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IRIN - Zimbabwe


Don’t ignore the one group that can make climate action happen

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 10:50:27 +0000

Last year, the planet suffered the terrible impacts of one of the worst drought and hunger crises seen for decades. At the end of 2015, 30 percent of the global land area was in drought conditions, one of the highest figures since modern record keeping began.   As many in the humanitarian sector will already be aware, this deep and extended crisis was brought on by a disastrous combination of climate change and the 2015 to 2016 El Niño cycle.    In Southern Africa, which was one of the hardest hit regions, countries faced their worst drought in 35 years. National emergencies were declared in Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, eight out of nine of the country’s provinces, which collectively produce 90 percent of the country’s maize, were affected.   This time last year, 18 million people in Southern Africa were estimated to be food insecure.   While El Niño is a naturally occurring global weather cycle that takes place every three to seven years, many scientists conclude that it and climate change combined last year to create new and extreme impacts.   This was the year in which the Earth’s atmosphere experienced its highest ever level of greenhouse gases. It was also the hottest year on record, the third record year in a row. Last year’s El Niño was also one of the strongest events on record, as well as one of the longest lasting.   And as anyone working in the humanitarian sector will know, the effects of this drought have been devastating. The impacts of El Niño went beyond causing immediate hunger, jeopardising the longer-term prospects for farming and often wiping out livelihoods in the process. These long-term impacts of the crisis continue to affect many people today.   The most vulnerable   The drought felt across Southern Africa has had particularly damaging outcomes for women smallholder farmers, who make up 43 percent of developing countries’ agricultural labour force.   As with any kind of disaster, women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts. Being a woman will often mean additional work and social burdens, but lower status and fewer privileges when disaster strikes.   Negative “coping mechanisms” commonly employed by women and girls became much more widespread as a result of the El Niño drought. For example, women frequently put their children and husband’s nutrition first during disasters, and were often the last to eat, if there was any food left for them.   Women and girls reported needing to walk for several hours longer each day to find scarce water, thus missing out on education, income and rest opportunities.   In Malawi and Lesotho, reports from communities working with ActionAid, the anti-poverty NGO, indicated that some women were resorting to sex work to make ends meet, putting them at higher risk of violence and HIV & AIDS. Child marriages were also reported to be on the increase.   These trends threaten women and younger girls' well-being, and can further hold them back from taking part in activities that could improve their own status and human rights, their resilience – and that of their family and community – in the longer term.   Fortunately, Southern Africa is now in a recovery phase. This is a long and slow process, because the extended drought has taken a severe toll on communities’ incomes, livestock, land, savings, education, health, and more.   But with climate change worsening, we know that extreme weather events are becoming increasingly frequent and severe. Any recovery and rebuilding efforts must have an eye on the future, and the climate change impacts that will likely continue to affect the region.    Recovery efforts as well as ongoing programmes in development and agriculture in the region must therefore prioritise adaptation, disaster prevention, and preparedness. Amid the crisis last year, a number of key initiatives can teach us important lessons on effective strategies to scale up resilience.   Women’s leadership   The critical importance of working with women in development as[...]

The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:32:49 +0000

My brother is a Zimbabwean farmer who has done pretty well for himself, but is now a worried man.   Last season he lost a significant amount of his maize crop to a single, voracious pest, and he fears for the worst when the new growing season begins in November.   Fall armyworm, or FAW, is new to Africa but has made an immediate impact. The caterpillar, originally from Latin America, was first detected in Nigeria in January 2016. By January 2017 it had reached South Africa – spreading officially to 24 countries within a year on a lightening journey down the continent.   It’s a ravenous feeder, with an appetite for more than 80 plant species – including maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, millet, and cotton. If left untreated, it can cause crop losses of up to 50 percent, munching its way through a hectare within 72 hours.   A foreign invader   My brother, Sipho Mpofu, like virtually all farmers in southwestern Zimbabwe, grows maize, and in the last few years has added drought-tolerant sorghum and millet in response to the country’s drying climate.   He received his land from the government under its land reform programme that subdivided and redistributed fertile commercial farms to landless subsistence producers. He has seen his yields steadily improve and has been able to expand his farm, investing in new buildings and equipment.   Over the years, like other farmers in Mashonaland West Province, Mpofu would get occasional outbreaks of African armyworm, which marched over from East Africa several decades ago.   It’s a cousin to the FAW, almost as rapacious, with a particular fondness for maize. But having been around for many years, farmers now know how to deal with it.   Last year Mpofu encountered FAW for the first time. He assumed it was the usual armyworm (the difference is in the markings) and tackled them with the recommended tried-and-tested pesticides. To his dismay, they didn’t work.   Fortunately, the government was quick to recognise the new threat and recommended alternative pesticides. “That saved many farmers from certain ruin,” said Mpofu.   But he still lost about 20 percent of his maize crop. “There was a significant percentage [of armyworm] which was not affected by the pesticides,” he said, possibly because heavy rains prevented follow-up applications, or the caterpillars had burrowed deep into the plant. Foster Dongozi/IRIN Sipho Mpofu (foreground) inspects his maize Impact on Africa   According to a the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, Africa stands to lose $3 billion worth of maize this coming year as a result of FAW.   This will be a dramatic setback for small-scale family farmers who grow the bulk of Africa’s maize. With limited access to inputs and services, they also receive low prices for the maize they do sell – and need all the support they can get to combat FAW.   David Phiri, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's coordinator for southern Africa, expressed his deep concern over “the emergence, intensity, and spread of the pest”.   As a moth, they are good flyers – averaging about 100 kilometres a night. They also multiply at a prodigious rate, with a female laying around 2,000 eggs in her 10-day caterpillar lifespan.   Climate change may also be an ally. Drought, followed by lots of rain – as southern Africa experienced last year after an especially strong string of El Niño seasons – seems to give them a boost.   “FAW has come to stay and it must be managed,” said Phiri. But farmers and agricultural extension officers in Africa are still learning how to identify the pest and understand its biology and ecology in order to manage it.   Mpofu has done his own research and is not optimistic. “I am worried by several issues,” he said. “The first one is that it is difficult to eliminate FAW, even using the recommended pesticides.”   Response   The best chance to destroy the caterpillars with regular contact in[...]

No food, #NotATarget, and what next in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:07:51 +0000

Which humanitarian topics are on IRIN’s radar and should be on yours? Check out our curation of upcoming events, topical reports, opinion, and quality journalism:   The “depressing equilibrium” of aid worker attacks   We mark World Humanitarian Day (#NotATarget) with a selection of articles about the risks aid workers face, and share some highlights from publications and data released to for the day – click here for more. Statistics on aid worker safety show a stable but depressing equilibrium: 288 aid workers were victims of incidents tracked by the Aid Worker Security Database in 2016, just one more than the year before. There has been one telling change however: most aid worker fatalities in 2016 were caused by states, not rebels or other armed groups (mainly due to airstrikes and killings by the state in South Sudan). The annual report from the database's keeper, Humanitarian Outcomes, covers more than just the numbers (a book from the MSF think-tank CRASH last year warned against a purely quantitative approach). It looks, for example, at the motivations and attitudes towards aid groups of the Taliban and al-Shabab. The fraught relationship between aid agencies and armed groups is explored: "We also want resources and they are among the few available resources," says an al-Shabab interviewee. As well as looking at violent incidents, Insecurity Insight, a Geneva-based NGO, monitors legal and administrative curbs on development, human rights, and humanitarian work. It has published a list of 77 restriction-related events in 2016, available as a download on the Humanitarian Data Exchange site.    Zimbabwe – No country for old men   At some stage, an ever-frailer President Robert Mugabe, 93, is going to die. That’s not a wish, just a pretty certain prediction. What happens next is setting nerves jangling. Mugabe is not universally loved, but he commands respect. The fear is that with his passing, not only will the edifice of the ruling party come crashing down, but the country may burn as well. That’s because he’s lining up his wife, Grace, to succeed him. She commands neither love nor respect. Her behaviour in South Africa at the weekend, where she allegedly assaulted a young woman, is seen as personifying her character. Standing in the way of Grace is Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a feared former spy chief. But his influence is on the wane. He was taken ill and rushed to South Africa last week, in what was reported to have been a poisoning attempt. Despite Grace enlisting the support of former defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, the army is badly split. The senior generals fear for their jobs. And that is the direction from where the real trouble is likely to spring from. In the meantime, ordinary Zimbabweans are voting with their feet. According to a new Afrobarometer survey, almost half of the population has considered emigrating. Look out for an upcoming IRIN report on the succession issue.   Shame falls both ways in Yemen   The UN’s annual “list of shame” of governments and armed groups that commit grave violations against children in armed conflicts is back, and Saudi Arabia is once again in the spotlight. A leaked draft of the report says the Saudi-led coalition is on the hook for an “unacceptably high” 51 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, plus three quarters of attacks on schools and hospitals. Saudi Arabia was removed from the 2016 list days after it was published, after the kingdom reportedly threatened to withdraw financial support from the UN and its aid agencies. It remains to be seen if the Saudis will make it to this year’s final draft – it is subject to approval by UN Secretary-General Antiono Gutteres – but it’s worth nothing that Houthi rebels and affiliated forces are also named as responsible for a third of child casualties verified by the UN in the country. And just this week, Houthi-Saleh forces detained activist and political commentator Hisham al-Omeisy in Sana’[...]

Mind the gap: Why Zimbabwean researchers need to work with farmers

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 07:26:53 +0000

Maize seed in drought-prone regions of Zimbabwe should by now come with a government health warning: “Planting can seriously damage your well-being”. That’s because although maize delivers like a champion under the right conditions, it’s highly vulnerable to water stress. If the rains come too late, or even too early, the crop is a write-off. Tariro Moyo knows this from bitter experience. A communal farmer in Gwanda, in southern Zimbabwe, she has continued to plant maize despite her yields decreasing with each bad season. “Last year, I watched all my maize crop wilting and dying due to drought,” she told IRIN. “I [had] used all my money to buy maize seed and fertiliser in anticipation of a good harvest.” Gwanda is in Matabeleland, a region hit by successive poor harvests linked to one of the strongest El Niño events on record. Deep rural poverty and a lack of access to financing means farmers here are forced to rely on rain-fed production and cannot afford irrigation systems. Climate change will mean still dryer conditions for Zimbabwe. Given that scenario, the challenge for the government and research bodies is how to develop and promote alternative crops that offer farmers some resilience. Resistance to change Drought-tolerant small grains such as finger millet, pearl, and sorghum were the traditional foods in Zimbabwe long before maize became the dominant crop across southern Africa more than a century ago. But reviving them means overcoming significant challenges. The reason maize won out is because it is much higher yielding, requires less labour, and its outer husk provides good protection from birds and other pests. A powerful agro-industry markets maize meal as the cornerstone of Zimbabwe’s food culture and family life. Millet and sorghum are available on supermarket shelves, but they represent much more of a niche market. “Very few people buy small grains as compared to maize,” said Moyo, explaining the major production downside: “The amount of time spent and labour needed to prepare these small grains is too much for me. Besides my husband, I have no one to help with farming work as all my children are away.” Kizito Mazvimavi, the executive director for the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, countered: “There is need for labour in any farming activity.” But even though his organisation promotes small grains, he acknowledged that the technology for processing them “is limited and not readily available in many rural areas” – an additional problem that makes uptake harder still. Moyo said she was not opposed to small grains if they made economic sense, especially given the lottery that maize production has become. “If they improve my livelihood and, with the necessary tools and equipment, can be the best for me, I cannot continue to put money into waste,” she concluded. Research to the rescue? This is the gap that researchers and the government need to fill, argues Shepherd Siziba, chair of the Agricultural Economics and Extension Department at the University of Zimbabwe. Not enough is being done to ensure the relevant research is being understood and acted upon by farmers in the field like Moyo, Siziba told IRIN. “Theses are being done at universities and literature on climate change generated, but what is missing is the intensive interaction between policy, research, and farmers,” he added. Noah Kutukwa of Oxfam Zimbabwe believes the government needs to play a more active role. “Farmers continue to grow maize where it’s not working,” he said. “Though the adoption of small grains has improved, uptake has been slow.” Even though small grains are seen as a critical component of adaptation to climate change, there is no effective support to champion production. One simple example: The government continues to distribute maize seed as a drought recovery measure in arid regions instead of more appropriate small grains. “There is a need for deliberate ef[...]

Climate-friendly farming solution fizzles in Zimbabwe

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 17:01:05 +0000

Best intentions don’t always translate into best practice, as David Dzama found out to his cost. At first, conservation agriculture seemed like the solution to the climate change-linked problems facing the smallholder farmer in Zimbabwe’s Seke district, about 50 kilometres south of Harare. Chief among these problems is food insecurity, which is now perennial in Zimbabwe, especially among rural smallholder farming communities. This means farmers need strategic help adapting to climate change and to build their resilience. But is conservation agriculture the way to go? Its champions do not always see eye-to-eye with supposed beneficiaries, and claims that it has been a clear success don’t appear to be backed up by the evidence. “When donors introduced conservation agriculture to us, our hopes were raised,” Dzama, 60, told IRIN. “They said it would give us good yields, and hunger would be a thing of the past.” Conservation agriculture (CA) is a way of farming that aims to avoid disrupting the structure, composition, and natural biodiversity of soil. While CA can be applied to a wide range of crop types, it always shares three characteristics: keeping soil covered with residues from previous crops or specially-grown cover plant material; keeping tillage to an absolute minimum; and rotating crops regularly. To avoid tilling, CA farmers are encouraged to dig shallow basins in the dry season, cover them with mulch, then sow at the onset of the first rains. This increases the chances of crops surviving dry spells and foreshortened rainy seasons because it reduces runoff and evaporation. Proponents of CA argue that it is a climate-smart practice that promotes food security by increasing yields, especially on farmland that is not irrigated. Need for solutions Some 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s rural population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. According to the country’s Climate Change Response Strategy, these livelihoods are threatened by ever more frequent and longer dry spells during the rainy season. “The majority of rural Zimbabweans live in semi-arid zones and will suffer disproportionately from the emerging impacts of climate change and variability, including disasters associated with extreme weather events such as droughts, periodic flooding, disease outbreaks for both humans and livestock, and loss of crop lands,” says the strategy document. When it was introduced in Dzama’s Seke community in 2009, almost every farmer took up CA, laboriously digging basins in the pre-farming season, covering them with plant residue, and planting when the first rains began to fall. The international agencies that introduced CA also supplied free fertiliser and seeds as incentives to farmers to take up the more labour-intensive agricultural work required. But while yields have generally been bigger on those portions of land given over to CA methods – generally between a third and a half of an acre – for many the boost is not enough to make much difference to their margins or indeed to overall food security. Although some are doing well and have never looked back, two years later, Dzama and his neighbours, like a lot of other farmers in other parts of the country, have grown disillusioned and abandoned CA practices altogether. ‘Dig and die’  “We call it ‘dhiga ufe’ [a Shona phrase meaning ‘dig and die’] instead of ‘dhiga udye’ [‘dig for good yields’] as the donors referred to it. There is so much labour involved, yet the results have never been good. It’s not worth it,” Dzama told IRIN, explaining that CA involved the additional chore of weeding crops – in the absence, thanks to mass urban migration, of sufficient manpower to do so. Tawanda Majoni/IRIN Dzama has abandoned CA, and now uses his crop residue as animal fodder The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which plays the secretarial ro[...]

Resettled Zimbabwe farmers left high and dry

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:26:14 +0000

Ten years ago, former bricklayer Samuel Musengi was allocated a nine-hectare plot to cultivate in Zimbabwe as part of an accelerated phase of land reform that saw tens of thousands of black families resettled on what were once vast, mostly white-owned commercial farms. It’s not going so well for him; nor for many others. Increasingly unpredictable weather and a lack of government support has made it all but impossible for Zimbabwe’s resettled farmers to achieve anything like the full potential of their plots. Even the government’s weather forecasts are unreliable, according to 42-year-old Musengi, who grows maize and beans and raises a few head of livestock in Wedza, some 90 kilometres southeast of Harare. “These people (the weather forecasters) get it wrong about when the rains will come most of the time. That makes it difficult to prepare our fields. If the Met Department cannot correctly tell when it will rain, what do you expect from simple farmers like me?” Musengi told IRIN. But it’s getting harder too for forecasters. Extreme weather shocks are occurring with rising frequency in Zimbabwe, “with a flood year immediately following a drought year”, according to a 2015 study by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit. In addition to more floods and droughts, the report predicted that the onsets and ends of rainy seasons would continue to change and be interrupted by more frequent and longer dry spells, and that the distribution of rainfall across the country would also become more and more erratic – bad news indeed for Zimbabwean agriculture, which is mainly rain-fed. In the absence of accurate official forecasts, Musengi and scores of other resettled smallholder farmers in the Wedza area have turned in desperation to self-styled “prophets”. But they too are of little help. “The angels have advised the prophets not to predict the rains,” said Musengi. “Only God knows when it will rain. Other farmers go to traditional healers who carry out rainmaking ceremonies, but it is difficult to tell if the rains that come are due to those rituals.” For want of a pump By rights, rain shouldn’t be an issue for Musengi and the 20 other smallholders now living on the farm: It has a borehole deep enough to supply water for year-round irrigation. But the pump is broken and there’s no money to replace it. It is common for resettled farmers to have to share infrastructure, but during the violence and chaos of President Robert Mugabe’s fast-track land reform programme in the early 2000s, much vital equipment was vandalised or looted, leading to disputes over who should meet the costs of repairs. “Because of the droughts, we have not been able to produce enough,” said Musengi, who in recent years has seen fellow farmers lose cattle to disease, thirst, and lack of pasture. “I have been getting less than a tonne of maize from my field every year, meaning that I cannot sell anything and get money for inputs and other household needs.” Eddie Cross, an economist, farming expert, and opposition Movement for Democratic Change lawmaker, estimates that smallholder farmers should be producing some 10 tonnes of maize per hectare in a good year. One stated aim of land reform was to give subsistence farmers who had long toiled on low-quality soils in communally-owned areas – as well as junior civil servants, war veterans, pensioners, and businesspeople – access to more productive land so as to contribute to Zimbabwe’s food basket. More than 140,000 people benefitted from the scheme, with an average plot size of 12 hectares. However, in practice, many have been left to fend for themselves, with little support to face up to the growing effects of climate change. “The fast track land reform programme could have gone a long way in addressing the climate adaptation and resilience needs of smallholder commercial and other resettled fa[...]

After drought, Zimbabwe contends with fall armyworm invasion

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 14:23:11 +0000

It was first detected in Africa barely a year ago, yet the fall armyworm, a type of caterpillar whose name derives from its tendency to maraud in vast numbers, has already infested hundreds of thousands of hectares of maize across more than a dozen countries on the continent, presenting a serious threat to food security. Spodoptera frugiperda is a formidable foe. Pesticides only work when the larvae are very small and before they have begun to cause visible damage to the crop. After that, there are no quick fixes. The pest can cause crop losses of more than 70 percent. In Zimbabwe, El Niño-induced droughts left four million people needing food aid during the 2015/2016 agricultural season. This year, good rains had raised hopes of a decent harvest, but now the fall armyworm is dashing them for many farmers. Vavariro Mashamba, 51, hoped to harvest 10 tonnes of maize from each of the 20 hectares he planted in his farm in the Karoi district, in north-central Zimbabwe. But when he started to see ragged holes on the foliage of his crop and sawdust-like frass near the whorl and upper leaves of the plants, he knew he was in trouble. His best hope now is a yield of six or seven tonnes per hectare. “At first I thought it was the African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) that was damaging my crops. I bought Carbaryl pesticide and sprayed on the plants. There was no change. Instead, the worms continued to multiply in my field,” Mashamba told IRIN. Experts from the Ministry of Agriculture visited his farm, but by then it was too late to eradicate the fall armyworm (The “fall” part of the name comes from the caterpillar’s feeding habits: In its native Americas, it does most damage in late summer and early autumn – or “fall” in US English. See here for more details). Mashamba experimented with different pesticides, but to no avail. Widespread problem According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which held an emergency meeting on the pest in Harare in February, up to 130,000 hectares of maize and corn could already be infested by fall armyworm in Zimbabwe, 90,000 in Zambia, and 50,000 in Namibia. It was first detected in Africa in Nigeria in January 2016 and its presence has also been confirmed in Botswana, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo, and Uganda. Shingirayi Nyamutukwa, acting head of plant protection at the government’s Department of Research and Specialist Services, said all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces had reported being affected by the caterpillar but it was difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage to yields now as crops were at varying stages of growth. “We started receiving reports that there was a pest causing damage on crops in October last year in Matabeleland North,” said Nyamutukwa, warning that most of the country’s 1.3 million hectares of land under maize cultivation was potentially at risk. Zimbabwe Farmers Union Director Paul Zacariya said the country was ill-prepared for the arrival of fall armyworm. “No information or warnings were given to notify farmers of the pest. As such, many farmers could not identify the pest and lacked the knowledge and requisite skills on how to contain the damages caused,” he told IRIN. Food security threatened Noting its stubborn resistance to available control methods, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa David Phiri said he was worried “the pest could be here to stay”. “The costs and implication of such a scenario are very serious indeed, as seen in places where the pest is endemic, like in Brazil where the government incurs control costs in excess of $600 million per annum,” he warned. “The implications for livelihoods and food security are also too serious to contemplate, and assessments have to be done to ascertain the damage caused." At the emergency meeting, the FAO advocated a countrywide response as part of a regional pr[...]

How women farmers are battling climate change in Zimbabwe

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 10:37:45 +0000

Chengetai Zonke lost much of her maize crop to drought last year. When it came to planting again, she decided to reduce her stake in what has become a recurrent climate change gamble. At her homestead in Chiware, in Zimbabwe’s northeastern Manicaland Province, the 52-year-old farmer explained why. “I’ve abandoned tilling the bigger fields to avoid the risk of putting more land under crops that may fail due to lack of rain or too much rain,” she told IRIN. “Replanting costs money, which is scarce.” Allowing for the unpredictability of climate change turned out to be a shrewd move. After years of drought, Cyclone Dineo struck mid-February. Almost the entire country is now affected by floods, which have washed away bridges and roads and marooned some communities in the south entirely. Almost 250 people have been killed in what President Robert Mugabe has declared a “national disaster”. Nearly 2,000 more have been left homeless, while many others remain vulnerable to dams bursting or overflowing upstream. Several weeks of heavy rain have also taken their toll on agriculture – already struggling due to a critical shortage of fertiliser and a persistent outrbeak of fall armyworm. “Some farmers face hunger because they planted late. Their crops are waterlogged, and have been leached,” said Zonke, whose own maize was affected. Before the cyclone struck, the Zimbabwe Food Security Cluster (UN agencies, NGOs, government and donor representatives) was estimating that 43 percent of the rural population, some 4.1 million people, would be food insecure at the peak of the lean season, between January and March. Women’s work Zonke has four children, who have all finished school, and lives with four grandchildren. As is the norm in Zimbabwe, although she has a husband, it is she who does most of the work on the family farm. Women – like Zonke – bear the greatest burden of these erratic changes in weather patterns, as they are the mainstay of agricultural production, Leonard Unganai, a project manager with Oxfam, told IRIN. “Most of the crops they grow, like maize, are badly affected by the occurrence of dry spells and heavy rains,” he said. “In the end, it is women who get affected most, compromising their ability to produce for the household and the markets.” Nanganidzai Makoho, a programme officer with Women and Land in Zimbabwe (WILZ), a local NGO, said that if farmers – who tend to be women – plant incorrectly, they might lose a whole season’s harvest. This can also lead to domestic violence, because men, who typically buy the seeds, will have expected a good return on their investment. Oxfam Recent rains have caused considerable damage to infrastructure Delmah Ndlovu, who raises livestock in Bubi, a district in Matabeleland North Province, said the recent droughts meant women had to travel long distances to find water, giving them less time to work in their fields, reducing yields. “We’ve witnessed unprecedented loss of pastures,” she said. “Grass is dying. Even grass to thatch our houses, which we found freely in the past, is now getting scarce.” Changing rainfall patterns have led many farmers to innovate. “We’ve learnt to dig filtration pits to preserve water,” said Matilda Khupe, a farmer in Bulilima. “We dig the pits so that when rains come they fill the pits first, as well [as] putting gutters on the house. We use the water we collect and [the] water we use in our daily business to water trees and gardens.” Zonke has also had to learn to adapt. “We have adopted [the] cultivation of small-grain seeds on a much bigger scale than before, and new varieties of crops that are easier to grow but pay more,” she said. “Like this year, I’ve used retained maize seed I got from Zambia. It’s very robust, and [...]

More than a buzzword? Resilience to climate change in Zimbabwe

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 18:53:08 +0000

Climate change-induced disasters will keep on coming, as sure as the sun rises. But rather than governments and aid agencies swinging into belated – often chaotic – action after they’ve struck, the smarter move is to strengthen communities by building their resistance ahead of time. It’s cheaper, faster, and devolves more control to the affected communities. But while resilience has long been a buzzword among aid agencies and governments alike, it’s difficult to gauge yet how effective the measures have been. Zimbabwe is a good place both to highlight the need to develop people’s resistance to “shocks” and to illustrate how difficult it is to put that idea into practice. Agriculture is a key sector of the economy. It employs 60-70 percent of the population, contributes to about 40 percent of total export earnings, and, in a good year, covers the country’s cereal needs. But Zimbabwean agriculture is mostly rain-fed, and therefore vulnerable to climate change-induced drought. An El Niño event in 2015 has produced two consecutive seasons of failed rains. The cumulative result is that more than four million people are in need of food aid over the next three months, until the 2017 harvest comes in. Worse to come And the forecast is for worse weather to come. A 2013 study predicted that between now and 2080, Zimbabwe will suffer steeply reduced rainfall, which will hit production of drought-sensitive maize, further denting food security. The trend has been clear for more than a decade. But the government and aid partners seem to have made the short-term calculation that the next season will be better, preferring to resort to emergency relief when disaster strikes than to spend on longer-term solutions. DFID Two consecutive droughts have hit Zimbabwe For the government, the primary reason is it’s broke. Last year, it struggled to pay even public sector teachers and nurses. “Zimbabwe has for more than a decade faced numerous economic, environmental, and political pressures that have probably proved to be too much for the government to effectively promote resilience,” said climate researcher Leonard Unganai. “It is evidently aware that it has to do something, but the challenges could have also overwhelmed it.” In almost every year out of the last 15, Zimbabwe has been forced to import grain. More than 200,000 metric tonnes of maize was imported in 2016. That’s well short of the 1.7 million metric tonnes the country actually needed, but seemingly all the cash-strapped government could afford. The burden has therefore fallen on its aid partners. Zimbabwe received $177.7 million in aid funding in 2016, but that represents only roughly 50 percent of the overall appeal. Clearly, charity has its limits. “Traditional approaches to humanitarian and development assistance have not been very successful in minimising the impacts of disasters on communities,” said UN Development Programme Resident Representative Bishow Parajuli. What are needed are interventions that “enhance communities’ and individuals’ preparedness and resilience,” he said at last year’s launch of the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF). “Building the resilience of communities helps them to be prepared to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from crises and disasters in a timely, efficient, and sustainable manner,” David Phiri, Southern Africa coordinator for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, told IRIN. Interventions Resilience building is not a new phenomenon. It’s a fashionable phrase included in just about every humanitarian and development document. It has institutional support expressed through the 2005-2015 Hyogo Framework of Action, and its successor, the Sendai Framework. But while the goals of addressi[...]

Climate change on the front line, in rural Zimbabwe

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 17:12:15 +0000

The last time Tabitha Moyo’s* borehole went dry was the drought of 1992, a disaster that affected 20 million people across southern Africa. That the 50-metre well is bone-dry now is an indication of just how severe this year has been for farmers in Zimbabwe.   It rained just four times between November and February in Sanyati, a rural hamlet 350 kilometres south of the capital, Harare.   “There’s real hunger in this area. People are suffering,” said Moyo. “The last two years have been the worst in living memory.”   Sixty-five-year-old Gogo Dlamini is partially blind. Together with her frail 72-year-old husband, they lost everything they planted this season and are forced to live off aid handouts. “There’s nothing in my granary,” she told IRIN.   Dlamini’s neighbours planted cotton, which can normally handle dry conditions. But they too had a meagre harvest – just 164 kilos, not even enough for one bale. Charles Shava said he normally produced between 200 and 250 kilos, but explained: “You can’t plough if you don’t have water for your oxen.”   No longer predictable   Moyo knows exactly how bad the situation is because she keeps a rain gauge in the corner of her farm, near the dry bore hole, which she is preparing to deepen by several more metres. The benefit will not just be for her, but for a wider, struggling community.   The lack of rains, the result of a two-year El Niño, means that 4.1 million people – half of Zimbabwe’s rural population – will be in need of food aid next year.   Sinyati is in the country’s communal areas, the historical dumping ground for those kicked off their land by the colonial authorities. The soil is bad at the best of times, a fine white dust that needs plenty of encouragement to coax a crop. Obi Anyadike/IRIN It's been a hard two seasons in Sanyati   Maize is Zimbabwe’s staple. But the three-metre-tall plants are sensitive; they need plenty of moisture at just the right time.   Agriculture here is rain-fed, but with climate change, maize is now a real gamble. The effects of El Niño are only an indication of what people here fear may be much worse to come.   “The weather is no longer predictable for farmers,” said Shava. “People who salvaged something [this year], planted in January [well into the normal planting season]. Neighbours that planted in November failed.”   The farmers in Sanyati have heard about climate change. They know about conservation agriculture and “zero tillage”, the advantages of small grains, and other adaptation techniques to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures and the drier weather in store for southern Africa.   But what they lack is proper support from the government. They are promised seed and fertiliser inputs, but it invariably comes late, and is not enough. A five-kilo bag of fertiliser once a year hardly makes an appreciable difference, especially in the communal areas with their exhausted soils.   But improving the inputs policy, even if the government could afford it, is insufficient.   “We are not addressing the issue of why agriculture is failing, and why farmers remain poor, year in year out,” said Maggie Makanza, a programme manager at Oxfam. “Even in a good year, they make barely enough to survive, and surpluses are very low.”   President Robert Mugabe’s land reform, the forced redistribution of commercial farms to landless black Zimbabweans, is often portrayed as the genesis of the country’s downturn in food production.   But that’s false. Zimbabwe’s black farmers grew the nation’s food, its white farmers the high-value cash crops like tobacco. Land reform was chaotic, and impacted the broader economy, but Zimbabwe’s resettled small-scale farme[...]