Farmers brace for harvest of hunger

Facing despair: Motshidisi Mokgolele contemplates his future
Facing despair: Motshidisi Mokgolele contemplates his future

In the south, small-scale crop farmers have come to regard the recent showers with contempt, regarding them as a slap in the face from the gods who are surely laughing at the damage they have already wrought. Hectare after hectare, crops lie wilted, shrivelled and dead. Farmers are justifiably distraught with a bleak future in sight. This week, Mmegi Photojournalist, KAGISO ONKATSWITSE traversed the villages and here chronicles a few cases

Farmers in the south have stopped craning their necks skyward for signs of rain. That type of hope is incongruent with the hectares of wilting, dying crops that lie at their feet, the precursor to a new season of hunger.

Since October, instead of rain, the southern parts of the country have been blasted by heatwaves and high temperatures, which in some cases have reached record highs.

To its credit, the Ministry of Agriculture had warned farmers about possible low rainfall and even the heatwaves. Farmers had been advised to plant early maturing seeds hybrid or open pollinated seed to avoid disaster.

But farmers are first and foremost, creatures of faith. The heavens will provide, is the unspoken credo.

However, in areas such as Lekgaswane fields in Kweneng District, farmers are shaking their heads in wretched disbelief at the return of a drought they last saw in 2012/13 and had only recovered from.

Dineo Lekgotla, who traditionally plants maize and beans for family sustenance on a few hectares every year, does not know what will happen to her crops this year. The passionate farmer recalled the hope with which she ploughed her field last November, through government assistance.

“As the first rains started, I looked for a tractor to use for ploughing. The Ministry of Agriculture helped with seeds and payments for the tractor owner.

“Balimisi bane ba tsile ha batswa Gakuto. They measured and advised on the appropriate way of farming,” she said.

From her fields, Lekgotla usually harvests 10 bags of maize and beans. This year is different however and only the beans have hope.

“Ga ke rate mabele ka gore ajewa ke nonyane ya Thaga botlhoko, mme a botoka gona le mmedi ka gore a kgona go itshwarelelela mo mogoteng (I don’t like sorghum because it is susceptible to being wiped out by quelea bird. But it is better than maize as sorghum is resistant to heat),” she says, pointing to rows of dead maize plants.

“Gompieno ga ke itse gore re tsile go jang eng tota.” For Pelontle Kale, this cropping season has only brought a promise of hunger. She had received assistance from government for seeds and tractors, to no avail.

‘I had planted for subsistence purposes, not it’s all burnt. By the time the warning about low rains came, I had already ploughed’, she said.

 Kedibonye Mororwane said farmers in the area were helpless, adding that government had “lost      big time” in investing inputs such as tillage, seeds and pesticides this season.

“Everything has burnt in my field. I was expecting a reasonable harvest, but now I have to find an alternative means to survive,” she said.

Another farmer, Motshidisi Mokgolele, grew emotional with every step he took through his dead field, occasionally embracing his wilted maize stems.

“Ke tsone digau tseo. Kene ke lemile heketara tse nne. Ga gona le haele sepe, ga gona. Ke selela dikoko mo go swabileng (These are the remains of my hard work. I had planted four hectares, but there is absolutely nothing left. The little that I pick up, I feed to the chickens),” he said, displaying a bucket half-full of heat-damaged maize cobs.

Omphemetse Moatshe of Mmanoko, who ploughed without government assistance, said the 2014/15 season “was the worst of my life.”

“Ebile hankabo ke lekile go lema mabele, gongwe sengwe se kabo se bonetse. Mathata ke gore a berekisa ka gore o joba kobana le dinonyane,” she said.

“I was only assisted with seeds and ploughed maize and beans only.

“But as you can see, my field is empty. It is either the plants did not germinate, or if they did, the excessive heat burnt them.”

Moatshe said she could now understand government’s advice about planting sorghum.

“It (sorghum) can withstand the heat and give good yield,” she said.

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