November 3, 2015 recorded the lowest temperatures for the month, a clear sign of how Zimbabwe is experiencing climate change, but the response from rural farmers is otherwise as the global phenomenon is still a mystery to many.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
A survey conducted by NewsDay revealed that most rural farmers in Mashonaland East, a traditionally farming province, are still pinned to the old farming timetable and traditional crop production schedules despite numerous calls by various stakeholders to adapt to new farming ideologies in line with ever-changing weather patterns.
Climate change is adversely impacting communal farmers that are mostly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, who, for the past six years, have been experiencing poor yields due to droughts.
“I have travelled all the way from Wedza to Marondera to buy cheap maize seeds. The rains are upon us. For the past five years I did not harvest any maize crop because of successive droughts, but I hope this season the rains will be reliable for me to have a bumper harvest,” Amos Manzou (51), from Chisasike in Wedza, said.
Manzou is one of the many rural farmers who have ignored the changing weather phenomenon, perhaps because of lack of knowledge and this has resulted in the country failing to secure enough food to feed its population.
Climate change does not exist to these rural farmers despite a decade of poor harvests as they are still stuck in their beliefs and traditional ways of predicting weather patterns as well as their way of farming.
Experts have been urging rural farmers to engage in small grain production, but these calls are finding few takers.
According to statistics, Mashonaland East failed to meet its projected crop output resulting in the province accruing a food deficit of 36 500 metric tonnes during the 2014/15 agricultural season owing to erratic rainfall patterns.
The province needs in excess of 144 500 metric tonnes of cereal production every season to meet demand.
Speaking at the 2015 provincial agricultural show held in September at Marondera Showground, SeedCo sales and marketing manager Ivan Craig urged farmers to find practical and sustainable solutions to improve productivity.
He said it was vital for farmers to increase small grains production, especially in districts that traditionally receive low rainfall.
Craig appealed to farmers to employ smart climate techniques such as conservation agriculture, staggering planting dates, crop diversification, crop-livestock integration and use of drought-tolerant varieties in areas of high-drought risk.
“From the provincial statistics I have for the 2014/15 farming season from crop sample surveys, maize averaged 0,55 tonnes per hectare, a figure which is far below the yield expectations of the province. The province has a food deficit and this can be addressed in future by improving productivity to one tonne per hectare since we have a record of about 185 000 hectares of maize alone every season.
“We urge farmers to grow small grains and drought-tolerant crops in drier regions in the province. Climate change has become a reality and is affecting the agricultural sector, which mainly depends on rainfall. Over the past years, seasons have not been consistent in terms of rainfall and its distribution across the province and the nation at large.
“This, therefore, calls for all stakeholders in the agriculture industry to join hands and employ all the necessary techniques to produce enough food to feed the province and the nation,” he said.
The rainy season in Zimbabwe is usually between November and April.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest degrees of rainfall variability in the world and the climate is characterised by frequent drought years and occasional flood events. This situation will be exacerbated by climate change.
Records show that temperatures have been increasing by around 0,1°C a decade according to experts. Future scenarios predict increasing temperatures of around 2,5°C by 2050.
The timing and amount of rainfall received in Zimbabwe are becoming increasingly uncertain. There has been an overall decline of nearly 5% in rainfall across the country since 1901 with the early 1990s probably witnessing the driest period of the last century.
The frequency and length of dry spells during the rainy season have increased. Although the quantity of rainfall in a year may be normal, this may fall during violent storms. Rainfall distribution is erratic both in space and time across all the provinces of Zimbabwe.
A Chivhu-based Agritex officer, who preferred anonymity, said most rural farmers are taking long to adapt to the changing weather patterns.
“We have been encouraging farmers to take heed of climate change in the country, but most of them seem to be ignorant. There is a lot of work to be done to conscientise farmers about the phenomenon.
“Climate change is a reality and farmers need to adhere to new ways of farming to ensure that we have plenty of food at the end of the day. Most of the farmers are still stuck with traditional weather patterns. Some are reluctant to venture into small grain farming or drought-resistant crops,” the Agritex officer said.
Government has also been at the forefront encouraging farmers to embrace new farming systems.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister Joseph Made recently implored farmers to stagger planting of crops to ensure that they at least yield something at the end of the season.
“We must watch the weather forecast very carefully because what is happening now is the least we expected. Farmers are now worried about the delay of the start of this year’s summer farming season. We are advising farmers to liaise closely with their extension officers for them to get proper advice on what crops to plant.
“In conditions like these, it is better for farmers not to plant everything they have at one go. Everyone is worried about the prevailing situation, even the Meteorological Services Department because they least expected the current dry spell,” said Made.
Arda chairman Basil Nyabadza is on record encouraging farmers to adapt to new farming methods as well as to take the irrigation system seriously.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), in recent years, food production in Zimbabwe has been devastated by a number of factors including natural disasters and economic and political instability.
This situation has necessitated large-scale humanitarian food relief operations in the country.
WFP reports that rural poverty has increased from 63% in 2003 to 76% in 2014.
Most households in the rural areas are net food buyers: they do not produce enough food to meet their needs through to the next harvest season and, as a consequence, have to rely on markets and other non-farm sources such as casual labour to bridge the food gap to the next season.
Zimbabwe’s 2014/15 agricultural season registered a 51% decline in maize production compared to the 2013/14 season due to drought which was particularly severe in the southern part of the country.
According to a report published in July 2015 by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, some 1,5 million people – 16% of the rural population – will have insufficient means to meet their minimum food needs during the 2015-16 lean season, that period prior to the next harvest when domestic food stocks tend to become depleted.
This represents a 164% increase in the number of food-insecure people during 2013-14 though it is only a little above the five-year average for Zimbabwe.