By Ronald Rusere
The harsh reality that farmers face now is that they have to produce more with less hence the need to adopt adaptation strategies that not only increase resilience but are aimed at also improving crop productivity. The Pfumvudza plot is a practical, least cost, eco-efficient way of improving climate resilience and maize productivity. The upscaling of the Pfumvudza plot through the Presidential input scheme is a good initiative which can transform small holder farming enterprises from traditional farming practices towards food surplus and commercialisation. For us to realise productivity it is imperative that we strengthen the adaptive capacity and resilience of small holder farming systems. It is important to identify, develop and adopt ecoefficient approaches such as Pfumvudza to enhance agronomic production, practical innovation under rainfed farming.
Scaling up conservation agriculture – Conservation agriculture is a game-changer as it can play a key role in “climate-proofing” crop production systems and enhancing the resilience of farming systems. In today’s changing environment, farmers need to understand and take advantage of the value crop residue has on soil health and soil water management. Crop residue optimizes water retention, acting as a mulch which reduces runoff, increases nutrient cycling, water infiltration, reduces evaporation, buffers crops against temperature extremes during dry periods and improves soil’s absorptive capacity mitigating flood impacts following extreme rainfall events while storing water in the event of droughts thus increasing soil resilience. These soil improvements are key in maintaining productivity especially under changing climatic conditions.
Irrigation development – Irrigation development should be prioritised in order for us to fully utilise the country’s irrigation potential and as a front line adaptation strategy to the constantly evolving climate. Continued reliance on unpredictable rainfall makes the country highly vulnerable to climate change and will lead to high food insecurity. The government has declared its intention to significantly expand irrigated hectarage, which is crucial as it endeavors to close that gap between actual irrigation developed and the country’s irrigation potential. Serious investment in irrigation rehabilitation and expansion of irrigated areas are key in increasing the utilisation of the existing water resources some of which remain hugely underutilised and will play a key role in climate adaptation. The recurrence of droughts necessitates the development of irrigation to give protection against the failure of crops. Low rainfall seasons will put water resources under pressure, reducing inflows to dams, rivers therefore judicious irrigation, efficient irrigation scheduling, and productive water application technologies such as drip are key in conserving water resources. Promoting sustainable water use and enhancing the performance of irrigated areas through better land and water management is also crucial.
Drought-tolerant crops & crop diversity – Recent seasons have shown that nature will not always be friendly, that is why farmers are encouraged to diversify into growing a wide array of crops as a safety net and spread the risk. The greater the diversity of crops the better! Ideally, farmers should have well-diversified cropping enterprises, which include naturally hardy crops such as nutritionally enhanced sweet potatoes, groundnuts, beans, cowpeas, Bambara nuts, and traditional grains which have a low moisture requirement and reasonable yield under low input crop production systems. Crop diversity should be an integral part of farming systems as it widens the variety of crops in a system which improves resilience. Drought-tolerant crops should now take precedence, the reduction in a number of rainy days during the summer maize growing season, prolonged mid-season dry spells and terminal droughts require the adoption of short duration, high yielding, drought-tolerant crops that endure in times of moisture stress in order to improve crop productivity and resilience in rain-fed systems. Adopting early maturing drought-tolerant varieties is key for production sustainability under rain-fed farming given the increasingly short crop production seasons we are now experiencing, crops must become not only more productive but also more resilient. It is important that farmers select crops that withstand the changing climate and enhance crop security.
Making do with less water – Shifts in rainfall patterns, extended mid-season dry spells, low erratic rainfall all point towards the adoption of robust water management strategies, investment in water storage infrastructure, and efficient water use systems. This is not new, there has always been a need to adopt water conservation techniques but now it has become imperative. Farmers can build resilience through efficient water management which is key to yield increases in rainfed areas. Water harvesting aims to increase rainfed cropping intensification, increase yield, and reduce the risk of crop failure in drought-prone areas. Low rainfall seasons will continue to be a regular feature of the local climate and farmers in rainfed regions need to be more creative about water conservation. Adoption of infield water harvesting techniques such as infiltration pits, wet ripping, dead level contours, potholes, tied ridges, terracing is an ideal strategy that increases soil moisture infiltration, allows drought proofing, prevents flooding in the field and ensures water productivity in rainfed regions. Ex-situ water can be collected in surface micro dams, percolation dams or subsurface tanks and utilised for supplemental irrigation to meet crop water requirements during dry periods through or offseason. Efficient water management and increased water productivity are key components of climate change adaptation and a way to enhance resilience against climate variability. Water conservation and efficient water use are the cornerstones of rainfed agriculture.
Educating farmers – Climate adaptation is now a necessity, with climate-smart extension programmes critical in enabling farmers to make informed decisions pertaining to adaptation and resilience. The capacitation of extension workers is crucial so that climate-smart research cascades down to the farmers for successful large scale adoption. The adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices hinges on the effective dissemination of climate-smart information and programs. Farmers are generally aware of climatic shifts therefore priority should be aimed at teaching farmers, on the vulnerability of their farming systems, ways to address climate change which are key in building climate-resilient farming systems.
Climate change will continue to be a challenge, therefore fundamental changes are needed that will make farmers better prepared for the coming seasons with low rainfall. Changing the way we farm by adopting climate-smart agricultural practices and sustainable intensification of crop production. Improvements in water management and crop productivity will also be crucial in both irrigated and rainfed systems.Ronald Rusere