Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Farmers Facing Worst Nightmare

Farmers Facing Worst Nightmare

15 Jan 2015

zimbabwean_farmersZIMBABWE’S 2014/2015 summer cropping season has presented the country’s farmers with one of their worst nightmares in years. The rains came three months behind their anticipated arrival. And when they finally came they were heavy. So heavy were the rains that they caused serious flooding and leeching, pushing the nation to the brink of yet another poor summer cropping season.

Record rain fell in many parts of the country with Guruve breaking a 90-year-old record after 145 millilitres of rain fell in one day, surpassing the 1924 record of 90 millimetres. But then suddenly it has stopped raining and the situation has heightened farmers’ anxiety.

“This year it started raining very late and if we don’t get any meaningful rain soon yields will be low,” said Zimbabwe Farmers Union president, Abdul Nyathi, adding: “The yields are not going to be anything meaningful. Farmers rely on rain and they are still busy planting despite the late rains hoping for a miracle…but as it is everything is out of order.”

Although Commercial Farmers Union spokesperson, Olivier Hendrik, indicated that it was a bit early to predict the outcome, he has also painted a gloomy picture of the country’s summer farming season. “There has been lots of rain and late planting…There hasn’t been much commercial maize…What compounds this is that there is no funding for farmers because of scarce resources,” said Hendrik.

With government support programme through its inputs supply to farmers having effectively dried up this year as new strategies to help farmers are mooted, yields for the stable maize food crop will most likely be much lower than for the 2013/2014 season during which 1,4 million tonnes of maize was harvested compared to 798 000 tonnes for the 2012/2013 season.

The country was targeting two million tonnes for the 2014/2015 season and late last year government promised to source more than US$250 million to fund its input programme for an estimated 1,6 million farmers. But by the onset of the rainfall season very few farmers had actually received the inputs.

While the government has in the past placed much priority on input supply to farmers, the farming sector has been plagued by many problems ranging from low producer prices offered by government to climate change complications.  Government has also failed to pay farmers for grain supplied at a time climate change has played havoc with farmers in terms of planning and reduced yields.

Despite the country’s Metrological Services Department’s advice over the years for the country to look beyond reliance on rainfall and promote irrigation, very little has been done.  Consequently, many of the inputs supplied by government have failed to translate into better yields owing to poor rainfall. Maize production has been very low also due to the low producer prices offered by government, which has also failed to pay the farmers for grain supplied.

Because 70 percent of the country’s population depends on climate-sensitive livelihoods such as arable farming and livestock production, late or poor rains should not be an issue for farmers if they are equipped to adapt to changes in climate.

According to the Zimbabwe National Climate Change Response Strategy, the country is experiencing more hot and fewer cold days than before as a result of climate change and variability which has effectively warmed the country’s temperature by about 0,4 degrees Celcius from 1900 to 2000.

“The period from 1980 to date has been the warmest since Zimbabwe started recording its temperature. The timing and amount of rainfall received are becoming increasingly uncertain. The last 30 years have shown a trend towards reduced rainfall or heavy rainfall and drought occurring back to back in the same season. The frequency and length of dry spells during the rainy season have increased while the frequency of rain days has declined.

“…Thus climate change presents the biggest threat facing mankind today. Major adverse impacts of climate change include declining water resources; reduced agricultural productivity; spread of vector-borne diseases to new areas; changes in populations and distribution of biodiversity; and turbulent weather and climatic disasters,” reads part of the climate response strategy.

However, despite recognizing that climate change poses a significant and complex challenge to social and economic development especially for climate sensitive sectors of the economy, particularly, agriculture, energy, forestry, water and tourism that contribute significantly to the country’s gross domestic product, Zimbabwe’s plans to adapt and mitigate have hardly gone beyond mere rhetoric.

As a result, farmers perpetually remain in a quandary and every year they have to individually try and survive to the best of their ability.

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