Without accurate weather and climate information, it can prove impossible for farmers to make well-informed decisions that help them optimise agricultural production. The unavailability in Zimbabwe of proper weather and climate services has seen farmers carrying out their business as their forefathers did — devoid of crucial information.
By Chipo Masara
Chitarisiro Mutomba is a mother of four who lives in Mushumbi, in Mbire district. Together with her unemployed husband, they each year look forward to the coming of the rains so they begin planting on their piece of land that has for years been their main source of livelihood. But as a result of climate change — a phenomenon they evidently know nothing about even as it has hit areas such as theirs the hardest — farming is no longer as simple and straight-forward as it used to be.
“You can no longer tell when the rains will come and just when you think they [rains] have arrived after the first downpour, you will often thereafter experience a long dry spell that almost makes you forget you are in the rainy season,” said Mutomba.
But because soon after the first rains pounded in early November, the Zimbabwe Meteorological services Department rushed in to announce that indeed the rains had come and there would be plenty of them, many like Mutomba excitedly took it as their cue to plant. But the rains were to disappear almost as soon as they came, leaving them once again at the mercy of the scorching heat that has of late characterised the area. Today, they face the dreadful possibility of seeing their crops wilting, necessitating them to replant — a cost Mutomba and her husband say they cannot afford. If the rains do not come to the area soon, the family may next year be one of those in dire need of food assistance.
“It would be better if we had information that helped us know exactly when to plant so we avoid further costs that we cannot afford. If it does not rain soon, it means acute hunger for my family,” said a distraught Mutomba.
If people like Mutomba had access to accurate weather and climate information, it would have helped them know exactly when to plant, how much rainfall to expect and what yields to expect — which would all significantly enhance agricultural production, improve food security and possibly help farmers contribute further to the gross domestic product. But the Zimbabwe government under former president Robert Mugabe lacked awareness of the amount of contribution that meteorological services can make towards not only farming, but overall socio-economic development.
The Met Department has become popular for dishing out misleading weather forecasts that have often left many counting their losses. They seem to be operating on guess work.
Many may still recall when after incessant rains last year, the Met Department announced that specifically “on Tuesday”, people could expect the rains to stop, saying that would be followed by a dry period. The news came as a relief to many — especially those in flood-prone areas who had been battling with the rain. However, the said Tuesday was to bring even heavier rains throughout the country, with no sunshine in sight. And so did Wednesday, Thursday and part of Friday.
Getting information from the Met Department is no easy task as personnel there are known for shying away from the media, and efforts by this writer to get answers to a list of questions sent to their email address firstname.lastname@example.org hit a snag — just as they did last year. Their website has, on the other hand, been down for months. But there is general consensus that the department is equipped with archaic equipment that cannot be counted on to provide accurate information. This could be as a result of the department not receiving enough funding to efficiently run their operations under Mugabe’s administration.
With the country in the throngs of a debilitating climate change catastrophe, droughts that lead to crop failure; flooding that leads to loss of life and livelihood and other such attendant calamities, are occurrences that the country needs to prepare for. To do that, there is need to invest in the quantifying of the benefits of weather and climate information services. There is also definite need for climate-smart technologies that help enhance climate risk management in agriculture as well as other economic sectors.
Under the new government led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe needs to move at the pace of other developing countries like India that are now using satellite data for agro-meteorological services, having since installed over 1 300 automated weather stations throughout the country.
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