Climate change throws farmers

Climatic changes and uncertainty over when to plant crops have negatively impacted the country’s maize production.

Climate change has increased variability in maize yields.
Climate change has increased variability in maize yields.

“Traditionally, farmers start to plant their seeds in late October. However, the seasons seem to have changed and the rains are starting to fall regularly in December and crops planted in November are wilting because of the dry spell,” said Aaron Hombe, a local farmer.

Only 247 000 hectares of maize have been planted this year so far, compared to the 379 993 ha planted during the same period last year. Agritex’s latest crop report attributes the decline to the late onset of rains countrywide. Mashonaland East is in the lead, having planted 72 591 ha to date, compared to 87 157 ha planted in the same period last year.

Farmers confused

“We no longer know when to plant,” said a commercial farmer, Amon Gumbeze. “The rains were scarce at the start of the seasons and in recent years it has been erratic. If I plant my crops early, they are likely to wilt, but if I wait the rain could stop before my crops mature.”

Dr Priscah Mugabe, Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, has noted effects of climate change reflected in rainfall patterns in Zimbabwe from 1901 to 2005.

Mugabe said that there have been noticeable shifts in the onset of the rains, increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, more low rainfall years, increased proportion of tropical cyclones reaching high intensity, a decline in drizzle weather events and more frequent mid-term dry spells.

Shifts in natural regions have been noted at areas such as Chinhoyi, Chibero and their surroundings which were formerly in natural region 2, but are now classified under natural region 3. The size of natural region 1 has been reduced, while natural region 2 has been pushed further east and natural region 3 has shifted slightly upwards. Kwekwe and the surrounding area is now classified as natural region 4.

Variable crop yields

On the agriculture and food security sector, crop yields in marginal zones have become more variable. Yields from rain-fed agriculture are expected to decline by up to 50 percent by 2020. Mugabe said climate change introduced greater variability in maize yields.

“There is a strong likelihood that climate change will make natural region 4 a non-maize producing area,” she said.

Reduced livestock production is anticipated as a result of a reduced forage base and the increase of pests and diseases like tsetse flies and ticks.

“A shift to smaller browsing animals like goats is anticipated,” said Mugabe. In the health sector, an increase in malnutrition and consequent disorders with implications on child growth and development is anticipated. There might also be an increase in the distribution of the malaria-bearing Anopheles gambiae mosquito.

The implications of these health worries are an increased burden on health care systems.

Women worst affected

Women are likely to be worst affected by the pressure on water resources, according to Mugabe. Reduced irrigation output exacerbated by deforestation and siltation will make it increasingly difficult to find safe sources of water.

Dr Basile Tambashe, Country Representative for the United Nations Population Fund in Zimbabwe is on record saying that climate change is not just about technology. He said that it was a problem brought about by human activity and only people can stop it. “We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster and Zimbabwe is beginning to feel the impact of climate change,” said Tambashe.

Agricultural Extension Official with the Ministry of Agriculture noted that erratic rainfall and more extreme climatic patterns necessitated improved farming patterns. She added that droughts were being experienced more frequently and water conserving technologies would play a significant role in efficient utilization of precipitation to ensure reasonable yields, even during periods of low rainfall.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *