters boiling phane to ready it for packaging PIC: LEBOGANG MOSIKARE
Phane harvesters boiling phane to ready it for packaging PIC: LEBOGANG MOSIKARE

The effects of climate change have hit hard on the livelihoods of many rural communities and have affected the distribution and or availability of the nutritious mophane (mopani or phane) worms or caterpillar in some places in the northern parts of the country. Poor rains have severely reduced the income of some rural households who depend on phane to sustain their lives. Mmegi Staff Writer LEBOGANG MOSIKARE recently visited some places in the Central District to see the extent to which climate change have affected phane harvesters  

MATOBO/GOSHWE: With unemployment expected to hover around 19% this year from 18% last year, some people, mostly women, on the outskirts of Matobo and Goshwe villages, have pitched camps in the bush to harvest mopani worms.

Many of them harvest phane, a staple source of protein and nutrients for many rural communities in Botswana, for commercial purposes and to eat as relish.

A quick survey while driving through the Mophane veldt in the Matobo and Goshwe harvest areas showed that few trees have been defoliated. Most trees were green without worms while others had few leaves.

Defoliation indicates a thriving mophane worm population, according to a research entitled, “The evolution and impacts of Mophane worm harvesting: Perception of harvesters in Central Botswana” that was submitted by Tshireletso Lucas for her Master of Science Degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Chandapiwa Masumbika-a perennial mophane worm harvester from Tutume village is one of the women who toil in the bush looking for the income-generating mophane worms.

Masumbika, a mother of three school-going children, uses the money she gets from selling phane to support her family.

“I buy food, clothing and school equipment for my children using the money that I get from selling phane. This year, I started harvesting phane at Maitengwe but I came to Matobo and Goshwe after the worms were depleted at Maitengwe. There are very few prospects of finding employment in Botswana, so I have to do something sustainable to support my family,” said Masumbika.

Masumbika however, expressed sorrow that although there was a lot of phane around the Matobo and Goshwe villages, it was and is not in abundance just like in the past during the times of good rains.

“The weather patterns have drastically changed over the years. The rains fall very late and are unreliable.

We no longer know for sure when the rains would come. In the past, we were sure that we will harvest phane in December and April, but nowadays we are no longer sure,” said Masumbika.

Another phane harvester, Josephine Oagile, a mother of five children echoed Masumbika’s sentiments.

Just like most people from rural households, she depends on agriculture for food security.

However, poor rains this year and the last have gravely affected her streams of income.

“I depend on agriculture and harvesting phane to put bread on the table and support my family. But during recent years, the rains are unpredictable and unreliable which put a strain on how we survive,” said a worried Oagile.

Although they are not conversant with the phenomenon of climate change, Oagile and other people who depend on agriculture and harvesting phane for a living have been greatly affected by the effects of climate change.

In a study entitled: “The effects of climate variability on the harvesting and preservation of Mopani worms” scholars Dube and Phiri said that bad developments in agriculture due to climate change would adversely affect livelihoods that depend on crop production for food security.

The researchers added that the presence of drought or heavy rains might interfere with the harvesting of Mopani worms and have a negative effect on farming and harvesting of the Mopani worms.

“Given the intimate link between the larvae of the Mopani worm, Mopani woodlands and rainfall, climate change and weather variability will likely have negative effects on Mopani worm availability, harvesting, preservation and nutritional status in sub-Saharan-African countries,” said the researchers.

“The effects of climate variability on the Mopani woodlands, Mopani worms developmental stages, harvesting, preservation, economic development and nutrition are discussed.

The recommendations made are that the negative effects of climate variability on Mopani woodlands and Mopani worms need to be mitigated to ensure food security and sustained economic development.”

A drive further into the bush by this reporter revealed how erratic rainfall patterns caused by climate change, as Dube and Phiri posited,  have gravely affected many households.

At one camp, which was mostly populated by phane harvesters from villages around the Tswapong area in the Central District, this publication discovered that agriculture is the mainstay of many rural communities who suffer due to lack of goods rains.

Just like Oagile and Masumbika, the harvesters told Mmegi that they have travelled many kilometres from Tswapong to harvest phane around Matobo and Goshwe villages because they are unemployed and use the proceeds they get from selling phane for a variety of household needs.

“In Tswapong, there was insufficient phane hence we came here after we heard that we can harvest more phane than where we come from. Some of us used to work at BCL Mine, but since its closure we have to do something to eke a living,” said Njalakangwa Mokgalo.

Mokgalo also lamented that poor rains have contributed to her dire state of affairs.

“We depend on farming to sustain our lives. Some of our animals have died due to drought. We are going to have a poor harvest because of the little rains that fell and high temperatures that killed out plants,” Mokgalo enunciated.

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