Climate Change Takes Toll

Until now, the effects of climate change in Zimbabwe have mostly been looked at as a thing for the poor, particularly for rural farmers. But large industrial companies are now starting to take a hit, as extreme climate events drag profits down.

Seed Co Ltd, the Zimbabwean seed maker — and southern Africa’s biggest — reported revenue fell 5 percent to $129 million during the year to March 2018, blaming the decline on climate change.

Amid rising local temperatures, recurrent droughts and floods — all of which are blamed on changing climates — Zimbabwean businesses are beginning to see the impact of harsh climates on their bottom lines. During 2015-2016, as a drought triggered by El Nino hit hydro-power production at Kariba, industrial production fell by more than 50 percent, according to lobby group Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.

A combination of record-breaking heat and heavy rain late on last summer, worsened by a devastating invasive moth called fall armyworm dented production at Seed Co. Now, a growing number of companies are looking at new ways of combating the climate damage , including a switch to renewable energy like solar power, not just as a way to keep business going, but also to minimise future risk.

The effects of a significantly warmer world in this Century will hit countries in Africa hardest, with farm production estimated to fall by between 30 and 50 percent by 2050, scientists say. Seed Co said too much heat resulted in poor pollination, as drought and high disease led to a write off of about a quarter of seed produced across the group. The seed quality was poor, said the company, which had to write off 100 percent of seed produced in West Africa.

“High temperatures also speed up leaf aging and drying up of leaves or deterioration of foliage, which reduces green leaf area duration,” she explained.

Ms Mutemererwa continued: “It is the green leaf that feeds on the plant through photosynthesis that creates starch which fills the seeds. High temperatures also support rapid multiplication of both insect pests and disease causing organisms which reduce yield and quality ” She said pollination was poor due to a lack of rain and excessive heat, both of which coincided with a dry January, when crops are expected to flower.

“(The) flowering stage of maize crop is very critical and lack of moisture or rains negatively affects pollination. High temperatures exacerbate the situation, desiccate the pollen resulting in poor pollen viability, poor pollen retention and poor germination on the silk. Pollen sticks better on moist silks thereby resulting in effective fertilisation,” Ms Mutemererwa explained.

The decline in seed production at Seed Co contrasts with a simultaneous increase in demand from farmers, in a cycle that could disrupt productivity for rural farmers, who rely on the company for seed in a changing climate. The company has now begun to look at emerging technologies in seed drying to speed up seed availability, particularly of climate-proof varieties, and to contain diseases associated with late harvesting.

Ms Mutemererwa said the technology will make seed harvesting and drying a lot faster, and eliminate pest attacks.

“The programme will enhance both yield and quality through irrigation during adverse periods such as the mid-season dry spell,” she said.

“Irrigation will ensure timely planting and spur grain filling which boosts seed yield and seed vigour. Irrigtion also cools the plant and reduces the effects of high temperature on seed set.”

The company has released a line of new seed varieties it says to be climate smart, which means they are tolerant to heat and drought more compared to traditional varieties. With artificial seed drying, basically a process of drying with anything else other than the sun, like using coal or gas, Seed Co harvests the maize when it is only about 70 percent dry, before introducing science to do the rest.

“Artificial seed drying helps managing disease, allows seed growers to deliver seed early, double their fields,” she said.

But that’s all about it can do. It cannot control the elements, like high temperatures. Lagging behind The Zimbabwe government has said it needs about $90 billion in aid to meet its goals of cutting carbon emissions by about a third by 2030, and to help its economy cope with climate change, it says in its climate plan under the Paris Agreement.

That plan aims to reduce emissions by measures such as requiring that solar water heaters be installed in all new homes and in commercial and industrial buildings and mostly by increasing investment in hydro-power and solar power and improving energy efficiency. Some businesses are already taking a lead in this, even though progress has been slow so far.

Old Mutual says it will install up to 20 megawatts of rooftop solar on most of its commercial buildings housing up to to 8 000 small businesses, at a cost of about $28 million. Econet will spend $250 million doing the same and more. Businesses have been criticised for not doing enough to limit emissions, even though they were the largest sources of such, consuming 64 percent of the national electricity supply.

Energy accounts for about 50 percent of Zimbabwe’s total emissions, the largest by any sector. It is not clear to what extent will the measures by companies help cushion their profits against an ever changing climate.

Tawanda Muzamwese, a director with the Business Council for Sustainable Development Zimbabwe, has been leading a campaign to turn industries green, by improving energy and water use efficiency.

He sees this as the only way that companies could truly survive the climate onslaught, while positively contributing to carbon emissions reduction, the number one driver of global warming and climate change.

“In terms of profitability, climate change affects companies through increased cost of water, reduced production output as well as costs associated with damage to infrastructure,” Mr Muzamwese said.

God is faithful.

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