Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Waiting for the “Heavens to Weep”

Waiting for the “Heavens to Weep”

By Ignatius Banda

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Dec 20, 2011 (IPS) – Duduzile Sibanda takes a break from 
preparing her long stretch of land for her maize crop in rural Mberengwa, in 
Zimbabwe’s Midlands province. She wipes her brow under the scorching sun and 
looks upwards. The sparse clouds are a cause of concern as she studies the 
sky and wonders aloud when the “heavens will weep.”

A smallholder farmer all her life, the 57-year-old grandmother is worried 
about the late rainfall this planting season. Even the indigenous knowledge 
she has used all her life to study the seasons has failed her. Planting 
season here usually begins in October with the rains, but in early December 
they are yet to fall.

“We are headed for another drought,” she muses with palpable frustration.

After last year’s poor harvest Sibanda does not wish to contemplate another 
year of low crop yield, especially here in the rural areas where villagers 
grow their own food.

Sibanda finds herself at the centre of growing climate change concerns that 
have altered cropping seasons, turning long-followed planting cycles on 
their head. Traditionally planting season in Zimbabwe begins in early 

“We have always studied the sky to know when the season starts. We do not 
know anymore,” Sibanda tells IPS.

Jennifer Nkomo, Sibanda’s neighbour, says she is all too aware about the 
threat of poor harvests and fears the delayed rains could mean she will be 
lining up for food assistance.

“What we have always wanted is to be able to feed ourselves but without the 
rains this won’t happen and we cannot afford to curse the skies,” Nkomo 
says, expressing the frustration that has become palpable here among 
smallholder farmers.

“We only want the skies to open,” she says.

But when the rains do come, the levels are not the same as they have been in 
the past. According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Service Department, 
“below normal to normal” rainfall began in Midlands province on Dec. 18, 
more than two months after they were expected to start.

The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), which is working with 
the Zimbabwean government to formulate a climate change policy, says early 
research on the impact of climate change suggests the country will have to 
cope with changing rainfall patterns, temperature increases and more extreme 
weather events, like floods and droughts.

CDKN says that longer and more frequent droughts could substantially reduce 
crop yields, including that of maize – the country’s staple crop.

Sobona Mtisi, a climate change expert leading the CDKN research in Zimbabwe 
says, “The changing climate is adversely affecting production.”

“This is in view of the discernable shifts in climate, a shift also marked 
by frequent droughts,” Mtisi says.

The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union (ZCFU) says smallholder farmers 
across the country have seen reduced yields of between 50 and 75 percent 
this year as compared to the yield in 2000. Years of interrupted farming 
activities after the launch of the land reform programme in 2000, coupled 
with climatic shifts, have seen Zimbabwe experiencing successive poor 

This year only 800,000 tonnes of crop was harvested against an expected 1,2 
million tonnes, according to the ZCFU.

It has raised concerns about the need for alternative agricultural methods 
to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Today, Zimbabwe is a major importer of maize from its neighbours, paying 270 
million dollars to import one million tonnes of maize this year.

“Smallholder farmers have especially been affected by climatic shifts as 
they have no clue about when not to plant and when to plant, as the 
knowledge systems they use are proving useless,” says Josh Manyora, of 
environment watchdog Environment Africa.

“In the absence of programmes that teach people in the most remote of rural 
areas about the weather, the climate and new agriculture techniques that 
respond to climate change challenges, I think we will have these problems 
each year,” Manyora says.

The Famine Early Warning System Network, the United States-based food 
security monitor announced in November that more than one million 
Zimbabweans will require food assistance in the coming year amid signs that 
the country will not be able to grow enough food to feed itself.

Food security remains tied to the challenges presented by climate change, 
says the University of Cape Town’s Climate Systems Analysis Group, which has 
noted that rain-fed agro-systems in Africa are bearing the brunt of climate 

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) says, “for hundreds of 
millions of people in Africa, climate change is not about lowering smoke 
stack emissions or turning off electric lights. It is about whether or not 
they will have enough to eat.”

Sibanda and Nkomo know this only too well. But they are just two of the more 
than 70 percent of Africans – the majority of whom are women – who AGRA says 
rely on farming for survival.


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