A photo of Mkhulu
Farmers in Swaziland harvest again
Velezizweni – Just a year ago Swaziland suffered its worst harvest in living memory. Now Minah Zulu, along with thousands of farmers, is reaping a rich crop from seeds provided by FAO and the EC.
“It’s not difficult at all for me to go to the field,” Julius Zulu insists. True, his wife Minah is tending the land with their grandchildren. “But, every now and then, I go out too and give directions.”
Mr. Zulu’s statement seems out of place for a man of his age. He’s 95. In truth he doesn’t get out much these days as he is bedridden most of the time. “Mkhulu has been like this since I was born,” says his 17-year old grandson Sabelo quietly, also referring to his grandfathers failing eye-sight. He takes his hand to put a bowl of food in it.
While eating, Mr. Zulu says that he had a good life. His dream was to be a farmer, and he did become one, although through a roundabout route. During World War II he fought with the Allied Forces in Italy. He then worked for a cabling company in Johannesburg. It was not until 1964, when he married Minah, that he started farming right here, in her village of Velezizweni.
A terrible sequence of natural disasters - droughts, floods, heat spells - wreaked havoc all over Southern Africa last year. More than one third of the population was left in need of assistance. Crops were ravaged in Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, which recorded its lowest maize harvest ever.
To make sure there would be a next harvest, FAO drew up a plan to provide agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilizers and tools, to the hardest-hit farmers. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) released US$ 1.5 million to help FAO in getting supplies for 20 000 farmers in eastern and central Swaziland.
The ECHO funds enabled FAO, together with the Swazi government, to organise Input Trade Fairs, where farmers were issued special vouchers to purchase the crops and tools they needed. A few months on, in the spring of 2008, Minah Zulu, one of those farmers, started harvesting.
Fifteen bags instead of two
Early in the morning, Ms. Zulu is stirring porridge in an iron pot on the wood fire. She says that before breakfast, she’ll go to the field for about two hours with her grandchildren to start cutting maize cobs.
Minah’s family story is all too common in Swaziland, whose HIV/AIDS prevalence ranks amongst the highest in the world. Six of her ten grandchildren live with her and Julius. Four of them have lost both parents. The other two lost their father, while their mother is far away, Minah says.
Fortunately, the crop is much better then last year. The Input Trade Fair helped a lot. With vouchers worth around US$ 43, Minah bought 50 kg of fertiliser and a bag of maize seed. “It grew well,” she says, calculating that the yield could be as much as fifteen bags, as opposed to two bags last year. “Enough to sustain my family.”
With her husband though, things are not like they used to be. “Mkhulu is an old man now,” Minah says. “He is blind.” Does that mean that he doesn’t go out into the field anymore? “No, he doesn’t,” says Minah, who confirms that, in actual fact, it is she who heads the family.
What she would like to have is a picture of her and Julius. She chuckles: “So we can see how old we really are.” Minah is 60. She doesn’t mind seeing that, she adds. “It is natural that you eventually get old. You are young and then you get old. That’s what life is all about.”
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