FILE PHOTO: A wilted maize crop is seen in Mumijo, Buhera district east of the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, March 16, 2024. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

HARARE, April 8 (Reuters) – Mandisireyi Mbirinyu, 70, and her 13-year-old grandson Tinotenda sit in the blistering sun, shelling the few maize cobs they managed to retrieve from land parched by a drought ravaging southern Africa.

“The grain I have is only enough for the next two months. It is going to be hunger from here on,” Mbirinyu told Reuters at her farm in Shamva, 90 km (56 miles) north of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.

Mbirinyu considers herself lucky. She at least managed to harvest a few bags of maize from her sparsely irrigated plot – most crops around this area were a write-off.

Southern Africa is reeling from its worst drought in years, owing to a combination of naturally occurring El Nino – when an abnormal warming of the waters in the eastern Pacific radiates heat into the air leading to hotter weather across the world – and higher average temperatures produced by greenhouse gas emissions.

Weather across the world produced record-breaking extremes in 2023 as climate change amplified the impacts of El Nino.

A study in October last year even suggested that climate change may now be as significant a factor in triggering El Nino conditions as natural causes like sun rays.

Aid agency Oxfam warned last week that more than 24 million people in southern Africa face hunger, malnutrition and water scarcity because of the drought.


Last season Mbirinyu harvested 14 tonnes of maize and sold some to the national grain company; this year she’s wondering whether there will be enough to feed her own family.

In neighbouring Malawi, crop theft has become a problem as food sources dry up. In Kuntaja village, near the airport of the commercial capital Blantyre, Osten James makes a living for his family of five by guarding other people’s maize gardens, after his own were torched by heat.

“The owners are trying to save the little maize that survived the heat from thieves,” said James.

Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe have all declared a state of disaster.

“The maize has failed,” Ulaliya Radson, a Malawian farmer said. “Last year I harvested 10 bags and as you can see in this field, I won’t even manage half of that,” she added, gesturing towards a parched patch.

(Reporting by Nyasha Chingono in Shamva and Frank Phiri in Blantyre; Editing by Tim Cocks, William Maclean)