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February 21, 2011

Zimbabwe mid-rain season dry spell threatens maize crop, shows poor climate change adaptation

by Nelson Chenga

Prospects of Zimbabwe significantly improving on the past summer season’s crop harvest are slowly fading as rainless days stretch into weeks across most parts of the country. According to the Mete-orological Services Department, a spell of about two weeks of reduced rainfall activity has been recorded in most areas due to dry air prevailing over the sub-region. This has created unfavourable conditions for any meaningful rainfall activity.


There are, however, chances of improvement in the rainfall situation from this week, albeit mostly in the northern parts of the country. But most farmers in marginal rainfall areas are increasingly becoming disheartened as periodic isolated dark clouds are constantly being swallowed away by the deep blue sky.

While some are already starting to count their losses, the Met Department is of the view that the nation must not despair: A tropical cyclone currently hovering over the north of Madagascar is expected to track into the Mozambique channel and if it maintains that position chances of rain would be greatly enhanced across Zimbabwe.

Although no current information is available from the government or farmer organisations on the crop situation countrywide, an independent assessment by The Financial Gazette over the past week, especially in Mashonaland East province, indicates that while other crops such as sorghum, millet and groundnuts were not in immediate danger, the maize crop is showing signs of serious moisture stress.

Another rainless week spells doom for many farmers who were hoping for a bumper harvest following an encouraging rainfall pattern in the early stages of the farming season which saw the entire country receiving normal to above normal rain with Mount Darwin in Mashonaland Central topping the graph at 205 percent of normal rainfall.

Hundreds of farmers are still stuck with their top dressing fertiliser as they wait for an opportunity to apply it while those who had applied the fertiliser to their early planted crop are watching helplessly as their plants wither in the scorching midday heat.

The climate change phenomenon seems to have once again rudely reminded the nation to seriously reorganise itself as yet another not so good summer season beckons. 

The country has been struggling for over a decade to boost its agricultural production. Unpredictable weather patterns, coupled with poor planning, have been some of the major drawbacks.

As the climate change trend continues to wreak havoc across the globe, it has been observed that crops such as maize — the staple diet in Zimbabwe — are increasingly becoming threatened because of their susceptibility to prolonged dry spells.

Zimbabwe is experiencing more hot and fewer cold days than before. Its annual mean surface temperature has warmed by 0,4 degrees Celsius from 1900 to 2000. The timing and amount of rainfall received are becoming increasingly uncertain. The period 1980 to 2000 has been the driest, in addition, from 2000 to 2010, the length and frequency of dry spells during the rainfall season has been increasing while the frequency of rain days has been reducing, ac-cording to the Climate Variability and Change in Zimbabwe fact sheet.

“The increasing temperatures, changing seasons, and increases in frequency of droughts and floods will thus lower crop yields and livestock productivity, especially in already arid and semi-arid areas. Zimbabwe’s high dependence on climate sensitive economic sectors, coupled with low adaptive capacity makes the country particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate variability and change. Climate change directly affects natural res-ources and the health of eco-systems on which human well-being depends,” says the fact sheet.

And as if the ravages of climate change are not enough, farmers are also wary of the proposed general elections, rumoured to be around August, the peak period for preparations for the 2011/12 planting season.
In a move that clearly demonst-rated governme-nt’s reluctance to adapt to the changing climate to avert hunger, the State again this year distributed tonnes of seed maize varieties that are proving not to be drought tolerant.

While the Zimbabwe government should be the one driving the climate change adaptation agenda, it has interestingly abdicated this responsibility to non-governmental organisations that have been left to run the show. Given the fact that donor funds are now as unpredictable as the weather itself due to donor fatigue, food security is now in serious jeopardy.

“Zimbabwe’s capacity to respond to climate change disasters at present is not optimal,” Oxfam GB and the Development Reality Insti-tute (DRI) have concluded.

Oxfam, whose objective is to enhance food security and livelihoods for poor and vulnerable households, and DRI, a youth-oriented organisation, have been working with some communities in Zimbabwe’s Gutu District to strengthen the capacity of poor and vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change.

This initiative came after the realisation that — over and above limited financial resources to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes, limited technical expertise, limited local specialised training facilities, inadequate information, weak coordination and limited capacity for climate change policy and policy implementation — Zimbabwean communities hardly understand the climate change phenomenon.

Financial Gazette

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