Farmers across the country have been caught in a catch-22 situation as the summer agricultural season continues to change.
Most farmers said in recent years, the decision when to plant has increasingly become a nightmare.
“Traditionally farmers start to plant their seeds in late October, but these years the seasons seem to have changed and the rains are starting to fall regularly in December. Crops which would have been planted in November will wilt because of the dry spell,” said Aaron Hombe, a farmer.
Only 247 000 hectares of maize have so far been planted compared to the 379 993ha that were planted during the same period last year.
Agritex’s latest report on the crop situation attributes the decline to the late onset of rains countrywide.
Mashonaland East is leading with 72 591ha having been planted to date, compared to 87 157ha planted in the same period last year.
Zimbabwe has not been spared from climatic changes and current dry spells affecting the country are being attributed to climate change.
“We no longer know when to plant. The rains have been scarce during the start of the seasons and in recent years, have been erratic. If one plants early the crops are likely to be affected by the dry spells which frequently follow and if one plants late, the rains would likely stop before the crops mature,” said another commercial farmer, Amon Gumbeze.
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average.
Priscah Mugabe, Institute of Environmental Studies deputy director at the University of Zimbabwe, has noted effects of climate change reflected in rainfall patterns in Zimbabwe from 1901 to 2005.
Mugabe says there have been noticeable shifts in the onset of the rains, increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, more low-rainfall years, increased proportion of tropical cyclones reaching high intensity, drizzle weather events have declined, mid-term dry spells have become more frequent and intense. She adds there are more changes in patterns than amounts of rain.
Sectoral impacts, she says, are beginning to be witnessed on the environment due to exposure to extreme weather events resulting in droughts and floods and the expansion of semi-arid areas.
For example, some shifts in natural regions have been noted at stations such as Chinhoyi, Chibero and their surroundings which were formerly in natural region two, but are now classified under natural region three.
The size of natural region one has been reduced, while natural region two has been pushed further east and natural region three has shifted slightly upwards, with Kwekwe and surroundings now classified as natural region four.
Mugabe says ecosystem changes are being dramatised by grasslands shifting to shrubby savanna and other biodiversity changes.
On the agriculture and food security sector, crop yields in marginal zones have become more variable. Yields from rain-fed agriculture are expected to decline by up to 50% by 2020.
She says climate change introduces greater variability in maize yields.
“There is a strong likelihood that climate change will make natural region four a non-maize-producing area,” she says.
Reduced livestock production is anticipated as a result of reduced forage base for cattle, increase of pests and diseases like tsetse flies and ticks.
“A shift to smaller browsing animals like goats is anticipated,” Mugabe says. Reduced productivity of crop-livestock systems of marginal rural areas is anticipated.
On the health sector, an increase in malnutrition and consequent disorders with implications on child growth and development is anticipated including increased burden of diarrhoeal diseases. Also an increase in the distribution of the malaria-bearing Anopheles gambiae mosquito is anticipated.
High elevation areas currently on the fringes of endemic malaria zones, will be most susceptible to infestation including increased deaths, disease and injury due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts.
Mugabe says the implications are an increased burden on healthcare systems.
On water resources, she says challenges of availability and accessibility are anticipated particularly affecting women.
Reduced irrigation output would be exacerbated by other stressors for example deforestation and siltation. Changes in hydrology and run-off are anticipated, for example at Lake Manyame upper catchment.
Basile Tambashe, country representative for the United Nations Population Fund in Zimbabwe, is on record saying climate change is not just about technology.
He said it was a problem brought about by human
activity, and people are affected by climate change and need to adapt to it. Only people can stop it.
He said that during the past half century, rapid population growth and industrialisation have led to a rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster and Zimbabwe is beginning to feel the impact of climate change,” Tambashe said.
Erratic rainfall and more extreme climatic patterns necessitate improved farming patterns. He added that droughts are being experienced more and more frequently in Zimbabwe and water conserving technologies which form part of conservation agriculture, play a significant role in efficient utilisation of all precipitation to ensure reasonable yields even during periods of low rainfall.