columnBy Jeffrey Gogo
RAINS have shifted and the rural poor continue getting confused they have failed to cope nor adapt, relying instead on old irrelevant practices. The major reason for this is a crippling lack of climate change information and education.
Speaking to my 51-year-old uncle, Mr Edward Kutsonga, a communal farmer who visited from Wedza a week back, was both depressing and revealing.
His 10cm maize crop planted on November 13 was now under severe stress and almost failing after rains disappeared soon after planting.
"We have not had rain since November 9," Mr Kutsonga said. "If it does not start raining this week (beginning December 2), the crop will be a complete write-off. Tinenge takutopidingurira pasi totangazve. Iyoyo ndiyo hondo manje. (We would be forced to replough and re-plant. That's the challenge we have.)"
The man is unemployed and depends on his small farm (just over an acre in size) for food to feed his nine-year-old son and wife.
Occasionally, Mr Kutsonga chances for seasonal jobs that arise at the Wedza Rural District Council, which provide him with some cash.
"In a good year, my piece of land can give me a harvest of 300kg of maize. That is enough food to last my small family for a whole year until the next harvest. However, it has been a while since we have had these good years. Over the past few years, we have not had good harvests, even on a small farm like mine because of the unpredictable rainfall patterns.
"Quite often now we rely on Government or NGO food handouts, which do not always come on time. It is difficult to understand what is happening. Things never used to be like this when we were growing up. Droughts were few and far between, not yearly, as we see today," opined Mr Kutsonga.
Well, rains pounded most of the country last week, and I hope my uncle's crop also received this elixir of life.
But, more importantly, he and several other farmers within his locality in Wedza have historically planted with the early November rains, and it worked.
It worked because Zimbabwe's peak rainfall period occurred during the months October to January.
Now owing to increased variability and changes in the climate system the rainfall season is shifting.
Rains are starting late, and when they do, sometimes there is very little of it or more than is desirable.
The dry season has expanded and temperatures are soaring. It may be difficult attributing these changes in the rainfall patterns to climate change because there are many unknown factors that influence the weather.
But scientists agree that the impact of droughts and floods would be more destructive and very difficult to manage in a warmer earth.
In these circumstances, the frequency of such events becomes more extreme and very severe.
But farmers, particularly poor communal farmers, remain stuck with the old techniques, they have failed to adjust to or cope with the changes.
Mr Kutsonga said: "Sometimes we hear them talking about it (climate change) on the radio, how it affects agricultural planning and productivity but we don't really understand the subject.
"The most that we have is our traditional and practical knowledge on agriculture, as well our conversations with fellow village farmers. That, of course, has not helped improve agriculture yields."
Farmers need education on climate change
Farmers have become extremely vulnerable to climate change due to a critical lack of capacity, information and education to adapt.
The Kutsonga example is only one of a widespread national problem. Clearly, most of Zimbabwean smallholder and communal farmers are failing to adjust fast enough or keep up with the pace of change.
If that continues it spells doom for the country's household food security. Yet adaptation to the effects of climate change is now acknowledged as necessary for responding not just effectively, but also equitably to the impacts of climate change and climate variability.
Measures should now be implemented that eliminate difficulties of effectively communicating climate change messages to those that need it most.
An agriculture extension officer based in Mutoko who cannot be named for professional reasons said no climate change information was available to them nor to the farmer.
He said the situation in that area was so dire that crops which had been planted with the early November rains had completely dried up.
"The rains have long disappeared here. Most of the maize and tobacco crops already planted have all failed.
"Farmers are now desperate and seems likely may have to plant again," he lamented.
The cost of replanting and securing further inputs is a nightmare due to serious funding limitations.
What seems probable at this stage for some of the farmers is to wait for Government assistance, which may arrive when the situation is already beyond redemption.
Mr Midway Bhunu, a Harare agri-business development expert, noted that there was a serious problem of information asymmetry on climate change, which needed bridging urgently.
He said field assessments in most of the regions in Zimbabwe showed that climate change "was a mystery to the smallholder farmer although some non-governmental organisations had started some work on education".
Mr Bhunu said that in other areas planting preparations were so behind that if the rains continue erratically this agriculture season may be disastrous.
"Mitigatory strategies for farmers should include, among other things, trainings and awareness programmes of climate change. Farmers should be well equipped with technical information of what farming programmes are best suited for their areas under prevailing unfavourable weather and climate conditions," he said.
There is greater need to build resilience against climate change among communal farmers. Meteorological Services Department acting deputy director operations Mr Terrence Mushore said they had started raising awareness on climate change to equip rural communities.
"We have a project on training the farmers which just started in Chirumhanzu, Gutu and Zvishavane that we are doing with Oxfam. We also have another one with Icrisat but coverage is still limited," he said without giving further details.
However, Mr Mushore advised that farmers should reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture while planting of crops should be staggered.
He said it was important to develop more irrigation systems as well as undertaking area-specific analysis of climate trends so that adaptation suits the specified zones. Perhaps Ethiopia is a good example.
The Horn of Africa country piloted an adaptation project in the country's dry north-eastern region.
The objective was to develop a range of climate-smart solutions by combining early warning information and communication, introducing drought-tolerant and high- yielding crop varieties and improved farming practices, improving livestock restocking and community-based natural resource management and enhance smallholders' access to markets and agricultural value chains.
Ethiopia has so far rehabilitated over 3 000 hectares of land in six watersheds and integration monitoring information collected by the meteorology and agricultural departments to provide reliable weekly weather updates to farmers.
But we do have a success story of our own on adaptation here in Zimbabwe. Mr Aaron Chigona of the Environmental Management Agency told a development and climate days and adaptation side meeting at Doha last week about the five-year Chiredzi project, "Coping with Drought and Climate Change".
The project addresses declining pastures and livestock productivity, increasing water scarcity, poverty and flooding.
He said the project focused on expanding the knowledge base, demonstrating options, developing local capacity and disseminating lessons.
Mr Chigona described key outcomes as capacity building for policymakers, improved livelihoods, improved access to climate information and replication.
He said challenges include macro-economic instability, limited budgets and lack of financing, business drivers and markets to incentivise adaptation.
God is faithful.