Farmers need to get “Climate Smart” to prepare for future


By Johnson Siamachira

Harare (New Ziana) – Climate variability and change add to the vulnerability, in particular of the poor, including women and children.

Even if significant mitigation measures are implemented, there is need for adaptation to the effects of climate change such as periodic shifts in onset of rains, increased frequency of intra-seasonal dry spells, droughts, floods and extreme weather events.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe are particularly vulnerable because of their over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture, limited adaptive capacity and an inherently variable climate.

“We never used to experience drought almost every year; rains now come late in summer, and we have mid-season dry spells and short rain seasons,” said Musoliwa Moyo, a smallholder farmer in Malipati area in Chief Sengwe area in Chiredzi district in Masvingo Province.

He was explaining the tough experiences they have had as farmers over the past few years which have seen changes in rainfall patterns, leaving them unsure what to do in terms of crop and livestock production.

“Zimbabwe’s adaptive capacity is constrained by limited alternative livelihood options for the majority of the population, inadequate ability to withstand or absorb disasters, and its socio-economic status,” says Washington Zhakata, director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry.

Climate change is already affecting many of the lives and livelihoods in Zimbabwe. It is undermining the nation’s economic development through compromised livelihood outcomes that result from gradual changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, combined with increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards, such as floods and droughts. The poorest communities in the country are being hardest hit because they are more dependent on their climate-sensitive natural resources and ecosystems, such as agriculture.

In response, a growing number of non-governmental organizations, research institutions and United Nations agencies, are engaging in adaptation and development activities using a variety of approaches, including community-based adaptation.

Many of the projects demonstrate that autonomous strategies that were effective in dealing with past climate variability are becoming increasingly ineffective in coping with emergent climate change. As a result, there is a growing need for accurate and useful climate data to inform adaptation strategies that can anticipate future climate.

According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services, the country is experiencing more hot and fewer cold days and rainfall patterns have undergone significant modifications since meteorological record keeping began in the 1890s. Drought is now the most frequently occurring “natural” hazard in Zimbabwe since 1980.

It is estimated that maize yields in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s Limpopo Province will decrease by approximately 20-50 percent between now and 2045. This predicted decline will pose a major challenge, as maize is Southern Africa’s main staple food. Not good news.

The future is, by definition, uncertain. But when it comes to climate change, scientific research has warned the country what to expect.

According to the World Bank, 96 percent of African cropland is rain-fed, resulting in African agriculture heavily dependent on climate.

Zimbabwe prepared its National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry has developed a national Climate Change Response Strategy through a consultative process involving other government ministries, civil society organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector.

“The strategy was developed to guide mainstreaming of climate change in development planning through a sectorial approach to ensure that each sector implements mitigation and adaptation actions in the wake of a changing climate,” Zhakata says.

Although climate change is addressed by environmental legislation, it is widely recognized that such policies are insufficient in light of the severity of climate change and the scale and scope of vulnerability.

There is need for the adoption of “climate-smart agriculture” that will help make crops more resilient to future extreme weather.

“In order for our farmers to be productive and ensure food security, we need to build resilience to help them mitigate climate change effects. The climate variations, droughts or rainfalls, are something that farmers are facing and are going to face,” said Prof Obert Jiri, chief director, Agricultural and Rural Development Advisory Services, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development.

“For our farmers to be productive and ensure food security, we need to build resilience to help them mitigate the onset of climate change,” observed Prof Jiri.

However, there are hopes.

“The National Climate Change Response Strategy provides a framework for a comprehensive and strategic approach to adaptation, mitigation, technology, financing, public education and awareness. It will also help to inform Government on how to strengthen the climate and disaster management policies,” said Zhakata.

In response to the changing climate that the country has experienced in recent years, and building from the National Climate Change Response Strategy, Zimbabwe embarked on a National Adaptation Planning process in 2019 which has culminated in the development of the National Adaptation Plan which is being finalised. The National Adaptation Planning process has been necessitated by the high levels of vulnerability of the country in times of extreme weather and climate events.

Zhakata again: “These, however, are some of the changes and innovations we’re going to have to make to meet the challenges ahead. We need both to adapt agriculture to climate change and to mitigate climate change itself.”

Zimbabwe developed a 10-year (2018-2028) framework to facilitate the promotion of climate-smart agriculture.
In addition, climate-smart agriculture practices have been identified in Zimbabwe’s National Climate Policy, National Climate Change Response Strategy, Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, Zimbabwe Agriculture Investment Plan and the Draft Comprehensive Agriculture Policy as a priority intervention as the country steps up efforts to tackle climate change.

The government is also working on strengthening early warning systems as informed planning in agriculture is important to address changing climate.

According to Prof Jiri, helping small-scale farmers adopt climate –smart farming techniques would “prepare them for even more serious challenges in the future”.

“A critical factor of good land management is the effective and efficient use of the vast water bodies in the country through irrigation, use of groundwater, surface water and rainwater.” he said.

“What we need to help farmers do is to be able to adopt good land management practices and improve seed stocks, with drought – and pest-resistant crops,” Prof Jiri pointed out.

Local agricultural development experts are proposing five interventions that they would like policymakers to address. These are:
1. Climate-smart agriculture
2. Strengthen national and local institutions
3. Build the technical and knowledge infrastructure for sustainable farming
4. Improve financial investment in agriculture
5. Improve access for “innovative ‘’ private investors, such as microfinance.

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