Feature: A worm that sustains many Zimbabwean families
May 2, 2017 (Xinhua) — Wearing torn rubber gloves, Lydia Sibanda sits on a bucket while squeezing out the insides of mopane worms.
She is among the scores of people who have erected plastic tents at a roadside bush in the arid cattle-ranching area of Gwanda in southern Zimbabwe, where they are harvesting and preparing the worms for sale.
“We were at another site in this area but after the worms were finished, we decided to move to this site where we can still find them,” she said.
In Zimbabwe, the mopane worms are a popular dish with the rural people and are considered a delicacy in the cities.
“I enjoy eating the worms either as a snack or with sadza (thick maize porridge),” said Wellington Kuziwa, a security guard in Harare. “The worms are tasty and I usually eat them twice per week,” he added.
The worm is the large caterpillar of the Gonimbrasia belina species, commonly called the emperor moth. It is called a mopane worm because it feeds on the leaves of mopane trees after it hatches in summer.
The worm is mainly found in southern parts of Zimbabwe where mopane trees abound.
In Zimbabwe, the worm is not only a cheap source of nutrition, but also a source of livelihoods for many.
“I started harvesting and selling the worms this year and in the short period I have been doing this, I have managed to raise money to sustain my family, pay school fees for my children and pay rent,” said the 46-year old Sibanda, a single mother of three.
Sibanda’s family lives in the city of Kwekwe while she stays in Beitbridge to sell the worms to locals and those crossing into neighboring South Africa to resale them.
“I can get 100 U.S. dollars per week from selling the worms. I charge 25 U.S. dollars for a 20-liter bucket and since the worms are getting scarce, I am now getting about four buckets per week, instead of 10 during the peak period,” she said.
The peak harvesting season usually starts around March and lasts until April, so Sibanda and her colleagues will soon go back home and wait for another season next year.
Vimbai Dube, 59, left her rural home in Mberengwa more than 100 km away to camp in the bush and harvest the worms.
She expected to exchange the worms for the staple maize as her crops failed due to excessive rains this year.
“I managed to get 10 buckets of the worms in the past two weeks and I am going to exchange the worms for maize,” said Dube, a grandmother of nine who is fending for her family as her asthmatic husband can not work.
A single mother of three, Viola Mashavira, 44, came all the way from the capital Harare to harvest the worms for sale.
Mashavira said the business of harvesting and selling the worms was easy as it does not require any capital outlay compared to cross-border trading which is also risky.
She said even after she resumes cross-border trips to Mozambique where she buys various items for resale in Zimbabwe, she would revert to mopane business when its season starts.
Nhamo Mushamba said she used to struggle to survive by selling cabbages in the border town of Beitbridge, a business she said did not make much money.
“In the future, I will suspend cross-border trading and do the mopane business once its season starts,” she added.
Ishibosheth Chikodzi, 29, is one of the few men that were in the bush also harvesting the worms. He travelled from Chivhu some 300 km away to try his luck with the worms.
“I used to do piece jobs in Chivhu and I was struggling to survive from the little money that I got. But through harvesting and selling worms here I have managed to raise money which I will use to start a poultry project,” said the father of two.
As the mopane season is coming to an end, the worms are becoming difficult to find and people now travel longer distances to find them.
Guvava said they were now surviving on the benevolence of a few plot holders who still have the worms in their farms.
“We are now negotiating with the plot holders to allow us to harvest the worms in their farms in return for a fee,” he said.
Local traditional leaders often warn people from faraway places to stop harvesting the worms, arguing the worms should only benefit local people.
XINHUA NEWS AGENCY