Chikombedzi District, in Masvingo, falls under ecological region five, which is semi-arid, and an environment in which most crops do not thrive.
Chikombedzi is characterised by low rainfalls and high temperatures, which reach maximums of 32,9 Degrees Celsius during summer.
On average, region five receives an estimated 350mm of rainfall annually as opposed to 800mm to over 1 000mm in region one.
Despite the harsh climatic conditions, people of Chikombedzi have adapted to the conditions as they press ahead with their main economic activity — agriculture. The villagers rely on sorghum farming, a cereal crop that thrives in dry areas compared to crops like maize.
On a good year, the farmers can deliver on average 50 tonnes of sorghum each to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) while others sell to local brewers.
Maize is only produced by Chikombedzi farmers for domestic consumption, as it cannot be grown commercially level due to the arid conditions.
“There is also livestock here but our main economic activity is sorghum,” said 29 year old Pilo Ruwanza in an interview on the sidelines of a Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) consumer awareness programme in the area.
“This area is extremely hot, only sorghum thrives in this area, but it also depends on the amount of rainfall we receive in a particular season. Other crops require irrigation which is difficult to sustain because of (irrigation) infrastructure challenges.
“Rainfall affects everything, in this area, like right now we are fast running out of pastures for livestock and we may be forced to buy to supplement what we have,” he said.
But the villagers believe that while no one can control nature, such as the weather patterns, something can be done to improve the ease of doing business in the area such as through better roads lining with the main highway, from Harare to Beitbridge as well as to Chiredzi town.
This, Ruwanza said, would make life easier for villagers to transport their produce as well as for contractors, or create other market linkages within the province and across the country.
“One of our biggest challenge here is transport infrastructure. The roads need to be fixed especially to link Chiredzi town and Chikombedzi,” he said.
Some villagers in Chikombedzi travel for 200 kilometres to Chiredzi via Ngudu, which can be cut to less than 20 kilometres a shorter route via Chilonga Bridge is used. Chiredzi is their business service centre where they can access banks, Government offices and other crucial services.
Chilonga Bridge, is in a dilapidated state and gets worse during rainy season as River Runde floods, blocking traffic from passing through.
“We appreciate no one can change nature but we will be grateful if Government helps fix our infrastructure. As people of Chikombedzi we are hard workers and we want to empower ourselves economically, but we need necessary infrastructure for this,” said Ruwanza.
Apart from the road network, the villagers are also yearning for utilities infrastructure in the area, such as water and sewer reticulation.
There is under-utilisation of irrigation as an alternative to natural fed rain due to poor facilities, especially with regards to water supplies.
The water supply challenge in Chikombedzi is affecting both domestic and institutional consumption with the hospital being the most affected.
The villagers are however upbeat the new Government will bring positive change for them. Already, there has been progress in terms of accessing broadcast frequency as parts of the area can now access local radio and television services.
Although some parts of the district still rely on South African mobile networks, other areas within the district can now use local mobile network services, thanks to efforts by POTRAZ in bringing information and Communication Technology (ICT) products and services to communities.
“We are hopeful the new administration will deliver something. In the past we voiced our concerns but nothing changed. But we are however optimistic the new leadership will this time respond in a positive way,” said another villager, Munyaradzi Gwati.
The move by POTRAZ to establish a Community Information Centre (CIC) in Chikombedzi is expected to help boost sorghum farmers’ productivity as they now have better access to critical information and markets.
In a previous interview, POTRAZ director general Dr Gift Machengete said in farming communities CICs were crucial in providing knowledge on best agriculture practices, weather information from the internet while students from tertiary institutions use them to access information from digital libraries.