Feature: Changing climate a threat to banana farming

Harvested Banana's

DRIVING along the meandering roads that slice the mountain sides of Zimbabwe’s picturesque Eastern Highlands’ Honde Valley, thriving banana plantations occasionally break the vegetation.

It is 6am in Chapinduka village under chief Mutasa, 300km east of the capital Harare and Susan Mutambara (63) — a small-scale Honde Valley banana farmer — has just woken up and is busy inspecting her plantation, the major source of her family’s livelihood.

“I started banana farming about two-and-a-half-years ago on an approximately four-hectare piece of land, but currently I am utilising just 2,5ha and employ four permanent and six contract employees,” she said.

“In the just ended 2021 season I harvested 25 tonnes and I am aiming to reach 60 tonnes once I get my irrigation equipment fully installed.”

Mutambara worries very little about the market for her bananas as buyers flock from across the country.

“Retailers come from all parts of the country to buy bananas from the fields and the major consumers are from the local market. Talking about the past season, I sold plus or minus US$200 per tonne depending on the quality.

“My hope is to export the highly-nutritious crop, but I have to address the issue of consistent supply. Some local ZimTrade people promised to assist me to source markets once we manage to flood the local market,” she told NewsDay.

While she is very optimistic about the future of her banana business, there are challenges that are threatening prospects for further growth. Topping the list of the many challenges confronting her — such as the country’s unrelenting economic hardships that have affected prices as well as input and transport costs; and a shortage of land to expand her banana fields — is the ever menacing climate change phenomenon.

Climate experts say climate change is expected to cause a rise of about 3°C in average temperatures before the end of this century, which could result in a 5% and 18% decline in annual rainfall and an increase in droughts, floods and storms.

“The country is already prone to droughts, which have become more recurrent over the last two decades. The geographical location of Zimbabwe in the tropics makes it vulnerable to shifting rainfall patterns, and water resources availability,” says the United Nations Development Programme.

And for banana farmers such as Mutambara this is definitely unwelcome news.

“Changing climatic conditions which have resulted in lower rainfall are a major threat because bananas thrive under wet and humid conditions. The changing climate is a real threat to successful banana production. Our banana yields will be greatly affected if the weather conditions are not conducive,” she said.

Some researchers into how climate change will impact on global banana production say the threat is real and banana producing countries must start to seriously think about investing in irrigation technologies and other ways to mitigate against climate change impacts.

Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement deputy minister Vangelis said government was committed to fully supporting banana farmers through extension services as well as implementing more irrigation projects for the benefit of people in Honde Valley and other banana-producing communities.

“Government is providing extension and advisory services,” he said.

“It is allowing pluralistic approach in farmer training in collaboration with partners. The establishment of processing plants of horticultural crops such as bananas is in the pipeline at Hauna (in Honde Valley) in partnership with ILO.”

Agriculture is Zimbabwe’s economic backbone and banana production is expected to become a major export crop for a country currently weighing all options to increase its foreign currency revenue.

While exports of the raw fruit can bring immediate benefits for the country, value-addition could generate more revenue that can help fight the effects of climate change. And government has already come on board in value-addition.

“We will use innovation and technology to process and add value here, create jobs and export to generate foreign currency,” said Industry and Commerce minister Sekai Nzenza recently.

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