Desperate scramble to survive

06 June 2019 | Local News

Hundreds of subsistence farmers and vendors in the two Kavango regions have been forced to scramble for cabbages at a local cooperative, so they can resell them and feed their families amid the national drought emergency.

The desperate women camped from 03:00 in the winter cold, so they could buy cabbages at the cooperative.

Hundreds of women from various villagers flocked to the Salem Cooperative this week at Uvungu-vungu, situated about five kilometres east of Rundu.

Most of them are subsistence farmers and vendors operating at various open-markets in Rundu, while others travelled from as far as Calai in southern Angola to camp at the cooperative in hope of buying vegetables to resell.

The cooperative is a 34-hectare piece of land that has been divided amongst 43 small-scale farmers.

The farmers normally inform the women that a certain vegetable is ready for harvesting on a particular day. The women then camp at the cooperative the day before the harvest.

The women described this as “survival of the fittest”, as those who are slow return home with nothing.

One of the small-scale farmers at the cooperative, Laurentia Nkandanga, said the demand for vegetables has increased drastically over the past few years.

Nkandanga attributed this to the ongoing drought conditions in the country, which has left many subsistence farmers without their mahangu harvests.

“Some of these women are not regular vendors, they just emulated those selling vegetables in the town, as they have no other means to survive,” Nkandanga said.

“Most of these first-timers were forced because of the current drought situation, as they did not harvest anything from their mahangu fields. The other crops such as mutete and maize also did not make it this year, due to the poor rainfall, and that is why you see these women scrambling for the cabbages.”

Nkandanga explained that some of the women are so desperate, they even go to the extent of wanting to buy “premature vegetables”.

“The women would come to the cooperative every day, inspecting the fields, and if they see a vegetable that is satisfying to them and premature according to us, they will beg you for it, but we advise them to wait,” Nkandanga said.

Some of the women who spoke on condition of anonymity explained that being vendors is their only hope, as they and their husbands are unemployed, with no prospects for finding employment.

“Our children go to school and as mothers we have to do anything possible to provide for them. We will sleep in the cold, waiting to scramble for the vegetables with fellow women for as long as we can, because we have to provide for our families. Some of us have husbands but they too are unemployed,” they said.

Some said their husbands escorted them to the cooperative in the wee hours of the morning.

Nkandanga, who spoke on behalf her fellow cooperative members, said they are faced with water challenges. She said the current water pump, which is pumping water from the Okavango River about a kilometre away, has low pressure and they cannot effectively water the entire 34-hectare piece of land.

Nkandanga said this is the reason why they cannot have bumper harvests and sell to more desperate women.

“We really have a water crisis, as the pump we are using is not that good,” she said.

She called on Good Samaritans to assist the cooperative with a water pump, as this will assist many families living in poverty in the Kavango regions and elsewhere.

The cooperative was established in 1985, when the Sambyu Traditional Authority donated the land to the then government, so it could be used to empower women.

KENYA KAMBOWE