Elita Chikwati Features Editor
Crop production has been the major mainstay for most smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe, with women being the chief food producers.
With 80 percent of farming households dependent on rain-fed agriculture, the impact of climate change is constantly destabilising livelihoods and ecosystems.
According to Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Ministry’s 2022/23 State of Preparedness document, Zimbabwe and other southern Africa countries are already experiencing the negative effects of climate change, manifested as delayed onset of rainfall, variations in rainfall intensity and excessive heat among the more notable effects.
Mbire is one of the areas that have been negatively impacted by climate change.
Rains have become unpredictable in the area. In some instances, the area receives heavy rains within a short period of time, resulting in flash flooding.
This is usually followed by prolonged dry spells that will destroy crops that would have germinated, leaving many families food insecure.
Most farmers in the area do not have irrigation facilities and depend on rain-fed agriculture.
Mbire is in region 5, which is characterised by very low rainfall and this has seen most farmers growing traditional grains such as sorghum and millet because maize does not perform well.
Others produce cotton, while some are now shifting to Sesame, which appears to be more lucrative.
As part of efforts to boost yields even under low rainfall, some farmers in Mbire have tried adopting conservation agriculture, but they still get little output due to the unpredictable rainfall.
This has forced some farmers in the area to diversify to other income generating projects so they can survive under the climate change induced conditions.
Some women in Mbire have diversified to bee-keeping, fish farming and piggery, while others supported by non-governmental organisations have established integrated nutritional gardens where they produce crops under irrigation.
The integrated nutritional gardens, which depend on solar powered boreholes, have seen farmers producing vegetables both for sale and household consumption even during dry times.
In Ward 9, Neshangwe Village, women have ventured into bee-keeping, while others have used proceeds from the apiculture project to support other enterprises.
Mrs Rose Kayupe of Nenyasha livestock project said a number of women in her area had ventured into bee-keeping because it was climate smart.
“Bee-keeping has proved to be a lucrative business as it does not require expensive inputs,” she said. “A number of women do not have access to capital and cannot afford other major businesses, but with bee keeping one can start with as little as three beehives.
“We used to grow crops but the yields were low due to poor rainfall. Now we produce honey and sell to other people even in Harare and get meaningful profits. Some of our group members have more than 40 bee hives and these realise high yields and one can buy goats using the proceeds.”
Mrs Kayupe said they sell their honey in Harare and were now looking at processing to add value so they increase earnings.
Mrs Dorcas Murongazvombo of Neshangwe said climate change had affected crop production, but yields had been low that they realised they had to shift to livestock production.
“Climate change has forced us to look ta alternative ways to get incomes such as fish production and bee keeping,” she said. “We realised that droppings from pigs could feed fish so we saw another opportunity to venture into fish production. We have dug a fish pond 5 by 8 metres. We completed the fish pond in April expecting that we could get water. If we had gotten water in April we should have been harvesting by November .
“Our challenge is water. Piggery and fish production require water. We also sometimes leave our pigs to free range as we would have run out of feeds. We are trying to manufacture feeds for our livestock but our challenge is lack of knowledge on how much quantities of ingredients we should be using to make the stock feeds.
“We had also established a nursery of Moringa and Luekina trees for use as forage for our goats but these were destroyed by rodents.”
Mrs Murongazvombo said if women are empowered, cases of domestic violence will also be reduced.
“Cases of domestic violence had been high because of poverty. Now that women are self-sufficient and can also provide for the family, there is harmony at most households,” she said.
“Our wish is to get partners who can assist us access water easily. Currently we fetch water from a nearby borehole which also supplies the local community and this can cause conflicts.”
The women also wish they could attend agricultural shoes even at national level so they can also learn from fellow farmers and be able to secure lucrative markets.
Nenyasha livestock projects members said as women they had come up with several start up projects but these were not materialising as they could not access loans from banks.
“Banks require immovable properties as collateral of which many women in this area do not have. If only we could get affordable loans without having to provide collateral, our fortunes could change,” Mrs Murongazvombo said.
“The group has also established a poultry project using proceeds from the bee keeping project.
In Kadzibonga Mbire women have been supported by the Lower Guruve Development Association (LGDA) and the Zambezi Valley Biodiversity project, with solar powered borehole and they now produce vegetables at their nutritional garden.
The women grow different types of vegetables including tomatoes, onions, carrots and kale among others.
Beneficiaries said the garden has helped them to be food and nutrition secure while they sell surplus to fellow villagers and earn an income.
Ms Teresah Bakajese of Kadzi said the solar powered boreholes were helping them produce vegetables for household food consumption.
“Few farmers have fresh vegetables in our area especially during this time of the year when the weather is very hot,” she said. “We sell our vegetables to the nearby communities. Although we have not yet generated high profits, we can feed our families with nutritious food. Our main challenges is that we do not have a lucrative market.
“Sometimes we end up drying the vegetables as sales will be low. In some instances we barter trade with those with others crops.”
In Chiruhwe Village, in Kanyemba, Mashonaland Central, women have also started fish farming to ensure food and nutrition security.
Mrs Theresah Chipesi of Kantuniweka group said they started a fish project in 2020 after receiving assistance from the LGDA.
“We have been growing traditional grains but due to poor rains we have also been experiencing food shortages,” she said. “LGDA helped us with materials to establish a fish pond and we provided labour. Some of the members dropped as they found digging a fish pond labour intensive and unbearable. We got the first fish seed from the LGDA.”
Mrs Maud Mutenhaonga of the same village said although the profits from fish production were still small, the women were managing to supply food for their families and send children to school.
“We sell our fish in the neighbourhood as we do not have refrigeration facilities. Sometimes we get US$18 per day and on a good day sales can rake in US$50 per day,” Mrs Mutenhaonga said.
Another member, Mrs Rhoda Mukaneta said fish farming was more lucrative than crop production which could be affected by drought or floods.
“We once tried conservation agriculture but still it failed. Now that we are producing fish we get money to buy food from Zambia. If we have another fish pond, we will increase production and get huge profits throughout the year,” she said.
The Kantuniweka Group has also established gardens surrounding the fish ponds.
The members use the waste water from the pond to water their vegetables.
“We now have vegetables and fish for relish. We no longer go for fishing along the Zambezi Valley. A number of people have been killed by crocodiles and elephants while fishing,” she said.
The members have not yet employed security officials and take turns to guard the pond at night. Mbire Rural District council assistant executive officer for natural resources Mr Obert Shoko said: “Mbire District was predominantly in natural region 5 with some pockets in natural region 4.
“Most of our farmers derive their livelihoods from livestock farming and production of traditional grains and of late have also diversified crop production and are growing specialised crops like Sesame.
“Few farmers are still growing cotton. Maize is affected by seasonal droughts and does not perform well due to effects of climate change.”
Mr Shoko said the season’s length they were experiencing was short; less than 120 days and most varieties of maize crop would take around 160 to 180 days to reach maturity.
“As a result, some of the farmers have diversified into small livestock production. We have been receiving assistance from the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund which is a Government programme,” he said.
“We have scaled up production of small livestock like goats. We do goat breeding in the region and we have Boar goats and Kalahari Red. These breeds have a bigger frame size and farmers are reaping better than the indigenous Mashona type which do fetch low prices on the market.
“With the coming in of the improved breeds of goats, we have seen that our farmers are now getting between US$80 and US$100 when they sell their goats when they used to get something below US$30.”
Mr Shoko said the coming in of UNDP and GEF6 saw the introduction of projects that were not very popular in the area like fish farming.
“With assistance from the LGDA, we have managed to construct some fish ponds in Mbire and we are encouraged by that because most of the women have been the ones who used to go fishing at the rivers and they would be attacked by crocodiles along Manyame and Zambezi rivers,” he said.
“Now that they produce fish at the backyard, they are no longer having challenges of being attacked by wild animals.”
Mr Shoko said there was need to scale up the establishment of fish ponds in the area so they can be one or two per village.
“We also have water challenges and there is need to drill more boreholes in the area so we get water for our fish ponds,” he said. “GEF 6 has also assisted to establish some nutritional gardens which have improved livelihoods. Now families have access to green vegetables throughout the year so this has improved the nutrition of households.
“We still have some challenges especially loss of livestock to predators such as hyenas and during the rainfall seasons elephants also destroy crops.”
Mbire and Kanyemba are not the only areas affected by climate change.
Farmers is Bubi Matabeleland North are now being encouraged to increase production of traditional grains.
Bubi is in region 4 and some parts in region 5.
The farmers were struggling to produce maize but due to low rainfall they have returned to traditional crops such as sorghum, rapoko and millet.
Despite the high nutritional value if traditional grains, farmers said they were experiencing challenges securing markets.
Some of these farmers also barter trade with farmers with maize.
Government is encouraging the production of traditional grains with the Grain Marketing Board buying the crops at competitive prices.
GMB is offering $100 000 and US$90 per tonne to encourage farmers to produce the drought tolerant crops.
In Insiza , Filabusi Matabeleland South a number of farmers are now producing won stockfeeds to protect their livestock from drought.
The farmers had been losing a lot of cattle due to drought but now the farmers are manufacturing feeds using locally manufactured resources such as crop residues and fodder trees.
Some are also growing the fodder for use as stockfeeds. Zimbabwe has a natural semi-arid ground that depends on natural rainfall for agricultural production and has become more unsustainable especially for smallholder farmers without irrigation facilities.
Government recognises the role irrigation plays in food security, employment generation and economic development.
Over the years Government has made deliberate efforts to accelerate irrigation use through rehabilitation of equipment and development of new schemes throughout the country.
Government is improving planning, early warning and climate change management systems to cushion small holder farmers from extreme weather events and boost production to necessitate national food security.
The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development is promoting production of drought tolerant crops and rehabilitating dams and irrigation schemes.
Ministry of Lands chief director responsible for Agricultural Advisory Services Professor Obert Jiri said the impact of climate change had affected agricultural production and farmers were adopting climate smart technologies as mitigation measures.
“We have introduced climate smart agriculture such as micro irrigation projects,” he said. “The impact is there for everyone to see in terms of mitigating climate change.
“We have seen communities being transformed from subsistence to commercial. Integrated nutritional gardens where there is a provision of a water source usually a borehole has also improved livelihoods.
“Pfumvudza (conservation agriculture) has also resulted in an increase in crop production. Last year the country experienced a drought but most of the farmers who had Pfumvudza plots realised high yields. This season we are not pushing people to go for Pfumvudza. Most of them have seen the advantages for themselves.”
Agritex Director, Mr Stancilae Tapererwa said it was unfortunate that some farmers in region 4 and 5 were continuing to grow maize even when the crop was doing well due to low rainfall.
“Starting this season, (2022/23 summer cropping season), we are no longer going to issue maize inputs under the Presidential Scheme to areas in region 4 and 5,” he said.
“We have realised there is some form of resistance of growing traditional grains and one of the reasons has been that farmers fin it difficult to process the crop. We are going to ensure we supply machinery for processing so that farmers grow the crop.”
Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers Trust president, Mrs Depinah Nkomo, said climate change had also affected farmers even those in better regions in terms of rainfall.
“The seasons have become unpredictable. As women we cannot afford irrigation equipment. We wish we could receive assistance as women so we have at least one hectare of irrigation equipment. This will ensure we produce crops throughout the year and we can also grow high value crops that give us high returns,” she said.
The issue of climate change has not only negatively impacted on Zimbabwe alone.
In Zambia, climate change has also resulted in a decline in yields.
According to climate tracker.org, national food security in Zambia is reliant on a few staple crops particularly maize .
The crop is produced mainly by smallholder farmers under rain fed agriculture conditions which makes household and national food security vulnerable to weather conditions such as temperature increases changes in rural patterns and drought.
“Various key player’s, like Hivos, have come on board and promoted alternative crops,” stated the climate tracker.org. “Some substitutes are millet and sorghum, which according to research are more resistant to drought than maize according.
“Despite those efforts, culture does not change overnight, and it seems that the mindset of citizens is rigid towards diversifying their plates from maize meal cake to foods like potatoes or rice.
“Various stakeholders have continued to call on the government to ensure that they take deliberate steps to supplement their efforts. In addition, they encourage citizens not to only cultivate but also consume a wider variety of crops that are also of nutritional value to them.”
Mongabay news states in Malawi, the government revealed that agriculture had been performing below potential, citing factors such as heavy reliance on rain-fed farming, adverse impacts of climate change, land degradation, declining soil fertility, and poor access to and application of fertilisers by smallholder farmers.
“The Ministry of Agriculture says it is promoting a number of interventions — including intercropping, crop rotation, mulching, conservation agriculture, the use of organic inputs, and soil and water conservation — to ensure improved agricultural productivity in Malawi,” said the Mongabay news.
India has also been affected by climate change.
According to Science Direct, while the climate and agricultural production system changes will affect food security, farmers are the first to feel the worst hits (Soubry et al., 2020).
“Crop loss leads to farmer distress, inflation, and, as a result, far-reaching economic consequences. Currently, the annual average crop losses due to extreme weather events alone is resulting into losses estimated at around 0.25 percent of India’s GDP,” he said.
Aljazeera states that climate change was hurting India’s rice crop.
“With extreme weather events affecting cropping patterns, growers need to be equipped with new farming methods,” revealed Aljazeera.
“Researchers say that the production of rice in India is constrained by both droughts and heavy rains which can flood the fields.
“About 68 percent of the total cropping area in India is rain-fed. Of the roughly 40 million hectares (100 million acres) of the rice-harvested area in India, 60 percent is irrigated leaving the rest dependent upon rainfall, and hence susceptible to drought.”
While “impacts of droughts can be somewhat mitigated through access to irrigation, parts of India [such as eastern India which is a major rice basket], do not have adequate affordable irrigation, and depend mostly on expensive-to-operate diesel pumps.
“The unprecedented change in rainfall patterns, droughts and extreme heat is a stark reminder that India needs to uphold and promote a transition from mono to multi-cropping systems.
“With the effects of climate change and the extreme weather expected to aggravate in coming years, India also needs to create adequate demand and supply of many local indigenous grains, vegetables and fruits, with urban communities stepping in to support farmers by directly buying from farmers,” revealed Aljazeera.
The world is coming together in Egypt in November to deliberate on the impact of climate change, progress made over the ears and new measures to curtail its consequences.
*This story was funded by the Women in News SIRI Real Grant Project