ZIMBABWE is facing extreme weather patterns such as excessive heat, recurrent droughts and flooding which pose a threat to food security and lives due to climate change. Water sources are fast drying up, leading to reduced agricultural productivity. Environment, Climate ministry director for climate change management department, Washington Zhakata (WZ), speaks with NewsDay (ND) Midlands reporter Brenna Matendere on the adverse impacts of climate change in Zimbabwe and how farmers in particular can adapt.
ND: What is climate change?
WZ: Climate change is a change in climate patterns that occur over a long period of time and have been largely caused by human activities that have increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, especially from the use of fossil fuels like coal in the process of electricity generation and used in boilers in industry.
ND: What is the difference between climate change and climate variability?
WZ: In essence, climate variability looks at changes that occur within very short timeframes, such as a month, a season or a year, and climate change considers changes that occur over a longer period of time, typically over decades or longer.
ND: In Zimbabwe, what are some of the worst effects of climate change recorded?
WZ: Major adverse impacts of climate change in Zimbabwe include declining water resources and reduced agricultural productivity due to the droughts that are affecting Zimbabwe especially in the last 20 years; spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria to new areas; changes in populations and distribution of biodiversity like pests and some other forms of vegetation; and violent weather and climatic disasters like the impacts of cyclones Idai, Dineo, Eline and other flood-related disasters.
In March last year, Zimbabwe lost over 850 people to tropical Cyclone Idai, over 100 people to floods in 2016/2017, one third of the population was food insecure during 2015/16, 2018/2019 seasons. Bridges and roads have been destroyed by floods across the country in recent years, just to mention a few.
Another clear evidence of climate change in Zimbabwe is the experience of more hot periods (at times associated with heatwaves) and fewer cold days than before.
The timing of onset and end of the rainfall season are becoming increasingly uncertain. The frequency and length of dry spells during the rainy season have increased while the frequency of rain days has been reducing.
ND: Government recently announced plans to set up a coal plant in Gokwe, but the world is encouraging reduction of coal emissions as part of a fight to reverse climate change. What is your take on such plans?
WZ: An inter-ministerial and multi-stakeholders awareness campaign should be conducted to sensitise the country on the various multi-lateral environmental agreements and their implications for Zimbabwe.
The country has national commitments to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change known as the nationally-determined contributions in which the country is expected to reduce its emissions by 33% per capita by the year 2030 in the energy sector.
There is a call for all countries to expand the scope of their emission reductions to become economywide. It is the industry, waste, energy, agriculture and forestry sectors that will be looked upon to transform to low carbon development pathways.
At the International Climate Change Conference held in Madrid, Spain, towards the end of 2019, the United Nations secretary-general called upon all countries to stop developing any new thermal power generation systems with effect from 2020.
To add to that, all major banks globally are no longer financing anything to do with coal-related initiatives.
Therefore, development of any new coal-fired electricity generation in the country should be done with more informed information on the consequences of continuing in a business-as-usual manner or with clean coal technologies in order to avoid the new establishments being stranded in future as funding windows for their maintenance are dwindling.
ND: How serious can greenhouse gas emissions be in causing climate change/global warming?
WZ: Zimbabwe emits very little in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, less than 0,05% of the global emissions.
However, greenhouse gases have far-ranging environmental and health effects. They cause climate change by trapping heat, and they also contribute to respiratory diseases from smog and air pollution.
Extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and increased wild fires are other effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases which are emitted especially in the process of industrial development and energy generation.
ND: How can satellite-based agricultural systems help farmers reduce effects of climate change on their farms?
WZ: Basically satellite farming is a management concept empowered by the inception of the use of the global position system (GPS). It operates based on the principle of observing, computing and responding to inter and intra-field crop variability.
Satellite images of farmers’ fields in detail with geographic information systems enable more accurate and efficient cultivation practices. The data provided by remote sensing satellites helps in monitoring drought, soil and crop development. Satellite assesses rainfall and helps farmers in planning time and irrigation requirements for crops.
ND: Last year, government launched the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency. Is it a useful initiative to help reduce the impact of climate change?
WZ: The Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency is an important initiative as the institution will facilitate the collection of information about the changing planet using the various technologies including the earth imaging satellites.
This data will be used by decisionmakers in business, government to develop new technologies, deliver business outcomes, power research, and solve the toughest national challenges related to water resources, deforestation, siltation, outbreaks of fire, movement of pests like locust outbreaks, movement of wildlife, etc.
ND: What are some of the best means to ensure effective crop surveillance and drought monitoring in these days of climate change?
WZ: Drought is among the most damaging and least understood of all natural hazards. Although some droughts last a single season and affect only small areas, records show that droughts have sometimes continued for decades and have impacted millions of square kilometres.
To cross the spectrum of potential drivers and impacts, drought information systems have multiple sub-systems which include an integrated risk assessment, communication and decision support system of which early warning is a central component and output.
An early warning system is much more than a forecast — it is a linked risk information (including people’s perception of risk) and communication system that actively engages communities involved in preparedness.
There are numerous drought warning systems being implemented at different scales of governance. For surveillance, the data provided by remote sensing satellites helps in monitoring drought, soil and crop development.
ND: Peasant farmers are the worst victims of climate change in Zimbabwe, what can they do to beat climate change?
WZ: Zimbabwe’s mixed crop–livestock systems are vulnerable to climate change and need to adapt in order to improve productivity and sustain people’s livelihoods.
Farmers and ranchers are somehow already adapting to our changing climate by changing their selection of crops and the timing of their field operations. Some farmers are applying increasing amounts of pesticides to control increased pest pressure.
Many risk management and diversification strategies are not new to Zimbabwean households who have traditionally dealt with climate variability through, for example, (seasonal) migration, combining multiple crops and or cultivars, diversifying livestock herds, and utilising the complementaries between crop cultivation, livestock and trees.
Farmers can adapt to shorter and more variable growing seasons by choosing drought-resistant or shorter maturing crops and varieties and adjusting planting dates
The choice for animal types and breeds that are better adapted to heat stress and dry conditions (eg goats instead of cattle) is a logical avenue for climate change adaptation.
Also improving the storage of food and feed, including measures to fight post-harvest losses will help households to bridge dry seasons or years of crop failure, thus cushioning them against likely increases in climate variability.
ND: We have encountered devastating weather patterns like Cyclone El Nino, Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Gloria. Are there predictions of new ones coming and how can Zimbabwe improve its disaster preparedness to reduce loss of life and property in such cases?
WZ: The frequency of tropical cyclones may not necessarily increase but the magnitude and impacts will increase as sea surface temperatures continue to increase.
There is need to raise awareness on the dangers posed by improper settling of communities on flood plains, slopes, riverbeds, etc. The Department of Civil Protection structures should be strengthened. Early warning systems also need strengthening.