The Sunday Mail
FOR 62-year-old Sarah Muzvuzvu of Chimanimani district in Manicaland province, farm life is filled with tedium, drudgery and operational challenges.
To get the job done, working on her small family farm means waking up at 3am daily. Ms Muzvuzvu has been growing maize since 1985.
However, her yields have been getting poor and poor over the years because of the effects of climate change, particularly unpredictable rainfall patterns.
As a result, for the past two decades, life has been difficult for Ms Muzvuzvu and other smallholder farmers in their harsh, semi-arid environment.
“There aren’t good rains to talk about anymore,” Ms Muzvuzvu told visiting journalists recently. The rains in her area in the last agricultural season were too little, too late.
“At times, the rains come in early November or in late December. Even worse, the rains may not come until in early or late January, making our farming calendar difficult to plan,” she adds.
A resident of Ward 18 in Chimanimani district, Ms Muzvuzvu, like many other smallholder farmers in her area, does not get much produce or income from farming because her area has poor soils, and the rains are low and erratic.
“Sometimes, the rains are too much and they flood our fields,” she says.
Also, about 80 percent of the rural households in the area are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, making them highly vulnerable to climate change-induced weather extremes.
“We’re no longer sure when to start preparing the land for planting, or when to start planting. It’s pretty much gambling with nature,” says Ms Muzvuzvu.
She adds: “The situation is worse for some of us who have small farms and with no access to irrigation. I’d like to switch to traditional grains, as these are resilient to the negative effects of climate change.”
Another farmer in Malipati area, Chiredzi district, in the south east of the country, Mr Stephen Chauke, says: “We never used to experience drought almost every year. Rains now come late in summer, and we have mid-season dry spells and short rainy seasons.”
“In other seasons, we have rains up to June. We used to harvest in April but now we harvest in June/July,” Mr Chauke said.
Chiredzi is one of the districts thought to be most at risk from climate change in Zimbabwe. The majority of farmers interviewed in both Chimanimani and Chiredzi districts believe climate change is real, with drought and floods being some of the worst impacts of it.
Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department says the country is experiencing more hot days and fewer cold days.
The country’s agriculture sector contributes approximately 17 percent to gross domestic product, and is the backbone of the economy, providing employment and income to many.
But the majority in the sector depend on rain-fed agriculture, and are predominantly subsistence-based, with a focus on the maize crop, the country’s staple food, which is most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Projections indicate that the country will suffer from droughts and floods more frequently in future. The agriculture sector will be heavily impacted by this phenomenon, with production levels expected to drop by around 30 percent due to it.
By 2050, there will be an extra seven million people in the country who will need to be fed. In addition, there will be dwindling livestock pastures and feed, with an increase in animal and zoonotic diseases.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Southern Africa, as a whole, will suffer from climate change. This makes climate change adaptation of the agriculture sector a national priority, demanding responsive policy formulation at the highest level.
“Zimbabwe needs to shift to more sustainable food systems, stepping up action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change,” says Prof Obert Jiri, the chief director responsible for Agricultural and Rural Development Advisory Services in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development.
Zimbabwe developed a 10-year (2018-2028) framework to facilitate the promotion of climate-smart agriculture. International donors, including the World Bank, are now pouring money into climate smart agricultural research.
“Everything we do needs to take climate change into consideration,” Prof Jiri pointed out.
“There’s even more unequivocal evidence of climate change impacts on agricultural and food systems today. Not tomorrow, today,” he said, adding: “Climate change has the potential to reconfigure the country’s food production landscape.”
In an article for the International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Prof Jiri said Zimbabwe needs to focus on climate-resilient agriculture.
The title of the article is “Building climate change resilience through adaptation in smallholder farming systems in semi-arid Zimbabwe”.
“The country’s smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable,” said Prof Jiri. “Not only do they have fewer means to react, but they also tend to live in already marginal production areas, where the impact of climate change in agricultural production is felt to an even greater extent.”
Prof Jiri added: “There’s also a need to provide climate adaptation information through various extension services to increase resilience.”
He also spoke about family farming, saying there is need to target the younger generation to increase resilience in communities and speed up rural development and stability.
Prof Jiri stressed that climate change was a challenge both large, modernised family farms and small-scale family farms would need to face.
Climate change is an issue that cuts across a wide range of development interventions, such as ending hunger, supporting sustainable food production, reducing rural poverty, improving food markets and resilience building, Prof Jiri noted.
He added that linking productive support to social protection would help to jumpstart local and inclusive sustainable development. — New Ziana