Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Climate change hits Africa’s poorest farmers

Climate change hits Africa’s poorest farmers

By GILLIAN GOTORA, Associated Press – 2 hours ago

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — As she surveys her small, bare plot in Zimbabwe’s 
capital, farmer Janet Vambe knows something serious is happening, even if 
she has never heard of climate change.

“Long ago, I could set my calendar with the date the rains started,” the 
72-year-old said. Nowadays, “we have to gamble with the rains. If you plant 
early you might lose and if you plant late you might win. We are at a loss 
of what to do.”

Paramu Mafongoya, a University of Zimbabwe agronomist, says Vambe’s worries 
and those of millions of other poor farmers — most of them women — across 
Africa are a clear sign of the impact of climate change on a continent 
already struggling to feed itself. Changes have been noted in the timing and 
the distribution of rainfall on the continent. Zimbabweans say the rainy 
season has become shorter and more unpredictable, Mafongoya said.

Climate change “is a serious threat to human life,” Mafongoya said. “It 
affects agriculture and food security everywhere.”

International climate change negotiators meet in the South African coastal 
city of Durban starting Monday. Their agenda includes how to get African and 
other developing countries the technology and knowledge to ensure that 
people like Vambe can keep feeding their families without looking for 
emergency food aid.

A Green Climate Fund that would give $100 billion a year by 2020 to 
developing countries to help them fight climate change and its effects was 
agreed on at last year’s climate talks in Cancun, Mexico. Durban negotiators 
hope to make progress on addressing questions such as where the money will 
come from and how will it be managed.

Climate change specialist Rashmi Mistry said her anti-hunger group Oxfam 
will be in Durban lobbying to ensure that women have a voice in managing the 
Green Fund, and that their needs are addressed when its money is spent. Most 
small-scale farmers in Africa are women, and they also are the ones shopping 
for the family’s food. But tradition often keeps them out of policymaking 

Mistry said when yields are low and market prices are high, women are the 
first to suffer.

“She’s the one usually who will feed her husband first and feed her children 
first, and she will go hungry,” Mistry said.

Across Africa, said Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s special envoy on climate 
change, farmers need to triple production by 2050 to meet growing needs.

“At the same time, you’ve got climate change lowering average yields by 
what’s expected to be 28 percent,” Steer said. He called for more investment 
in such areas as agricultural research and water management.

Experts already are working on solutions. For example, Africa Harvest, a 
think tank that uses science and technology to address poverty and improve 
livelihoods among some of the poorest people in Africa, is working with 
farmers in an arid stretch in eastern Kenya who were finding it harder and 
harder to grow their usual crops of corn and beans. Africa Harvest got 
farmers to switch to sorghum. They have seen bumper harvests as a result 
because they are focusing on the right crop and the right practices for the 
climate, said Moctar Toure, chairman of Africa Harvest, who will be in 
Durban for the talks.

“The way we do agricultural development has to change,” Toure told The 
Associated Press. “We need to balance the need to increase farm productivity 
with environmental conservation. We will also work towards broad policy 
changes in our target countries in order to address endemic problems 
(affecting women) such as land right security, access to credit and 

Experts worry that one consequence of resources becoming scarcer will be 
more frequent conflict. Already, Zimbabwe has seen aid used as a political 
weapon. Those who can prove their loyalty to longtime President Robert 
Mugabe’s party have been seen to be favored when it comes time to hand out 
seeds or food.

Modern techniques of growing drought-resistant crops like sorghum and 
millet, staggering planting programs, irrigation and harvesting rain and 
river water in dams help minimize the risk to farmers. But Zimbabwe’s modern 
agricultural infrastructure has been disrupted by a decade of political and 
economic turmoil.

Acute food shortages eased after Zimbabwe adopted the U.S. dollar to end 
world-record inflation in 2009, but local farm production continues to 
decline. This month, the U.N. food agency said more than 1 million 
Zimbabweans needed food aid and poor families, especially households with 
orphans and vulnerable children, can’t afford much of the food that is 
available. Most of that food is imported.

Climate change, like the political problems linked to poverty in Zimbabwe, 
is manmade, though over a longer term.

Scientists say the accumulation of carbon dioxide traps the Earth’s heat, 
and is causing dramatic changes in weather patterns, agricultural conditions 
and heightened risks of devastating sea-level rise. Industrialized nations 
bear the bulk of the blame, since they have been pumping carbon dioxide into 
the atmosphere for 200 years.

Africa emits only about 3 percent of the total greenhouse gases per year, 
but its fragile systems and impoverished people are hardest hit by the 

Weather experts say Zimbabwe’s average rainfall has decreased over the 
decade and October temperatures this year soared to above 40 Celsius (104 
Fahrenheit), the highest since 1962.

Harare meteorologist Jephias Mugumbate said rains in January and February — 
crucial for the ripening of crops — can no longer be relied on.

It was often said drought in southern Africa recurred every 10 years.

“But now it has become more frequent and intensified. Temperatures show an 
upward trend and instead of being cooler our nights are becoming hotter,” 
Mugumbate said

Like Vambe, tens of millions of Africans rely on rain-fed agriculture.

Vambe’s corn crop has supported her family for more than five decades. But 
her yields have been steadily falling.

She walks at daybreak to her nearly bare field 10 miles (15 kilometers) from 
her home in the impoverished western Harare township of Highfield. She has 
finished planting her seed with the help of her two grandchildren. The dusty 
brown soil beckons for rain.

Maize, the nation’s staple food, needs 60 days of moisture to reach 

“The rains have become erratic. We can no longer rely on the seasons,” Vambe 

She has had to replant on several occasions because of a “false start” to 
the rainy season.

“This is what has been affecting our yields since 2000. We are no longer 
getting good yields because the rain comes and goes away,” she said.

In the past, the growing season ended in March and harvests were gathered 
through April.

“Today, nothing is definite. You get rain in April then our maize rots in 
the fields,” Vambe said. “If we are not respecting our spirits and if they 
are angry, there will be no rain.”


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