Climate smart agriculture benefits Zim smallholder farmers

As Zimbabwe’s population continues to grow and is expected to reach 19,3 million in 2032 as projected by ZimStat, the country will be challenged to meet its food security and nutritional requirements for its people, while also ensuring continued economic growth and sustainable livelihoods in the country where agriculture is the backbone of the economy.

guest column: David Mhlanga

However, with climate smart agriculture 140 000 families who benefited from the land reform, both among the rural peasants and their urban counterparts, Zimbabwe will be able to feed itself.

Meeting the demand for food by Zimbabwe should be seen in the context of regional climate change. Africa is predicted to be the region that will be most affected by climate change, due to changes in mean temperatures and rainfall, as well as increased variability associated with both.

These changes in climate could impact water availability, growing seasons, flooding and drought, as well as plant and animal diseases and pest patterns among others.

Shifting world agriculture to a “climate-smart” approach will not only help prevent future food security crises, but holds the promise of sparking economic and agricultural renewal in rural areas where hunger and poverty are most prevalent, as argued by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

In addition, FAO argued that the magnitude and scope of climate change impact on agriculture systems means that boosting resilience and adaptive capacities on rural communities is equally important to safeguard food security.

Rising temperatures and an increased frequency of extreme weather events will have direct and negative impact on crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture productivity in the years to come, as indicated in the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Vulnerable, farming-dependent populations in the developing world are particularly at risk, including Zimbabwe. But at the same time, the compelling need to deal with the challenges posed by climate change offers an opportunity to transform the way food systems use natural resources, improve agriculture’s sustainability and promote poverty reduction and economic growth.

Highlighting cases studies in “climate-smart agriculture” from around the globe, FAO shows that many rural communities are already successfully making the transition to new forms of farming better suited to the rigours of a warmer world. A shift to climate-smart agriculture will not only help shield farmers from the adverse effects of climate change and offer a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but can also improve farm yields and household incomes, leading to stronger, more resilient communities, argues FAO.

What is climate smart agriculture?

Climate smart agriculture also known as conservation agriculture (CA) is generally defined as an agricultural management system based on three principles that should be applied in unison in a mutually reinforcing manner. The measures include minimum physical soil disturbance, permanent soil cover with live or dead plant material, for example, crop residues, and crop diversification, for instance crop rotations, cover crops or intercrops with legumes.

Conservation agriculture enables most farmers in most seasons the benefit to plant earlier, apply on-farm or purchased nutrients more accurately, achieve better emergence and more optimal populations, harvest rainfall more effectively, reduce labour inputs and costs, reduce crop stress in dry spells and make better use of whatever inputs they can afford to purchase.

Climate-smart agriculture is spearheaded by a number of organisations, including FAO. The model of climate-smart agriculture that FAO is promoting seeks to address three broad objectives; sustainably increase agricultural productivity and incomes by helping rural communities and farmers adapt to and become more resilient to the effects of climate change and to reduce or remove agriculture’s greenhouse gases emissions, when possible.

However, as argued by FAO, exactly how farmers go about tackling these goals can change from place to place, depending on local circumstances.

FAO is collaborating with national and local partners around the globe to help them develop locally-tested solutions that work for them. For example, in the highlands of Mount Kilimanjaro, the organisation has partnered with farmers to reboot an 800-year-old agroforestry system known as Kihamba, which supports one of the highest rural population densities in Africa and provides livelihoods for an estimated one million people.

An agro-ecosystem similar to a virgin tropical mountain forest, Kihamba maximises the use of limited land, provides a large variety of foods all year round and maintains groundwater health, among other environmental services.

Other case studies profiled in FAO success stories on climate-smart agriculture include: Work with Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers in on-the-ground field schools that have helped identify and develop resilient, climate-smart farming systems attuned to local conditions. In Malawi, Vietnam and Zambia, policymakers have been assisted in developing national policies aimed at promoting and supporting climate-smart agriculture. Projects that introduced new fertilizer technologies in Nigeria and innovative approaches to land use management in Uganda’s Kagera River Basin.

In Zimbabwe, smallholder farmers needs education on the effects of climate change, and the benefits of climate smart agriculture for them to get more benefits from their efforts.

David Mhlanga is a post-doctoral fellow at the North-West University in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity

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