By Ronald Rusere
Farmers are faced with a myriad of challenges everyday, rising input costs forcing farmers to put their hands deep into their pockets squeezing profit margins, weakening the financial position of farmers, however climate change tops the list. Climate being a key driver of agriculture, greatly influences the production environment and overall productivity. Climate change is at the heart of every Zimbabwean farmer being a major constraint, threatening the viability of businesses by affecting productivity of farm operations and disrupting production. Farmers have to adapt farming techniques to ensure long term sustainability of farming operations and profitability. Climate variability will bring forth high uncertainty and this is a real challenge for rainfed farmers who have to constantly step into the unknown every season. Increasingly unpredictable and volatile climatic conditions further complicate planning efforts, therefore farmers have to plan for the unexpected. The increasing variability in rainfall and unpredictability are real threats to the sustainability of rainfed agriculture, which depends in its entirety on climatic conditions, hence the need to urgently adapt and increase resilience of farming systems.
Much has changed!
To start with; the Zimbabwean climate has always been uncertain, seasons of low rainfall occurred but at irregular intervals, mid season dry spells were a key feature of the rainy season but now extreme weather events have increased in severity and frequency. Low rainfall years are a regular feature as well as increases in the frequency and intensity of mid-season dry-spells. Climate change is now affecting farmers more regularly. The variation of rainfall occurance has changed notably over the past seasons resulting in false starts to seasons, leading to farmers debating if the summer season has shifted to later in the calender. A lot of farmers could not plant during the optimum planting window, having received poor rain at the start of the 2019-20 season, making it difficult to plant and the prolonged dry spells resulted in some farmers replanting. The rain received in January – February 2020 managed to salvage the season and bring some crops to maturity. Much can be said about the distribution and overall season quality, what is evident is that the shift in climatic conditions is resulting in increasingly short crop production seasons. Delayed onset of rains, false starts to seasons, extended mid-season dry spells, heat spells, low erratic rains, floods, a reduction in frequency and number of rainy days, early termination of the season, droughts, such rainfall anomalies will not only be a short term challenge but could, in fact, have become the new normal. It is evident that such weather extremes seemingly have become part of the Zimbabwean agricultural scene and they are a reality farmers have to face.
In a way, we can draw lessons from the two consecutive growing seasons 2018-19 & 2019-20 which have evidently revealed long term climatic shifts and the country’s vulnerability and low adaptive capacity. Going forward it is crucial that focus is aimed at increasing the adaptive capacity and resilience of cropping systems against climate variability. The sustainability of rainfed areas hinges on climate adaptation and building resilience.
Ronald Rusere is an Agronomist
Cell – 0774690553