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Limpopo goes hungry as climate change bites

Thombi Masondo, 57, takes a rest after working under the baking sun on her 10-acre farm. Her crops are dying before they have a chance to break the soil. The area, dry at the best of times, is experiencing the longest ever rainless stretch in its history. Masondo has seen weather conditions change substantially over the past 30 years, with rains often starting a month later than they used to.

Credits: Kieran Dodds - Panos pictures

The province, long vulnerable to drought, has seen worsening dry spells. It often rains continuously for almost a week, which is bad news for the crops. Rising temperatures, delayed and unreliable rainfall, soil erosion, and severe droughts are making it difficult for small-scale farmers to continue growing food such as maize and beans in this drought-prone area.

According to Constansia Musvoto, researcher with the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, rainfall patterns in the region have notably changed since the 1960s. Musvoto says the climate changes will have a tremendous effect on agriculture and the availability of clean water in the province. "Southern Africa will be hit heavily by climate change over the next 70 years," she says. "Agricultural production is projected to be halved, a development that will threaten the livelihoods of farmers in a region where 70 per cent of the population is smallholder farmers."

Credits: Kieran Dodds - Panos pictures

Masondo, a gray-haired mother of five, scrapes her living growing crops which she sells at the nearest market to raise money to send her children and some of her grandchildren to school. Her husband died of AIDS in 2004, and the illness has also claimed two of her daughters, leaving her to look after their three orphaned children.

Credits: Fidelis Zwomuya - Panos London

Thombi Masondo, has not given up. She keeps an expectant eye on the skies, hoping the rains will come soon before the season ends. Nevertheless she knows the weather is against her.

Credits: Chris de Bode - Panos Pictures

Limpopo is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa with a rural population of 89 per cent with a relatively high illiteracy and unemployment rates. It is the epicentre of South Africa's hunger but the government is responding with painful slowness.People rely heavily on agriculture for household food security. Growing malnutrition has led to reports of disease-related deaths among young children weakened by hunger. Drought has also weakened the animals and many died from hypothermia during the recent rains. The three cows dozing near to Masondo are the only ones left after more than 13 of her herd died during the droughts of the past four years. This, for her, was like losing part of her body as she used these cattle to plough her land, plant her crops and ferry her products from the field to the market. The area as a whole, she says, lost "thousands of cows."

Credits: Fidelis Zwomuya - Panos London

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki designated Sekhukhune a poverty hotspot, red-flagged for its droughts, unpredictable weather, poverty, poor infrastructure, and high unemployment. Under a national assistance programme, it is due to get help to improve its roads, supply electricity and create economic cooperatives. Future economic growth will depend on the success of mining, tourism and agriculture. Masondo is also calling on the government to educate the public about climate change, saying she knows little beyond the limited coverage she sees in the media.

Credits: Chris de Bode - Panos Pictures

Fidelis Zwomuya has visited Limpopo, in the northern Sekhukhune district of South Africa, where it has barely rained for nearly six months to talk to the people affected by the ongoing drought and record their stories for this audio essay.

It has barely rained for nearly six months, last season’s scant corn harvest is exhausted and children face hunger. The people in Limpopo’s Sekhukhune district in South Africa are now putting their hope in God and government handouts.

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In Limpopo it has barely rained in six months. We explore how people are coping with the drought.

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