Climate change a reality

HARARE - Climate change being experienced in Zimbabwe has affected farmers particularly those in communal lands who are now confused about when and what to farm given the erratic rainfall patterns characterised by long dry spells.

The Daily News Community Affairs Editor Margaret Chinowaita (MC) got hold of Kennedy Mabehla, (KM), Principal Agricultural Extension Specialist in the ministry of Agriculture, Agritex department to get an understanding of how climate change has affected agriculture and what can be done to mitigate major losses in farming. Below are excerpts from the interview.

MC: In terms of climate change, is Zimbabwe experiencing season change?

KM: According to climatic analysis done by the meteorological department, there is evidence of climate change in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe lies in a semi-arid region with limited and unreliable rainfall patterns and temperature variations.

Rainfall exhibits considerable spatial and temporal variability characterised by shifts in the onset of rains, increases in the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events, increases in the proportion of low rainfall years, decreases in low intensity rainfall events, and increases in the frequency and intensity of mid-season dry-spells.

Extreme weather events, namely tropical cyclones and droughts have also increased in frequency and intensity.

Moreover, according to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Service, daily minimum temperatures have risen by approximately 2,6°C over the last century while daily maximum temperatures have risen by 2°C during the same period

The Mean Onset dates for the Eastern highlands area ranges from November 13 to 25.

The rest of the country receives rainfall by December 7.

However, some few isolated areas receive their first rains later than December 7.

The changes in the mean onset and cessation of rains has led farmers in most circumstances delaying planting, as with this season, the rains started early but were not evenly distributed , with periods of very heavy ,intense rainfall followed by long dry spells.

Comparing with last season when the effective rains started a bit early and were evenly distributed, farmers had planted a considerably larger hectarage than this season.

Therefore farmers are also aware of the risks associated with the first rains; hence stagger their crops with the bulk waiting for the December rains which are usually more intense and evenly distributed.

MC: In situations of climate change-induced drought or erratic rainfall characterised by long dry spells, what crops should be given preference?

KM: Little has been done to diversify cropping systems beyond maize. Farmers are not diversifying into alternative crops, even when they experience recurrent failure of maize.

Otherwise we recommend short-season maize varieties which have a short growing cycle as well as staggering planting dates to spread the risk of total crop failure.

Drought tolerant crop types such as millet and sorghum (small grains) should be given preference because they give farmers the flexibility of harvesting something even in years of drought.

Farmers should look beyond the drought tolerant crops by diversifying into other crops which are short season in nature like Cow peas, ground nuts, sunflower and Bambara nuts (Nyimo).

Those with irrigation facilities have the flexibility of planting other long season maize varieties as they can supplement the rains, if the season ends earlier than usual.

Farmers should also implement soil-water conservation techniques, increase plant spacing to maximise production in vleis.

MC: In terms of the major crops by farmers what is Agritex doing in assessing suitability of crops in the country’s regions?

KM: The agro ecological zone demarcation exercise was carried out in the 1960s; hence with increasing global and local evidence of climate change, there is a perceived and observed shift in the zones.

Stakeholders with interests in climate change issues resolved that there was need to revise the agro-ecological regions.

A multi-stakeholder team was constituted to look into the re-zoning of agro ecological zones.

The team comprises MSD, ministry of Agriculture, ministry of environment climate and water, Higher institutions of learning and other organisations with interest in climate change issues to look into the different thematic areas (Climate Data and Water, Land Use and Remote Sensing and agriculture.

MC: Do you have the human resources and capacity to cover the whole nation in your work?

KM: Agritex has got adequate human resources, with at least 3 extension workers in each farming ward, however, to deliver adequately, like any organisation, we have been hampered by lack of resources to cover issues like mobility for extension staff, hence staff have to travel long distances without motorcycles and in cases where they have bicycles the terrain might be rough and requiring heavy terrain vehicles or motorcycles.

However, we are working in strong partnership with the private sector and developmental partners to increase our outreach to farmers .

This model has largely been successful; however, there is still a strong need to further strengthen these ties.

MC: There are fears Zimbabwe has entered a fresh cycle of erratic rainfalls marked with longer dry spells, what is your assessment of the current weather patterns?

KM: Projections indicate increasing agricultural water scarcity and declining productivity of crops because of climate change and variability.

Reports forecast a 20-50 per cent reduction in yields of staple cereals for southern Africa.

MC: What is your advice to farmers given the climate change being experienced in the country?

KM: Farmers should seek extension advice on crops best suitable to their farming environments, plan their farming activities based on weather forecasts.

We are currently promoting Climate-smart agriculture technologies which include proven practical techniques such as, mulching, inter cropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, integrated crop-livestock management, agroforestry, improved grazing, and improved water management, as well as innovative practices like better weather forecasting,

Early warning systems and risk insurance to cover losses when the vagaries of weather strike. Use of drought or flood tolerant crops to meet the demands of the changing climate.

Because each farm and farm family is different. Farmers should be provided with a variety of techniques to choose from, in the understanding that, a single technique will rarely be effective and should be applied in combination with others.

Comments (4)

shoko rinoti "zuva rinouya rinopisa sechoto". mascientists anoti climate change. nharo dzemunhu kuda kupikisana naMwari. uku ndiko kupera kwenguva. ngatisiyeyi zvakaipa tidzoke kuna Baba vedu vekudenga kwete kuvimba nemunhu.

tula - 23 December 2014

Tula! wabaya panyongonya ne ARROW. Those who read the bible & understand God's ways will agree with me & Tula. Turn off from your EVIL WAYS especially @ Leadership levels. A God fearing Nation will always be favoured all times under all circumstances. Turn, Regard & Acknowledge GOD THE Almighty & see if the climate will not change again but this time for the GOOD.

whitehorse - 24 December 2014

Am keen to make contact with Kennedy Mabehla (Principal Agricultural Extension Specialist in the ministry of Agriculture, Agritex) to share potential local solution to erratic rainfall due to climate change.

Paul - 6 January 2015

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.