MANICALAND will be hotter and drier this summer – resulting in lower prospects of a decent yield.
Drought is a climatic occurrence that cannot be prevented, but proactive interventions and preparedness can help farmers to be better prepared to deal with its impact at household and national levels.
Drought is defined as a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time.
The Meteorological Services Department (MSD) recently released the rainfall forecast for the 2023/24 season.
The forecast says much of the country, including Manicaland, will receive normal to below-normal rainfall between October 2023 and March 2024.
This means that the cumulative rainfall will be average, with a chance of going below range, thereby threatening to undermine the positive developments made so far in eradicating food insecurity.
Climatic disturbances, including extremely high temperatures, storms, droughts, cyclones and floods, are becoming more frequent and severe in the province, with the latest research noting a northern expansion of such high hazard risks.
This swift expansion has been reducing the size of food production areas and the productivity of the remaining ones.
The impact of dry spells in the province continue to increase as rainfall becomes more erratic and unable to support both crop and livestock production.
Rain-fed agriculture is no longer viable in the southern and northern regions of Manicaland, and the forecast 2023/24 drought will worsen an already dire situation.
The drought will most likely wipe out crops, trigger livestock diseases and dry up clean water sources.
This was not the case decades ago as the northern and southern zones of the province were synonymous with abundant rainfall, fertile soils, good pastures and overflowing water points for humans and livestock.
Manicaland has thus suffered deleterious metamorphosis characterised by highly variable rainfall patterns which compromise climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and livestock production.
Now that the frequency of droughts has increased from once per decade to about once every three years, focus should be on mitigating against this recurring scourge.
According to the Integrated Context Analysis (ICA) for Zimbabwe, the shifting of these risks to the northern parts of the province has exposed Buhera, Chipinge, parts of Mutare, Makoni, Mutasa and Nyanga to food insecurity, drought and floods.
National University of Science and Technology (NUST lecturer, Dr Arther Mavisa said this northward shift was detected between 2014 and 2021.
To make the situation worse, illegal settlers have encroached into grazing land, national parks, plantations, riverbanks and wetlands.
Illegal mining activities have also exacerbated environmental damage through land degradation, deforestation and chemical contamination of water sources.
Veld fires also continue posing severe threat to the conservation of biodiversity and human life, with resettled farmers cited as major drivers o the scourge.
The wanton burning of vegetation means reduction in carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, and the smoke from the infernos produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide, hence the global warming we are experiencing.
These infernos chew pastures, leaving land without vegetative cover and livestock without grazing pastures, resulting in reduced returns to farmers due to poor beef quality, low milk production and poor market prices for the animals.
“We need to cushion Manicaland from the ever increasing threats and vulnerability associated with climate change by mitigating the impact. It is said that an animal that does not evolve or adapt gets extinct, and if we fail to evolve as a province, surely the impact of climate change will devour us,” said Dr Mavisa.
Deputy Director for Agricultural Advisory and Rural Development Services (Manicaland), Mr Nomatter Manunure said farmers can do many things to mitigate against the envisaged drought to minimise poverty and hunger.
He said the Pfumvudza concept, which uses conservation agriculture principles, enhances crop yield in times when there is inadequate rainfall.
“In Pfumvudza, every part of the process is as important as the next one. What this means is that if a farmer cuts corners on just one of them, there will be possibility of failure. The concept works wonders when all steps are followed religiously,” he said.
Agriculture expert, Professor Joseph Kamuzhanje said Pfumvudza is part of precision agriculture, adding that the planting basins must be dug on time.
He said the lime, organic manure and mulch must also be applied on time.
He said by implementing these farming practices, farmers will enrich their soil, which is key to plant health.
“It is important to maximise on the moisture content and make sure that the crops benefit from the little rain that will fall. Farmers should also go for traditional grains which are resilient and can be sustained by the low rains,” he said.
Prof Kamuzhanje said farmers must plant short season varieties and adopt all principles of conservation agriculture as they have proven useful in mitigating against the impact of reduced rainfall.
He said all drought-prone areas should be classified as non-maize-producing areas, adding that farmers should be encouraged to grow traditional grains like pearl millet, sorghum and rapoko.
A grain swap programme is already in place for farmers to exchange various types of grain so that they are not under pressure to grow maize in areas that are not suitable for it.
“Farmers should target planting with the very first rains. This could be a risk if there is a long period of dryness after that, but missing out on this may be catastrophic. Farmers should prioritise mulching to conserve water. This must also be supplemented by other water-harvesting technologies,” he said.
Prof Kamuzhanje said when it comes to climate change, most of the focus has been put on crop production which depends on rainfall to reach maturity.
He, however, said livestock production is also affected by climate change since the drinking water and pastures are affected.
Prof Kamuzhanje said in the event of a drought, farmers should destock and use the proceeds to maintain the remaining herd.
“Lack of rainfall also impacts the amount of pastures available for livestock, and the biggest impact is on reduced calving rates. Only cows in good condition can drop calves, and without adequate water and food this is not possible.
“There should emphasis on irrigated pastures where possible. There are areas in Muchekeranwa, Chiredzi and Mwenezi where this is already being done. Livestock farmers are encouraged to start their own plots of nutritious grasses and use them to produce supplementary feeds,” he said.
Prof Kamuzhanje said climate change has also been directly linked to livestock diseases.