Zimbabwe and several other Southern African countries face serious drought this year due to El Nino-induced drought conditions. While the rainfall pattern or lack of it is similar across the region, some countries will be more affected than others.
Similarly, some have better coping mechanisms than others, while some countries will receive more aid than other affected countries.
These differences are caused by several factors — some are climatic, while others are political. South Africa also faces drought, but it has enough food to feed its people. Zambia, too is one of the affected countries and they have recently stopped exporting food to ensure they meet their national food requirements.
Malawi is one country that had made strides in food production during the Bingu wa Mutharika era, but this year they will need aid to meet the food deficit.
Malawi boasts several water sources such as Lake Malawi which could be used for irrigation purposes. The northern parts of Namibia will require assistance despite their proximity to the Zambezi River.
While it is tempting to pursue the discussion on why some countries will be worse affected than others, at this stage it is more vital to discuss what countries can do in the immediate future to mitigate against future waves of El Nino.
The fact is there is nothing much that governments can do to stop the changing weather conditions, but they can certainly adapt and ensure that food production continues even in the harshest of conditions. Most of the countries affected by the current drought lie in a region whose livelihood depends on crop, plantation and livestock farming. These factors place weather conditions at the centre of their livelihood.
So when rains are erratic, crops, plants and livestock suffer which translates into lack of food for the people in the region. There are already stories of livestock dying as a result of lack of food. Crop failure is evident across the region and some countries have already made appeals to the international community for help. Hunger and malnutrition are very dangerous conditions as their impact are both immediate and long-term. They both can cause death, but they can also weaken people’s capacity to produce food and/or to access affordable, nutritious food and undermine their health and future potential. Severe malnutrition reduces child development and their mental wellbeing.
Therefore, that the Zimbabwe government has declared drought a national disaster is a positive gesture, but it is coming on the heels of an overwhelmed international community. Traditional donors are having to deal with the refugee crisis on their doorsteps, the increasing needs in the Middle-East against underperforming economies. Global resources are limited and it is vital that countries in Southern Africa start looking for innovative ways to mitigate against the impact of natural phenomena such as droughts. The time to wait for international donors to rescue our people is fast shrinking. Leaders now need to lead and take responsibility than blaming the West for this and that.
What then can Southern African countries do? The first point that comes to mind is that the Zambezi River, the fourth largest in Africa, cuts across six drought-affected countries and yet none of them uses its fresh water for crop production, save for small-scale fish farming. There are high possibilities of a green belt in some areas where the river passes by. Muzarabani is known for its fertile soils, but the area lacks proper irrigation and yet it lies in the proximity of the Zambezi River. With the current drought the people of Muzarabani are likely to be among the worst affected.
The same applies to Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia. Instead of limiting their joint efforts to flood mitigation projects, these countries can agree to a regional joint farming project along the Zambezi River for their national food reserves than cry for help when there is drought. Today’s leadership has failed to draw lessons from our history where traditional leaders used to mobilise their people to produce food for the needy or for drought season. Within the Shona culture there used to be a concept called Zunde RaMambo where the harvest from the collective farming were used to help the needy or saved for times of drought.
The second option is to invest in seed varieties that can yield high production in a short period of time. A lot of research has gone in to short season varieties, but has only helped in situations where the rainy season is shorter than usual. Brazil has become one of the leading chicken producers in the world because they have invested heavily in cereal production. They have intensified cereal production per square metre in the shortest period of time.
This simply means they harvest 10 times more than we do on the same piece of land during the same period of time. This means our national allergy to genetically modified farming needs to be reviewed and nationalised. We cannot continue begging for food when we have all the ingredients to overcome drought conditions.