Sunday, 21 January 2018


Mirriam Pakayi is a subsistence farmer from Nerwande Village, under chief Masvosva, Rusape. Each year, the 48-year-old mother of six scraps out a living farming maize, groundnuts and roundnuts on small patches of land of a combined few acres in size.

The first in a three-tier-wife polygamous set-up, Pakayi tends to work extra hard to support the family, and to augment the mearge earnings from her often visiting stay-in-town husband’s unstable enterprise as a trinkets street vendor. Farming is her lifeblood. Now, after a half-tonne maize harvest last summer, things aren’t looking good for the Nerwande farmer. Pakayi just cannot make it rain.

“If the rain does not fall in good quantity within the next few days, I think we will be talking of a different story,” Pakayi grieved, concerned her maize crop, now at flowering stage, will fall away due to a lack of rain, and leaving her without a harvest, facing hunger.

It would be an evil twist of fate, from plenty to nothing, were that to happen. But then, that’s just the reality climate change is bringing to shore, season after season — unstable rainfall patterns, frequent droughts and flooding, a spike in temperatures, heat-waves, hailstorms and others. The UN panel on climate change estimates that crop yields in southern Africa will decline by between 30 and 50 percent by mid-century due to climate change-induced rain shortages.

Locally, scientists at the State-run Meteorological Services Department (MSD) have observed a decline in precipitation of an average 5 percent countrywide since the 1960s, with even greater declines of as much as 15 percent in central and southern Zimbabwe.

But Zimbabwe hasn’t been as quick equipping its smallholder farmers to cope with those changes, even with the intended-for-good Government input support programmes distributing ten of millions of dollars- inputs-worth each year.

Pakayi would find Tich Zinyemba’s comments on the ZTV night news bulletin on January 18 disconcerting. The MSD’s Head of Weather Services explained how the Department was concerned about the poor distribution of rainfall this summer. In other words, that means some areas will receive rain more than is necessary while others run dry. And none is drier more than Pakayi’s Nerwande Village, she claims, a region of usually fairly good rainfall, averaging 550mm per year.

“The last meaningful rains that fell around Christmas. After that, drizzle here and there, but mostly heat, terrible heat,” she said. Talking to her, the ignorance of climate change as a hazard-driver impacting rainfall badly is palpable. Instead, she mostly blames a lack of inputs for poor crop yields.
“Sometimes we do not get fertilisers on time, or have them at all, and that affects harvests,” Pakayi complained, the thought of her three minor children she now directly supports eating away at her heart.

Short of an education because of poverty and bizarre religious doctrine, Pakayi’s three other children graduated into premature adulthood, two girls married off barely in their teens, and another boy, now 20, joined his father on the streets at just 15 years old, selling sundries to passers-by in growth points and across towns.

Perfect rain season gone
A recent study on food security and adaptation impacts of potential climate smart agricultural practices in Zambia shows that timely access to fertiliser is one of the most robust determinants of yields and their resilience,.

This, climate smart agriculture — practices in farming that are well, smart, maximising production with the least pressure on climates — would be key to helping rural farmers cope with the changes in climates.

But adaptation doesn’t come cheap. Zimbabwe will need about $35 billion to help its agriculture sector adapt to climate change between now and 2030, according to the country’s climate plan under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Moreover, the perfect rain season is now gone, experts say, and in its place now stand imperfect, unpredictable and volatile seasons due to climate change. In the past, rainfall may not have been necessarily perfect, but was more predictable and less variable.
Smallholder farmers had a good understanding of when the rains begun and when they ended, Dr Leonard Unganai, a climate change and agriculture expert with global charity OxFam Zimbabwe, has said in a previous interview. He advised then that farmers stop expecting that “perfect rain season” as in the past..

This way they can plan better, produce improved yields and avoid the pitfalls of unforeseen climate and weather extremes such as what looks like an imminent drought this year, and the flash flooding from 2017. Wonder Chabikwa, president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU), which represents 25 000 farmers, was by far more pessimistic in his outlook for the 2018 farming period.

“If things remain as they are, we a going back to 1992,” Chabikwa told The Herald Business on Friday, by phone, in a throwback to the devastating drought of 25 years ago that killed over one million cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys, and left millions of people famined.

“The situation is very bad. Crops have not germinated and those that have are wilting,” he mourned. Rains have been erratic since the first part of the farming season, and in the second part that begins January to March, it has gotten worse. We pray that we could get only half the amount of rain we received last year.”

In the past, rains began in November and lasted through April.
But with the rainy season now beginning in mid or late December and barely lasting until the end of February, some farmers have turned to small grains and short-season varieties of traditional and hybrid maize, as well as groundnuts, bambara nuts, cowpeas and sunflower.

These are widely viewed as drought-resistant, and, therefore, good for tackling climate change. In agriculture, coping strategies are wide-ranging but centre on capacitating farmers and extension workers, switch to drought tolerant crop varieties, strengthening early warning systems and production of indigenous livestock breeds. Herald


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