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FEATURE: Erratic rainfall makes the future uncertain


Yesterday, we posted the feature Understanding how rainfall affects food security and migration by Kevin Henry, Project Manager of CARE’s Where the Rain Falls project. Today, Kevin interviews farmer and research participant Napandaela Nicodemu, about what it means to live with uncertain rainfall

Napandaela Nicodemu is worried for the future. She came to live in the village of Bangalala in Tanzania in 1973, when she married at the age of 23. In the subsequent four decades, she has seen her family’s fortunes decline. Life in the village has become more difficult due, in part, to increasingly erratic rainfall.

Now aged 61, Napandaela remains the primary source of support for her two adult children and four grandchildren, who live with her in her mother-in-law’s house most of the time. She works as a farmer on small plots of land, some of which have access to canal water and some of which are entirely rainfed. Apart from the maize that she is able to grow with changeable rainfall, she also cultivates lab-lab (a black bean) as a cash crop and has five mango trees, the fruits of which she sells during productive years.

She has half a dozen chickens, which sometimes produce enough eggs to sell in the market, as well as two cows that belong to her mother-in-law. When rains are not sufficient and she knows the harvest will be poor, she is forced to seek casual work in the local market or on nearby farms. One of Napandaela’s adult daughters contributes some income to the household by migrating for periods of time to Dar es Salaam to work as a casual labourer in the used clothing business.

The fragility of Napandaela’s livelihood and her worries for the future have two main causes. The first is that her husband migrated from Bangalala to Makanya in the 1980s. He married another woman there and started a second family. He still returns to Bangalala occasionally, but he provides no cash income to support his first wife and their family. He occasionally brings some food from Makanya, where he is engaged in agriculture. He has left his aged mother in Bangalala in the care of his wife.

The family was reportedly better off in the past, with a large number of livestock, most of which either died in earlier droughts or were sold to pay the hospital bills of the mother-in-law. The mother-in-law’s house is relatively large by village standards, with five rooms, a television and a rainwater-catchment system. Despite these assets, food is not plentiful. The adults and children both eat two meals a day, porridge (uji) in the morning and a main meal in the evening.

According to Napandaela, water scarcity is the main problem facing the village, and the main factor causing residents to seek employment elsewhere. She reports that rainfall has been less abundant and more erratic since the 1980s. The short rains (vuli) that normally begin in September and last through December are now very unpredictable and usually start later. Given the uncertainty of a successful harvest during this season, the months of December and January are now the periods of greatest food shortage. Money is also needed at this time to pay for school fees.

The long rains (masika), which normally start in March and continue through May, are also reported to be less reliable. The availability of water in Bangalala also depends on rainfall further upland in the Pare Mountains. The village has a limited number of reservoirs (ndiva) and a canal system that feeds waters to some farmers’ fields. Existing reservoirs have limited capacity, and the canals usually only have significant water during the long rains. Napandaela feels that more, larger reservoirs should be built above the village to increase the availability of water for irrigation. “The problem of water is not just my problem; it is the problem of the whole village“, she says.

Napandaela feels great concern for her future. Because none of her children or grandchildren have so far achieved a high level of educational attainment (one grandson has completed secondary education but with poor marks) or secured regular employment, Napandaela fears ending her life in complete destitution, with no source of financial support. She says she has never migrated from Bangalala since coming to the village in 1973, but “now has doubts” and wonders if she should move to someplace with more reliable rainfall.

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