THERE is greater need today than ever before to radically revolutionise Zimbabwe's food production systems to align with the unprecedented present and future changes in climate. That the country's economic activity is closely linked with agricultural production requires no additional emphasis.
But that may also be its nemesis. Latest projections from the World Bank on the future of agriculture are dim, owing to rapid climate change. With the current weak mitigation action, it is now clear world temperatures will climb to dangerous levels of 4 degrees Celsius and beyond by 2080, with devastating impacts on agriculture and livelihoods.
And within the next three decades, temperatures are seen rising by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, still above the considered safe limit of 1,5 degrees Celsius and below.
Now a new report from the World Bank says with these changes only, poverty in Southern Africa will multiply annual precipitation decline by 30 percent and food security will be severely threatened. With a warming of 2 degrees Celsius, farmers could lose as much as 40 to 80 percent of cropland suit- able for growing maize, millet or sorghum, yet droughts and aridity will worsen and ecosystems will change or die. Savanna grasslands will turn to woodlands, greatly reducing animal pastures.
The future losses in suitable arable land will negatively affect numerous smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe, strongly dependant on the land for incomes and food security. A 2011 survey by the ZimStat showed that 29 percent of Zimbabweans or 3,8 million people listed agriculture, as their main source of income.
That year, agriculture contributed 20,4 percent to national GDP, compared with the global average of 4,5 percent. The number of people benefiting from agriculture directly or indirectly and when other downstream operations are included could easily top two thirds of Zimbabwe's estimated 13 million population. Population growth and increased climate-linked extremes will combine to yield or worsen hunger and poverty in many homes across the country, more so if adaptive and mitigatory action is lacking.
Already, a warming of 0,7 degrees Celsius since the early 19th century has resulted in frequent droughts, erratic rainfall, heat or cold waves and significantly reduced agriculture output, threatening food security.
Production of the country's staple food, maize, is already under severe stress from other factors. Deliveries to the national silo, GMB, plunged as much as 160 percent last year alone. Most small-scale farmers have abandoned maize in favour of the better paying tobacco.
Of great importance is the need to strengthen systems that support smallholder farming to ensure incomes are not lost and that yields are improved, even in the face of impending climate calamities.
This support can take on various approaches, but building resilience should not negate indigenous knowledge nor excessively promote top-down interventions.
Active community participation is needed. Agriculture extension services require revitalisation, utilising modern communication technologies such as the mobile phone to deliver relevant, area-specific weather, climate and other extension services to the farmer quickly and efficiently.
Food insecurity in societies could be hotbeds for socio-economic and political conflict, as competition for scarce resources intensifies. That is a potential outcome in a food-short Zimbabwe, which is unnecessary if it can be mitigated through proper future planning. An emerging response to challenges paused by climate change on food security and agriculture, one that can be adopted here with efficiency, is sustainable intensification. This is a system pushing for "increased food production from existing farmland in ways that place far less pressure on the environment and which do not undermine our capacity to continue producing food in the future".
Sustainable intensification is built around increasing yields, mainly of arable crops, in the face of scarce resources and environmental challenges. It is also concerned with reducing food waste, and developing systems of governance that improve the efficiency and resilience of the food system as well as making food accessible and affordable, according to the latest edition of the journal, Science, an authoritative global scientific publication.
"Sustainable intensification should be seen as part of a multi-pronged strategy to achieving sustainable food security rather than an all-encompassing solution," the journal said.
The success of sustainable intensification in low-income producers hinges upon engaging sustainable development agendas to identify among other things, agricultural practices that strengthen rural communities and improve smallholder livelihoods and employment. The journal also identified five areas of policy-making that will be affected by national efforts to pursue sustainable intensification. These are biodiversity and land use, animal welfare, human nutrition, rural economies and sustainable development.
God is faithful.