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‘2020 to 2030 Will Be The Decade Of Agri-Tech’

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Picture this: remote rural Africa, where communities assiduously farm vast stretches of arable land not knowing anything about digital technology or drones that can transform their lives.

Now picture this: forward-thinking innovators and entrepreneurs who swap the city for the village and lend these communities the tech and savvy to change farming – and their fortunes – forever.

Agriculture, the mainstay of Africa’s informal economies, needs a facelift, and some new faces to talk tech to power. Agri-tech is the buzzword, and we profile three innovators spearheading change in their communities. They grew up on these farms, and knowing their earth best, have created the technology they need, in turn revolutionizing agriculture, from the little corners of Africa.

‘Clarity From Above’
James Paterson, South Africa

James Paterson. Photo supplied.

An unidentified flying object hovers over a 150-hectare orange farm in a small town called Clanwilliam in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.

It’s the first time James Paterson is testing his homemade drone. The object flies over the mountainous terrain offering a bird’s eye view, then singles out a tree with stunted growth. The object detects that the tree is not receiving enough water.

The object looks like a prop out of the Transformers movie series. It has eyes too – a camera lens – to monitor what’s happening on the ground. Paterson, 29, controls this propeller-enhanced technology using a controller. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aerobotics, a company that interprets satellite and aerial drone analytics to enable farmers.

He calls it “clarity from above”.

The drone space in Africa has significantly developed over the years, and the view from below has certainly changed too. In Rwanda, drones are a common sight, famously used to deliver blood and medical supplies to remote areas, and here in this small South African farm, it’s being used to improve the way we grow food.

READ MORE: Drones By Africa, For Africa

Aerobotics’ core mandate is to provide data on tree crops, enabling farmers with information on disease, pests and water usage. They are able to tell the farmers if a tree lacks nutrition and what it needs.

“Find one small thing that is going to improve the farmers’ life and then focus on that,” says Paterson.

“Instead of just giving the farmer a picture or a map, we give him exactly what’s going on with the tree and we can track that over time.”

He believes this would be useful in areas such as Cape Town with the ongoing water crisis.

He co-founded the company with Benji Meltzer in 2014 after they built drones in Paterson’s garage. Paterson, who grew up on a fruit farm, had always loved aeronautics. Meltzer is also the Chief Technology Officer of Aerobotics.

Now, he is able to merge farming and tech into something he enjoys doing on a daily basis; running an aeronautical company providing farm analytical services.

“Some farmers… like the older way of doing things.”

Aerobotics interprets satelitte and aerial drone analytics to help farmers.

But running the company hasn’t always been easy. Apart from competing with drone companies providing similar services, their biggest challenge has been trying to convince farmers to use their product.

“Some farmers… like the older way of doing things,” says Paterson.

“But even then, after we have met with them and we show them what that can do, they can really understand this is something that can help them on the farm.”

Currently, they have over 200 clients in countries such as the United States, Russia and South Africa.

Paterson has been one of the few to benefit from drone innovation in agriculture. He says he and the team were the only South African startups amongst 24 companies around the world to be part of Google’s Launchpad Accelerator in San Francisco early this year.

They have also secured an R8 million ($663,000) fund from two venture capital firms who Paterson says saw the benefit of their software for farmers. They are currently undergoing a new round of funding.

Aerobotics’ Chief Financial Officer, Timothy Willis, believes that technology in farming can assist in better risk mitigation and enhancing efficiencies around yields.

“I think those two things together will add to making a more efficient agricultural sector in Africa,” he says.

Five years from now, Paterson predicts drones will become more autonomous.

“In the future, you won’t be concerned about the drone, it will just do all the work for you.”

Smart Farming
Ndubuisi Ekekwe, Abia State, Nigeria

Ndubuisi Ekekwe. Photo supplied.

From a farm in the Abia State of Nigeria, Dr Ndubuisi Ekekwe talks to us about a table.

Not just any table, but a small square-shaped table resting on one leg, which actually is “an electronic farm diary” that records and collects crucial information for farmers.

Ekekwe calls it Zenvus, which he created in 2011. It collects data on the soil’s pH, moisture and temperature, and records the sun’s intensity and humidity in the air. An inbuilt solar panel charges it.

The device is his contribution to smart farming. It wirelessly transmits the recorded data to a cloud server from which farmers access it on a mobile app and get real-time data.

“2020 to 2030 will be the decade of agri-tech,” Ekekwe tells FORBES AFRICA.

Zenvus services corporates, and have supplied to 500,000 farming entities. He says it’s currently in a partnership with the government of Cross River State in Nigeria, as well as Abia State.

Ekekwe says he has been approached by a number of international companies wanting to cash in on Zenvus. However, he has been reluctant to sell it.

“Someone wanted to buy Zenvus for $5 million five years ago. I wouldn’t even sell it for $15 million, just to tell you the kind of value it has,” he says.

For Ekekwe, it’s more important to service farmers. To date, he prides himself in having the largest farmers’ cooperative in Africa.

“I wouldn’t even sell it for $15 million.”

Zenvus collects crucial data for farmers in Nigeria.

Ekekwe grew up as a farm boy in a village called Ovim in Abia State. Growing up, he received distinctions throughout his high school year and went on to acquire an engineering degree, four master’s degrees, two doctorates in management and microelectronics, as also a medical robotics degree from the United States.

He chose to move back and stay on in his village.

Ovim is known for the Ajonkwu festival when the Igbo community gather to celebrate the harvesting season.

According to Ekekwe, farmers rely on the moon to obtain a greater yield. As a result, tech for farming isn’t something a lot of people in his community are open to.

“Farmers are not literate and that is why we are not selling tech to them, we are selling the service,” he says.

According to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), 65% of Africa’s labor force is engaged in agriculture. Despite this, agricultural productivity on the African continent still lags behind significantly compared to other continents. AGRA suggests that farming only accounts for 32% of the continent’s GDP. Africa therefore does not reap the benefits of agriculture.

READ MORE: Agriculture Behind Africa’s Health

Ekekwe says the future of Africa is farming. He believes the convergence of tech and agriculture will result in more people wanting a piece of the pie of agri-tech startups and open up more opportunities for Africans across the continent.

‘Uber For Farmers’
Brian Bosire, Kisii, Kenya

Brian Bosire. Photo supplied.

On a farm in southwestern Kenya, in the small town of Kisii, a field agent reads data off a yellow square-shaped monitor, which has wires running into a smaller device connecting to the soil. It takes him about five minutes to read data regarding the soil’s PH, water levels, and disease and pests found on it. In almost two minutes, the data is sent to the farmer.

The field worker’s job is done and he looks at his phone to find his next requested farm match.

The device that has helped him is named UjuziKilimo, which is Swahili for ‘knowledge farming’. Its founder, 24-year-old Brian Bosire, calls it “an Uber service for farmers”, and this on a farm that even Uber might find difficult to access.

The field worker travels to the nearest farmer who has requested his services. This kind of smart farming service costs the Kenyan farmer about $20.

Bosire had always wanted to become a key contributor to Kenya’s agricultural industry. He grew up in Kisii, a town known for its highlands and wet weather – favorable climate for farming. Frustrated by the lethargic technological growth in the agricultural space in his town, he sought to create something innovative that would improve the yields for the farmers of Kisii.

“We aren’t selling tech, we are selling the solutions,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Bosire says what he tries to do is become as close to the farmer as possible. As a result, he and his team target small-scale farmers and read data on vegetable crops, maize being one of them. The UjuziKilimo can read data from about five to 10 acres of land. Farmers can request data on their farms by simply sending an SMS so even farmers with the most basic cellular devices can benefit.

“We aren’t selling tech, we are selling the solutions.”

UjuziKilimo helps improve yields.

When Bosire moved to the big city of Nairobi to study, he took advantage of every opportunity to pursue his dreams as an entrepreneur. To date, he has founded three companies, all operating in the tech innovation space, UjuziKilimo one of them.
It’s old hat that Kenya, the country which pioneered M-Pesa as one of Africa’s leading startups, is home to a lot more players in the tech space. But Bosire says his business is different.

Earlier this year, his other innovation company, HydroIQ, won the Startup of the Year Africa 2018 award. Slightly linked to agri-tech, it’s a virtual water network operator which connects water utility companies and water consumers through an online platform. It allows for mobile money payments, data analytics, leakage detections and water use and consumption through sensors that relay information.

All this leads one to believe that the future face of farming in Africa is young.

Bosire hopes UjuziKilimo can grow to reach from 10,000 farmers to over 50,000.

“We want to become the largest data center of agriculture analytics in Africa,” he says. Future plans include launching UjuziKilimo in the United Kingdom under the name ‘Soil Pal’.

 

Agriculture

Op-Ed: Why African Women In Agriculture Face The Greatest Double Burden Of Covid-19 And Food Insecurity

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By Sabdiyo Dido Bashuna, Senior Technical Adviser Value Chains & Agribusiness, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

As Covid-19 continues its spread across Africa, the restrictions to limit infection are having a disproportionate impact on half of the continent’s food growers and producers: women.

At a time when food security is under extra strain because of the pandemic, women in agriculture are enduring extra hygiene and social distancing measures on top of endemic inequalities, which together undermine their capacity to respond and recover from the crisis.

But the pandemic has also triggered creativity and survival techniques, leading to product diversity, new digital marketing and distribution channels.

Across Africa, women make up 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force as well as often taking primary responsibility for caring for families, households and communities.

Yet historic inequalities mean women are facing the added pressure of the coronavirus outbreak while also having access to just a fraction of the necessary resources, from land and labour to finance and trainings.

In normal times, the productivity gap between men and women farmers is an estimated 30 per cent as a result of unequal access to resources, but with shocks like coronavirus exacerbating existing inequalities, the potential impact on food production, food security and nutrition could be far greater.   

Better supporting African women in agriculture would help bridge this gap and increase both yields and profitability, providing more food for the poor, sick and hungry, and more income to support rural families during the global health emergency. So how can we do this during the pandemic?

One challenge of persistent gender inequality is that women, whose roles are often home-based and even more so during the coronavirus outbreak, tend not to present themselves for support.

The first barrier to overcome, then, is reaching women in the first place, whether with agricultural advice, financial support or valuable farm inputs like seeds, fertilizer and pesticides.

For more than three decades, CTA has worked closely with extension workers in Africa, who make direct contact with women through cooperatives and communities while also championing digital tools and services that are less intrusive or demanding.

Online networks such as VALUE4HERConnect have provided a platform for African women entrepreneurs in agriculture that offers networking, mentoring and training support in a way that is convenient for heads of households.

These kinds of networks are also helpful for addressing a second challenge resulting from gender inequality, which is that the majority of women’s agri-businesses tend to be smaller and more likely to fail given the low levels of resilience.

To be effective, any tailored support for women must also be channelled with such small businesses in mind. Only a small fraction of rural women own bank account, for example, so accessing such funds is a challenge.

Providing grants and flexible loans for women can help them afford financial services like insurance and credit that protect their livelihoods against stresses while allowing them to invest in growing their enterprises.

Additionally, for women to fulfil their often care-based roles in households and on farms throughout the pandemic, they must be safe, both from the risk of infection and gender-based violence, which has increased as a result of lockdowns.

Finally, the new coping mechanisms and survival techniques adopted by women in agribusiness during the pandemic need to be documented, supported and scaled to cushion them from failure and help build resilience against future shocks.

Governments, health agencies and non-profits must provide technical assistance to help educate women on navigating the complexities caused by this pandemic, from basic hygiene measures to skills such as business management, renegotiation of supply contracts, or accessing business support.

Women smallholders already play such a vital role in producing and providing food in low-income countries, which has become all the more important in the wake of coronavirus.

But without targeted and appropriate support, they miss fulfilling their potential, which is a loss to women and families that depend on their incomes, and in the grip of a pandemic, it may also be a fatal oversight.

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Agriculture

Green-Sky Thinking

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In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.


Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

READ MORE| No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine

Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

READ MORE| Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

READ MORE| Everything You Need To Know About The Future Of Pesticides And Bees

In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

READ MORE| Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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Agriculture

Cyclone Idai Aftermath: No Maize, No Money, No Future

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The deadliest African cyclone, to date, tore through Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in March, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The worst is yet to come for survivors.


The deadliest cyclone to ever hit Africa, Idai, overnight, ripped through Mozambique and then tore into Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving a long trail of destruction in its wake.

Trees were uprooted, so were people, in the millions.

Roads were washed away, houses destroyed and bridges torn from their edifices. Worst of all, the raging muddy waters killed at least 847 people, affected about two million and destroyed several hundreds of thousands of crops. The devastation caused by the cyclone is almost unimaginable as, in these three countries, bodies could be seen floating in water where there used to be villages.

“This was unimaginable. I am in the military but I have never seen such. People are desperate for help and have lost everything,” says Brigadier General Joe Muzvidziwa, who is helping survivors in Zimbabwe.

For those who did survive, the worst is yet to come. Many of them will mourn the deaths of their loved ones on empty pockets and growling stomachs.

The drive to Zimbabwe’s hardest hit district, Chimanimani, is long and painful. A mere six days after the furious waters swept away most parts of the villages in the area, the ground is dry but the pain and destruction still palpable.

We struggle to drive into the villages as trees and debris still block the roads and bridges have been decimated.

We continue our journey on foot and meet many with no place to call home. One of them is Tsitsi Mungana.

Tsitsi Mungana in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai. Picture:

As we meet, she is trying to climb over a tree blocking the road, to make her way to aid agencies for her first decent meal since Cyclone Idai. She is walking barefoot and is wearing the only dress and doek (headwrap) she now owns. She mutters a few words to herself as tears stream down her cheeks.

“It’s been the worst time of my life. I don’t know how I am going to move on from this. I don’t have anything else left. My husband was swept away by the floods and was found about 10km away… We spent hours looking for my grandson. The rocks which fell off the mountain due to the heavy rains and wind covered his body and it took many people to find him. All our belongings and livestock are also gone,” says Mungana as she begins to weep uncontrollably.

She is one of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones, and thousands who are most likely going to starve this year.

According to Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi will collectively have to import over a million tons of maize this year to feed its people.

He says Zimbabwe’s maize imports could reach 900,000 tons in order to meet the annual needs of roughly two million tons a year.

“Meanwhile, Mozambique will most likely double the typical maize import volume of about 100,000 tons a year,” he says.

It’s going to be hard to find suppliers of maize because the key suppliers, South Africa and Zambia, are expecting low harvests this year.

“If we assume that South Africa’s expected production of 10.6 million tons materializes, then the country could have about 1.1 million tons of maize for export markets. A large share of this will, most likely, be destined to the BNLS countries (Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, and Eswatini), thus leaving a small volume for Zimbabwe and Mozambique,” Sihlobo says.

There is also very little to be expected from Zambia as the International Grains Council forecasts the country’s 2018/19 maize harvest at 2.4 million tons, down by 33% year-on-year. This will be enough only for domestic consumption.

Cyclone Idai also affected trade.

In its wake, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, the cyclone cost Africa infrastructure worth more than a billion dollars.

Port of Beira, the main corridor for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Eastern DRC, closed its doors.

“We closed the port two days before the cyclone hit to allow us time to prepare for it by reorganizing and removing all potential hazards. There was a lot of damage to the port. It took another two days to clean up and, at least, make the port accessible. The damage was several millions of dollars. We are currently in talks with insurance to know how much exactly. It will take time and money to fix everything up. We are currently improvising just to make sure business goes on,” says Jan de Vries, Managing Director of Port of Beira.

Jan de Vries, Managing Director of Port of Beira.

Before this disaster, Beira port controlled 60% of the country’s imports and 40% of its exports.

“We handle about 300,000 containers per year and about three million tons of general cargo per year and a lot of fuel but we had to put services on hold… On the first day, it was tough to go around. Nearly all the roads were blocked, to some extent, with trees, electricity cables and many things. There was a lot of destruction. A lot of roofs damaged, buildings completely collapsed. This place looked like a warzone,” de Vries says.

He says at the port, roofs, doors and warehouses were destroyed but they are lucky because it is currently low season.

“Electricity supply had been cut off but we are very impressed by the government because power is being restored. Technicians from all over the country are working hard. Major industries have been reconnected and a few residential areas are now being connected. Rail and road infrastructure is also being fixed. Although we have to struggle a bit, we have opened the port and business continues,” he says.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Sifelani Jabangwe says Beira is one of the major ports for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region and its closure, no matter how short-lived, affected trade.

“Zimbabwe imports fuel and wheat through the Port of Beira. The closure caused a strain on the supply of these two commodities. We had trucks that were stuck in Beira for a number of days. The bigger impact is also on businesses located on the eastern sides of the country, like timber estates, fruit and tea producers, and even the diamond company, in that area, is now revising its targeted output because of the flooding,” Jabangwe says.

Henry Nemaire, the Chairman of the CZI Trade Development and Investments Promotion Committee based in Mutare, says most businesses have been severely affected and are looking for funding to rebuild.

“Some businesses are in areas that can’t be accessed with 30-ton trucks which they used to move their goods like timber… Power lines are cut off and there are issues around water supply systems which have been damaged. Smaller businesses were the most affected. Most of them are now trying to apply for loans to get new trucks and rebuild so they can get back on track,” Nemaire says.

Jabangwe agrees with Nemaire. He says it will be a long and harsh road to recovery.

“We are still waiting for reports from various companies affected by the cyclone which should start coming in soon so we can understand the actual loss that has occurred… there are already teams working with government to import the required maize to feed the country. We need additional support to make sure that people are catered for. We would need to feed people in that area for at least 12 months, which means a full-fledged program has to be put in place,” he says.

Cherukai Mukamba, a local smallholder farmer, says he relied on farming to make money. “I would sell maize and chicken, and sometimes cows, to make money to be able to take care of my children. A week before the cyclone, I had hired people who were going to help me with harvesting when the time came,” he says.

Cherukai Mukamba, a local smallholder farmer.

Like many in this area, Mukamba spent the night fearing for his life and that of his family.

“I was asleep and was woken up by very loud winds that I have never heard before. I went outside to look and right in front of me, was a bus rolling down the mountain. I could hear people scream and it crushed them before my eyes. I tried to go help but it pouring and I could see rocks fall off the mountain right into the fields and I had to go back in the house and say a prayer.”

The next day, Mukamba says he woke up to the biggest horror.

“Everything was destroyed; all my crops, livestock and part of my house. I went to check on the bus but didn’t find anyone inside. I heard that there had been three people in the bus and their bodies were found over 100km away. I couldn’t believe it. It is the worst thing to ever happen to us,” he says.

Mukamba’s story is one of thousands of stories in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.

These countries have weathered many storms over the years like Cyclone Leon–Eline and poverty, but this massive natural disaster will go down in history books as the worst and southern Africa will bear its scars for generations to come.

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