ESTERI Muroyiwa (59) gently wipes sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand.
by Cliff Chiduku
The scorching sun makes it impossible for elderly people like her to see into the distance and she resorts to using her left hand to shield her eyes from the rays as she inspects her wilting rapoko crop. Growing small grains had been touted as the panacea to hunger pangs, but now the single mother is at pains to plan the way forward.
She is a communal farmer in Mafararikwa village, west of Mutare under Chief Marange. Crops have succumbed to soaring temperatures that often reach 44°C.
The rains have not fallen since New Year’s Eve and the community is growing impatient as the reality of yet another drought dawns.
While many families in her neighbourhood who depend on agriculture for their livelihood are suffering the consequences of recurrent droughts, which experts attribute to changing climatic patterns, the Meteorological Services Department recently issued flood warnings in other areas.
Muroyiwa never thought that one day she would have to buy grain as she often harvested more than enough from the fields. But now she is a worried woman, devastated by a string of bad harvests.
Last year, Muroyiwa decided to end her daughter Rudo’s schooling so that she could look after her siblings while the mother went out in search of piece jobs. Rudo had passed with six units at Grade 7. Now at 15, she has traded education for domestic chores.
“For many years our harvest has not been good. We have been receiving poor rains and this has affected our crop,” she said. “Although we have been growing drought-resistant crops like millet, sorghum and rapoko, as advised by agricultural extension officers, the yields have been poor.”
Like Muroyiwa, many people, especially in the rural areas, are not aware of the effects of climate change on their livelihoods.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change defines climate change as a change of climate which is attributed to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere.
Analysts say changing climate paints an alarming picture – rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and increased incidences of natural disasters threaten humanity.
A report by the United Kingdom Department for International Development titled Gender and Climate Change: Mapping the Linkages, says it is those who are marginalised who experience its greatest impacts.
“The vulnerable and marginalised who have the least capacity or opportunity to prepare for the impacts of a changing climate or to participate in negotiations on mitigation are the ones who suffer. As women and youths constitute the largest percentage of the world’s poorest people, they are worst affected by these changes,” the report says.
The report said gender sensitivity in decision-making is essential for effective mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.
It noted that a gendered approach to climate change should be all-encompassing as men were also affected.
Director for climate change in the Environment ministry Washington Zhakata said while climate change was gender blind, those who depended on natural resources for survival were at its mercy.
“Recurring droughts and unpredictable rainfall have impact on potable water supplies and firewood. This increases the distances that women and girls walk to secure these resources. Thus climate change exacerbates existing inequalities in key dimensions that not only are the building blocks of livelihoods, but are also crucial for coping with change,” said Zhakata.
Zhakata said because of their knowledge and skills, women can be part of the climate change solution as the government crafts a new climate change policy.
Zhakata said because of gender differences in property rights, cultural social and economic roles, women were likely to suffer in violence linked to climate change.
A climate change expert with Environment Africa, Collen Mutasa, said women were very active in climate change awareness campaigns they carry out.
“We work hand in glove with government, Agritex officers, farmers and local authorities. Our interaction with these groups is mainly through climate change awareness workshops. We have helped communities to establish nutrition gardens in several rural districts. In these gardens we have demonstrated the use of climate smart agricultural practices which smallholder farmers have adopted,” he said.
So what can Muroyiwa and others whose livelihoods are under threat from shifting climate do to survive?
Another Mafararikwa villager Anna Muriwo said water harvesting-based market gardening is doing wonders for her.
“I understand that drier-than-normal conditions will increase the frequency of droughts and floods. However, if we can tame more of flooding rains, we would minimise the impact of shifting rainfall patterns.
“We collect rainwater from roofs and irrigate the garden. We also use the water to irrigate a small maize and beans field during the mid-season dry spell.”
She said harnessing rainwater had ensured the Muriwos had a constant supply of nutritious foods all year round. The harvests are used for family consumption and the surplus is sold to other villagers.
President Robert Mugabe in his Independence Day speech last week underlined the need to craft an irrigation policy to mitigate the effects of climate change-induced food shortages.
“We have by now learnt in a painful way, the true meaning of climate change. I must say crops in many parts of the country succumbed to the prolonged dry spell, thus putting a large dent on our efforts to achieve national food security,” he said.
“We require little persuasion, if any, to accept that we need to develop a national irrigation policy to counter the persistent droughts that are so frequent and are clearly caused by climate change.”
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa concurred saying unless more investment is channeled to irrigation projects, the country will suffer due to climate change.
“We now have to say wherever there is an irrigation facility we need to resuscitate it. We need to irrigate where we can in order to improve the food situation.”
The Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet) outlook for 2014/2015 painted a gloomy picture in the countryside.
“Prolonged dry spells and erratic seasonal rainfall in the southern parts of the country resulted in severe crop wilting and loss. Harvests in these areas are expected to be one of the lowest. Poor households in these traditionally cereal-deficit areas are finding it difficult to afford essential non-food items and are expected to be stressed,” Fewsnet said
According to a rural livelihoods report compiled by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) released late last year, 565 000 people in rural areas were in need of food aid from January to March this year.
Zimvac said Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland West were projected to have the highest proportions of food-insecure households.
The government will have to import over one million tonnes of maize worth over $200 million to avert hunger in most parts of the country following a disastrous 2014/2015 cropping season, with Cabinet having already authorised the Agriculture and Finance ministries to make contingent plans so that people in areas worst hit by the drought have food until around April 2016.