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Chinamora, Zimbabwe


Matias Dzangare, farmer

The dryland silence of a Zimbabwe farm is broken by the prayers of a spirit medium, asking for rainfall that will bring life to the barren soil.

The lack of rain generates little desperation for the farmers of Zimbabwe's mostly white-owned large commercial farms. Their fields flow with water, pumped in from private reservoirs and underground acquifers. Owned by just 5,000 families, their farms sit on 80 percent of the nation's most fertile soil.

Small-scale farmers live in a completely different world. Matias Dzangare spends more and more time with his grandchildren. Though some sense the impending danger, most of the children are unaware of the family's marginal existence. They rarely see their fathers who have been forced to move to urban centers in search of work. Leaving behind wives and children is not uncommon in Zimbabwe.

Despite the lack of rain, Matias' oldest grandchildren practice the skills they so badly need to become farmers. They've already experienced the consequences of a famine. All Matias can do is hope that the spirit medium's prayers are answered.

When the rains finally come they are six months late. Matias Dzangare's crop is meager. It will barely see him through another season. Yet he is secure with the knowledge that change is coming to Zimbabwe and that his grandchildren will learn better ways to farm their homestead.

In a remote corner of Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, an unforgiving sun turns hundreds of villages into dusty wastelands. When the rains are late, watering holes and grasslands disappear. Wildlife begins to suffer; elephants invade farms and pastures in search of food. Without rain, 13 million people face a possible famine.

Small family homesteads are especially hard hit. It's always been a difficult existence, but the lack of rain is causing serious concerns. As food supplies slowly dwindle, the villagers are in desperate need of help.

Small family farm in Zimbabwe

Small family farm in Zimbabwe

It's not a new phenomenon. Struggling with a harsh environment has always been part of this nation's history. Shrouded in the morning mists lay the ruins of southern Africa's largest medieval city — Great Zimbabwe. It was founded in the 13th century, and over the next three hundred years its population grew to over 16,000. Abandoned in the early 1500s, all that remains of the city where once Kings and high priests are massive walls and broken ramparts. Recent studies have revealed that Great Zimbabwe's growing population depleted both pastures and water supplies.

Great Zimbabwe was deserted because it became unsustainable. It's a vivid reminder of just how vulnerable the land is to human pressures.

Rising out of the rugged African landscape is a present-day Great Zimbabwe. Once a small colonial trading post, Harare is now a thriving modern capital city; home to over one and a half million people. Harare is a symbol of promise, a magnet drawing people from the country's rural areas. Each year, tens of thousands pour into the city seeking a better way of life.

Video Excerpt: In an isolated corner of Zimbabwe, the inhabitants pray for rain. Watering holes and grasslands are disappearing. Thirteen million people face possible famine.
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But very much like Great Zimbabwe, Harare gives off mixed signals. Once, many of these people stayed on the land, attached by both inclination and heritage. Their alienation from the land traces back to the mid 19th-century, when the British first dominated the territory they called Rhodesia.

At first, the colonialists burned storage bins to control the supply of food. Indigenous crops like millet and sorghum were replaced by western crops of corn, cotton and tobacco. To increase productivity, fertilizers and pesticides were introduced. Then the colonialists virtually enslaved the people and banned most forms of indigenous agriculture. Ultimately Zimbabwe won its independence, but not before a century of colonialism altered the very nature of farming.

With the height of the growing season only six weeks away, Zimbabwe's communal farms are slowly turning brown.

Today, the farmers of Chinamora use less chemicals and are planting indigenous, drought resistant crops. In just two years their bounty has almost tripled. The ability of a community to feed itself, to reach its full agricultural potential, has many other tangible benefits.

High over Africa, however, satellites send back time-lapse photographs showing a dramatic loss of vegetation, especially in southern Africa. With the height of the growing season only six weeks away, Zimbabwe's communal farms are slowly turning brown.

Young girl in Chinamora

Young girl in Chinamora

With a patience forged by the rhythms of an ancient landscape, Zimbabwe's communal farmers continue their struggle against poverty. They are not unlike most other farmers throughout the world. They live on a thin edge; an edge sharpened by poor harvests and drought.

The women of Chinamora have tended a communal farm for ten years. In the past, they used chemicals which were often banned in richer more developed countries. Without protective clothing, they frequently suffered the toxic effects of these substances. But now that they have been empowered by a reliable source of water, they are beginning to also cast off the shackles of colonial rule.



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