The Herald (Harare)

14 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Food Security Under Pressure

CLIMATE change impacts are going to be debilitating in Zimbabwe, but agriculture will be hardest hit and food security may be severely constrained. It would require mountain-moving action and commitment to help communities cope with these changes, which have already started happening. The country is already overburdened by widespread poverty and by pressing socio-economic developmental challenges accruing from a decade of unprecedented economic decline until 2009.

Reiterating local research on Zimbabwe's future climate projections, the International Institute for Environment and Development predicted in December that the country will experience a warming of up to 2 degrees Celsius by 2080, if global emissions persisted on the current trajectory. And strictly speaking, there is little reason to believe that world pollution from carbon emissions will recede by any marked proportions within the foreseeable future, at least as measured by the shape and direction that the international UN climate talks have adopted in recent years.

Thus, it is now generally acceptable to base any future climate responses on the current forecasts. In the report "Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation in Zimbabwe," the IIED says by 2080 the land suitable for maize production was expected to decrease while that for other crops such as sorghum and cotton was expected to decrease and increase in different areas.

Overall, surface water resources were projected to fall sharply within 70 years with significantly decreased runoff in the Umzingwane, Shashe, Nata and Save catchments. The area under high to extremely high malaria hazard will rise, says the IIED adding that significant biodiversity declines will also be experienced in most parts of the country, particularly the western regions that harbour large plantation forests.

"Rising temperatures and increasing rainfall variability, notably drought, are expected to exacerbate declining agricultural outputs, further compromising economic growth and stability, employment levels, food insecurity, demand for other goods, and poverty reduction," the report said.

"In particular, climate change is expected to lead to the expansion of marginal lands, which is already beginning to occur in Zimbabwe. If changing climatic conditions continue to expand these regions, traditional agricultural systems will become increasingly unsustainable. Even diversified livelihood systems with a livestock component are expected to become more vulnerable."

The IIED said it is expected that farmers, who represent 62 percent of the total population, will bear disproportionate impacts due to their limited adaptive capacity. Further impacts will be felt on the water front with higher stress levels seen threatening the quantity and quality of drinking water in rural and urban areas. The increasing geographic range of infectious disease vectors such as malaria will also affect public health, especially among people living with Hiv and Aids, said IIED.

In his 2009 study "Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture in Zimbabwe," Dr Leonard Unganai explained that the country's geographical location was one of the key concern areas that increased vulnerability.

That Zimbabwe lay in a semi-arid region with limited and unreliable rainfall and temperature variations always meant that climate impacts will be hard felt in this country. Dr Unganai said Zimbabwe was, as a result of climate change experiencing increased frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall patterns, increases in the proportion of low rainfall years as well as increases in the frequency and intensity of mid-season dry spells among other factors.

According to the Meteorological Services Department, Zimbabwe was generally becoming warmer. Daily minimum temperatures have climbed 2,6 degrees Celsius since 1900 while daily maximum temperatures are up 2 degrees Celsius during the review period, it said.

Latest research shows that changes in the climate have resulted in "more arid environments for agricultural production", which has expanded or shrunk the country's five agro-ecological regions.

Several case studies have been undertaken in different districts countrywide to measure the impacts of climate change under different scenarios but I found the one in Chiredzi to be of striking importance given its rough climates.

This study, "Coping with Drought and Climate Change", was jointly conducted by the Government of Zimbabwe and the UN Development Programme with funding from the Global Environment Facility. Chiredzi lies in the south-east of Zimbabwe ecological Region 5, a dry, low-rainfall and hot area.

From the study, climate projections in Chiredzi district depict an improbable, difficult warmer future. Probability estimates show that moderate, severe and extreme droughts were highly likely between January and March in two out of every 10 years.

It was possible that extreme droughts recurred at two- to four-year intervals, whereas 48-month-long droughts recurred in intervals of eight to 16 years. By 2065, annual temperatures across Chiredzi are projected to rise by up to 3,5 degrees Celsius. Under the worst case scenario, temperature increases significantly while rainfall declines 50 percent by 2020. For the best case, temperatures rise marginally and similarly so does rainfall.

Chiredzi presents a unique climate change case for Zimbabwe, carefully chosen for its "aridity" and vulnerability. Obviously, the results from this study will not fall into the one size fits all approach, as different regions in Zimbabwe are affected by climate change differently. But they are an important model for designing adaptation and other climate response strategies in region four or five, which are predominantly semi-arid to arid and covering the biggest farming hectarage in the country.

These same results may also be exported to other regions, refined and tailor-made for those specific farming communities. Moreover, studies from different areas such as Gokwe (Region 4) and Wedza (Region 2), according to the IIED demonstrate that farmers were experiencing climate challenges of a nature more or less similar meaning response strategies could be shared between communities in different ecological zones.

The IIED said climate responses were now coming from a growing number of NGOs and research organisations, including UN agencies that were engaging in adaptation and development activities using a variety of approaches including community based approaches.

God is faithful.

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