Climate change a threat to Zim’s smallholder farmers

CLIMATE change is a reality and its effects on the livelihood of smallholder farmers is detrimental to their survival. The possibility of the smallholder farmers of coming out of poverty can be a dream if the effects of climate change are not addressed at national level. The reality with climate change is that, it affects the quality and quantity of produce by the smallholder farmers, hence subjecting them to poverty.

guest column: David Mhlanga

The questions which need answers for a common man are: what is climate change? What are the effects of climate change on smallholder farmers and what are the possible ways of combating the effects of climate change especially on the activities of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe?

What is climate change?

Climate can be described as the average weather over a period of time. Climate change means a significant shift in the measures of climate, such as temperature, rainfall, or wind, lasting for an extended period of time. Human activities are significantly contributing to natural climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases.

Influence of humans

Humans have been influencing the climate since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, the average world temperature has risen by approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius. The sea level has risen by around 20cm and most of the glaciers have shrunk dramatically. Up to 1950, the influence of nature was more important than human influence. After that, the pattern in the average world temperature can only be explained by factoring in the human influence. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, it is more than likely (more than 90% probability) that most of the global warming in recent decades is attributable to the observed increase in greenhouse gases.

CO2 and climate change

The most well-known and the most important greenhouse gas is CO2. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is subject to variation even without human intervention. The carbon cycle causes an exchange of CO2 between the biosphere and the oceans on the one hand and the atmosphere on the other. Vast amounts of CO2 are also released by the burning of fossil fuels. There is incontrovertible evidence that the CO2 concentration in the air has never been so high in 800 000 years (probably even 60 million years) as it is now. The trend suggests that CO2 emissions will continue to rise globally, although the economic crisis did prevent a rise in 2009. Besides CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), fluorinated gases, ozone (O3) and water vapour are important greenhouse gases. Water vapour plays a unique role as it strengthens the heat-trapping effect caused by other greenhouse gas emissions.

Effects of climate change

Climate change results in increased air and ocean temperatures, drought, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, increased rainfall, flooding and other influences. In some instances, it causes changes in rainfall patterns.

Impact on smallholder farmers

Many smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe depend on rain for agriculture. In the past, the rainy season started around the months of October and automatically, that’s when the farming season began. However, things have changed over the years in Zimbabwe. For the farming season in many parts of the country, where rain-fed agriculture is practised, December is now marking the beginning of serious farming. In some parts of the country, it’s January. This change in farming seasons is affecting the farming activities in Zimbabwe negatively. Due to the fact that the amount of rain received is now unfavourable, the quality of produce is now compromised, which is impacting on the quality of life of the ordinary farmers and farm workers.

Moreover, the quantity of output is greatly affected. Many farmers who have land in Zimbabwe do not utilise the greater portions of their land due to the fact that they depend on rain for agriculture. Uncertainty about the rain makes many to cut on their hectarage to avoid unnecessary losses.

What needs to be done?

Massive investment in irrigation is a requirement for smallholder farmers. This will enable the farmers not to depend on rain for agriculture. This will also imply that the farmers will be in a position to do crop farming throughout the year. Farming all year round has benefits to smallholder farmers, like increasing their incomes. Their farming activities will improve as they will be able to buy modern and efficient equipment for agriculture. The improvement in income will imply that the smallholder farmers will be able to pay their workers on time. All these factors will help improve the quality of their produce.

Conservation agriculture

Conservation agriculture is generally defined as an agricultural management system based on three principles that should be applied in unison in a mutually reinforcing manner. The measures include minimum physical soil disturbance, permanent soil cover with live or dead plant material, eg crop residues, and crop diversification, like crop rotations, cover crops or intercrops with legumes.

Conservation agriculture enables most farmers in most seasons to plant earlier, apply on-farm or purchased nutrients more accurately, achieve better emergence and more optimal populations, harvest rainfall more effectively, reduce labour inputs and costs, reduce crop stress in dry spells and make better use of whatever inputs they can afford to purchase.

Education on climate change

Finally, smallholder farmers needs education on the effects of climate change, these farmers should desist from cutting down trees, especially those in tobacco farming. When curing tobacco, many smallholder farmers cut down a lot of trees. Deforestation is one of the factors that cause climate change. Smallholder farmers need education on this matter.

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