23 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Water Harvesting Offers Farmers Hope


CLIMATE change has greatly increased rainfall and water variability worldwide. Now that's more than just a wake-up call for Zimbabwean farmers and communities to take water harvesting seriously.

The thin infrastructure that exists in some parts of the country to capture rainwater and store it for future use should be urgently strengthened and new ones established in areas that need them most.

Zimbabwe now needs new innovative approaches to agriculture, which are climate smart.

Indeed, water harvesting is nothing new.

If anything, it's an age-old practice. But what makes it more important today is its ability to neutralise the severe water stress levels generated by a changing climate and its pivotal role in the food-water nexus.

Well-structured and co-ordinated water harvesting strategies would be critical in building drought resilience and enhancing capacity for climate change adaptation for poor rural farming communities.

This is very crucial particularly in the country's drought-prone and water-scarce ecological regions four and five, that's the whole of Matabeleland North and South

provinces, large parts of the Midlands and Masvingo, and some areas in the north and north-east.

These areas, which represent over 60 percent of all state land are typically high temperature, low-rainfall regions receiving below 600mm rain per year and experiencing more frequent, severe droughts.

Recent studies predict both region four and five will become drier, more arid and have already expanded 5,6 percent and 22,6 percent respectively, which is essentially an expansion into hunger.

Yet, the main food-producing ecological regions two and three have declined by 49 percent and 13 percent in that order.

The statistics point to a possible reduction in food production and, therefore, a threat to food security. The Midlands State University researchers said the shifting in the natural regions' boundaries "strongly points to evidence of climate variability and change".

This is where water harvesting comes in, and more so given UN forecasts two-thirds of the world population will experience significantly reduced access to water resources by 2025.

Over time, techniques for collecting rain-water have vastly changed, allowing for large-scale water accumulation and storage for various purposes including

drinking, irrigated farming and for livestock.

It is very possible and practical for farmers to capture water and store it for different uses in the future.

Rain may be collected from rooftops, run-offs or in open spaces, capturing drop for drop, as it falls from the sky.

Storage can be in large surface or underground tanks, mini-dams even, emphasising the facilities minimise pollution and evaporation.

The larger projects could be capital intensive meaning Zimbabwe may have to cast its net wider searching for development finance.

"The rainwater collected can be stored for direct use or can be recharged into the groundwater," explained the National Water Harvesters Network, an India-based international network that addresses global water issues.

"Rain is the first form of water that we know in the hydrological cycle, hence is a primary source of water for us.

"Rivers, lakes and groundwater are all secondary sources of water. In present times, we depend entirely on such secondary sources of water.

"In the process, it is forgotten that rain is the ultimate source that feeds all these secondary sources and remain ignorant of its value."

The network says water harvesting means to understand the value of rain, and to make optimum use of the rainwater at the place where it falls. However, Harare agri-business development expert Mr Midway Bhunu decried the lack of Government support in establishing management and development frameworks that cushion farmers and communities from the effects of declining water resources caused by climate change.

"While water harvesting is a very noble idea and feasible in Zimbabwe, there is a lack of support at national level towards such projects that help communities to make good use of rainwater.

"In Zimbabwe success stories of water harvesting are very few. We need to change our response rate to issues concerning climate change," Mr Bhunu said.

Water harvesting is just one of the many strategies that could be employed in building climate resilient communities.

Encouraging farmers to plant drought-resistant crop varieties is an equally important response.

This may be aided by transforming climate data into usable formats for policymakers and individual farmers.

Farmers now require much more than the usual monotonous "below to normal rainfall" sermons regularly churned out by the weather-man or woman.

They need timely and frequent weather and climate information that is specific to their farming regions, which would aide in planting, planning and other agricultural work.

In East Africa, the Kenya Rainwater Association, supported by the African Water Facility, is implementing a pilot programme aimed at increasing drought resilience and climate change adaptation, using integrated rainwater harvesting management.

Targeting three districts - Baringo, Kiambu West and Laikipia - the programme is expected to bolster water harvesting infrastructure development, use complementary water harvesting technologies to improve livelihoods and generate income, and encourage knowledge sharing among community members.

More specifically, the project will raise awareness on rainwater harvesting techniques, promote improved water management models, use watershed conservation, install water tanks and promote good hygiene practices.

Mobilising and applying resources for the water and sanitation sector would be critical for African countries in the successful implementation of the Africa Water

Vision (2025) and in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Zimbabwe can learn from similar projects.

God is faithful.

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