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LATER this year, Zimbabwe will once again spend millions of dollars importing grain to cover domestic shortages caused by bad weather and poor rainfall, which neither Government nor meteorologists nor farmers could anticipate.

This is particularly poor on the Government and Meteorological Services Department’s part. Now, agriculture in Zimbabwe must undergo serious change to meet up with the multiple challenges of climate change, poverty, food insecurity and environmental damage, experts say.

The country has written off 15 percent or 300 000 hectares of the 2 million hectares put under the maize staple and small grains last summer following flash flooding, a shorter rain season, and long-mid season dry spells.

Tobacco, Zimbabwe’s biggest agriculture export, is this year expected to come in at 195 million kilogrammes, 9,7 percent below the 2014 output, according to industry regulator, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.

“What we have always referred to as climate change has now become a reality to almost being the normal climate,” Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told a Press conference on March 13, unclear of the real extent of the looming food crisis, yet.

The admission by Dr Made that climate change is now “almost the normal climate” justifies the need for significant investments in adaptation for eco-resilient agriculture to protect crops from heat stress, flooding and other anticipated impacts from huge changes projected in temperature and rainfall.

But to do so, Zimbabwe will need to address some important questions:

What factors explain the declining agricultural productivity in Zimbabwe? Are they structural, management, environmental, or all the above?

The country’s agriculture sector, which directly employs two thirds of the 13 million population, is now dominated by a new breed of farmers, mostly small-scale, who struggle for weather and climate data, inputs and finance, with limited adaptive capacity.

Dr Kenneth Odero, director at ClimateXL Africa, a not-for-profit regional climate change-oriented organisation in Harare, says the approach to resilience and vulnerability should deepen by being alive to other hazard drivers and hazards.

“In this context,” he said, “climate change should be framed both in research, policy and practice as part of multiple threats that farming households simultaneously face.

“So, it is crucially important to keep the threat of climate change and climate variability in perspective, that is, as one challenge among many.”

What is the next immediate option to boosting food security at a time of changing climates?

The UN panel on climate change estimates that crop yields in southern Africa will decline by between 30 and 50 percent by mid-century, but Zimbabwe has been slow in equipping its smallholder farmers to cope with those changes.

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, said Dr Odero.

“This might have useful policy implications for targeted interventions to improve productivity and resilience of smallholder agriculture in Zimbabwe,” he said, highlighting farmers’ perennial input supply challenges.

Climate-smart agriculture “is a useful pathway to more efficient, effective, and equitable food systems that address challenges in environmental, social, and economic dimensions across productive landscapes,” the ClimateXL director said, by email.

Will Zimbabwe be smart enough to adopt climate-smart agriculture, soon?

That is the test. And one which the country is not at liberty to fail. With agriculture contributing 22 percent to national greenhouse gas emissions, CSA can deliver on the twin benefits of emissions reduction from the important economic sector, and crop yields.

The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture says climate-smart agriculture specifically targets to achieve food security and broader development goals under a changing climate and increasing food demand.

Add to that conservation agriculture, says agri-business development expert Midway Bhunu. Conservation agriculture emphasises zero tillage to protect the soil, and crop diversification.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says CA increases profits, food security, preserves the environment and enhances natural biodiversity.

“We still have opportunities to maintain a balanced position in terms of our food security equation,” Bhunu said, adding Zimbabwe should lock in benefits from prime livestock regions like Matebeleland, where crops do badly.

“Conservation farming needs to be upscaled, by all stakeholders through Public-Private Partnerships. Currently, there is slow adoption of conservation agriculture because farmers feel that its laborious, but the benefits of CA are massive,” he said.

In the past 20 years, Brazil has increased the land under conservation farming from a few thousand hectares to 10 million hectares, FAO says, and crop output has not declined.

The economic impacts of climate change in Zimbabwe are expected to be wide-ranging, significant and mostly negative.

Of major concern are huge reductions in the yield of crops, water scarcity, damages associated with floods and an increase in the threat of disease outbreaks like malaria and cholera.

Already, the this year’s unforeseen drought will force agriculture to grow much lower than the initial 23 percent growth estimates.

As a result, economic growth will slow down to 2,8 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, from 3,1 percent.

It remains to be seen whether Zimbabwe will not only implement, but enforce strategies contained in its climate change response strategy, which provides real guidance on adaptation in the agriculture sector, to the letter.

God is faithful.


Source : The Herald