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Climate change: Farmers must reinvent

No longer can farmers employ the same agricultural techniques they used a decade ago and expect to reap as much as they might have back then.

Column by Chipo Masara

Farmers in Zimbabwe have not been spared from the effects of changes, mostly climatic, that have over the past few years persistently hard-hit especially the agriculture sector. The climatic changes have been credited to that much-talked-about phenomenon called climate change, currently a hot topic in Zimbabwe and the world over.

Whether or not the changes are really owing to climate change, what everyone in Zimbabwe would not have failed to observe is that there indeed have been a lot of changes, most of which have transformed the face of agriculture in the country in a major way.

Where people used to know exactly when to plant their crops and the measures to apply to ensure they reaped maximum yields, erratic rainfall patterns that are currently being experienced are making it hard to timely plant crops.

In most cases, people plant way too early (having been misled by the early rains), only for their crops to be ravaged by long dry spells and the unbearable heat that normally characterises such periods. Before long, most crops planted too early would have been wiped out, making replanting necessary. This has had a negative bearing on most farmers’ pockets as money keeps getting wasted. If farmers had irrigation facilities, the situation would not be so bad. Unfortunately, the bulk of them have to rely completely on rainfall.

Many farmers that are in the country’s remote areas do not have or have limited access to reports from the country’s meteorological department; thus they normally do not have a clue on the weather patterns. And then, there are still many more that have never heard of climatic change, with many having decided to blame the persistent droughts on God’s anger over people’s misdeeds.

In the meantime, scientists assert the warmer atmospheric temperatures that have been experienced over the past decade, characteristic of climate change, have resulted in more vigorous hydrological cycles, leading to intensified soil erosion and the resultant soil degradation.

Many farmers are evidently battling with soils that have become too tired and barren to produce much. In an effort to increase their yields, most tend to scale up on fertiliser and other yield-enhancing chemicals. Unfortunately, in most instances, the overdependence on chemicals has only served to tire the soils even further.

Sadly, it is not only commercial farming that has been adversely affected by the changing climatic conditions; it has been a thorn in the flesh even at household levels, rendering most households food insecure, leaving them in dire need of assistance. Millions of people in Zimbabwe currently face starvation and require food handouts.

However, it is not all farmers in Zimbabwe that are at wits’ end over how to continue farming in the face of the climatic changes.

Some have chosen to adapt and have embraced new ways of doing things, to minimise the impact of the devastating climatic changes.

Tamuka Matambo of Mvuma peri-urban plots is one such farmer that has decided to open up to new ways of doing things, and it has worked wonders for him.

Retired from civil service, Matambo now spends the bulk of his time working on his piece of land, which besides being considerably small, produces enough to guarantee his family food security, leaving him with surplus produce to sell.

With support from Forestry Commission, Matambo has successfully ventured into Alley Cropping — a method of planting in which rows of a crop are sown between rows or hedges of nitrogen-fixing plants, the roots of which enrich the soil.

This method, which Matambo said was not labour-intensive, greatly reduces the need to use fertiliser, helping the soil regain its fertility. The accumulating mulch from the hedges helps prevent weed growth.

In spite of the intense heat that had ravaged most vegetation in the area, Matambo’s plot is evergreen and looks healthy. This, he explained, was because the hedges helped to trap in rain water, controlling water wastage through run off.

He kept residue from last year’s harvest in the field, which he said served as manure, further reducing the need for fertiliser.

Agric sector must embrace new methods
It is farmers like Matambo, who have taken up conservative methods of farming, who can look forward to a bright future in the business.

Those that choose to do things the same old way are bound to continue wasting resources while reaping very little, if anything.

It is time players in the agriculture sector took cognisance of the climatic changes and harnessed all the knowledge they need to make the new conditions work for the country.

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