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Smart climate changes in Zimbabwe reaps bountiful harvest

IN the 11th century, a few hours south of present-day Harare, a vibrant farming and trading empire was emerging at the heart of the fertile watershed between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers, known as Great Zimbabwe.

At its peak, this empire was estimated to be home to around 18,000 people.

However, by the mid-15th century, Great Zimbabwe was largely abandoned. While the exact cause remains a mystery, archaeological research suggests that famine and water shortages resulting from over-farming and climatic change may have played a role.

Today, Zimbabwe, with a population of approximately 15 million people, is among the 12 fastest-growing economies in Africa.

According to the UNDP, the country faces a range of environmental and socioeconomic crises, including deforestation, strained water resources, biodiversity loss, rising inequality, and increasing poverty.

Furthermore, climate change has significantly impacted key economic sectors, posing threats to infrastructure, livelihoods, and food security.

In rural communities, farmers are vulnerable to extreme and unpredictable weather conditions that can devastate their harvests.

Recognizing the serious threat that climate change poses to their social and economic development, Zimbabwe has prioritized adaptation. In 2015, a National Climate Change Response Strategy was enacted, followed by the adoption of the country’s first National Climate Policy two years later, providing a framework for climate action programming.

With the support of the UNDP, a comprehensive National Adaptation Plan is nearing completion this year.

As a result, adaptation measures are being planned across various sectors, including agriculture, early warning and disaster risk reduction, climate-resilient infrastructure, and sustainable water resources management.

With the implementation of smart climate changes in Zimbabwe through this plan, new smart technologies are being integrated into the farming sector to help farmers adapt to climate challenges that previously caused severe damage to their crops.

Climate-smart water management techniques, such as “dead-level contours” (water channels) and mulching, have enabled households to cultivate a variety of crops, increasing average income levels and improving food diversity.

Other initiatives include empowering farmers through the “Farmer Field School” program, which equips them to harvest rainfall, optimize soil infiltration and storage, and utilize water-efficient small-scale irrigation technologies.

Netsai Tambe, a farmer from Chipinge district, emphasizes that early land preparation and planting have been crucial for improved germination and weed control. She shares her newfound knowledge with fellow farmers, contributing to their success despite erratic rains.

Technological advancements have also provided farmers with better access to climate information. The project has collaborated with the Meteorological Services Department and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority to enhance the monitoring of water levels in dams and rivers, thereby improving the weather forecasting system.

As part of the project’s coverage, nine automatic rain gauges and five river level gauging stations have been installed across three provinces.

Automatic weather stations and rain gauges offer valuable daily weather information to local communities, including temperature, humidity, and rainfall.

This data is also utilized by the Meteorological Services Department to enhance forecasting. River level gauging stations provide real-time data on river flows, supporting early warning systems, disaster risk reduction efforts, civil protection plans, and irrigation-based crop production.

Additionally, this data is utilized in the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) project.

PICSA combines historical climate data, forecasts, and farmers’ knowledge to enable informed decision-making regarding agricultural practices. Over 4,500 farmers, with a majority being women, have benefited from PICSA, receiving agricultural advisories for the 2022/23 farming season.

Training workshops on PICSA have been conducted for frontline extension staff by the University of Reading, the World Food Programme, AGRITEX, and the Meteorological Services Department.

In terms of innovation, strategies have been developed for five innovation centers, focusing on areas such as assisted reproductive technology for resilient cattle breeds, fodder production, poultry crossbreeding and nutrition, and sesame and sorghum value chains.

The project has established community-based monitoring and evaluation systems and is documenting lessons for future programming. Innovation platforms have been created at various research stations, facilitating problem-solving and adaptation in smallholder farming systems.

Drawing from lessons learned from the challenges faced by Great Zimbabwe a thousand years ago, the project will continue to build resilience by climate-proofing irrigation schemes, expanding climate information management, and installing additional hydrological stations and river-level gauges.

The goal is to create a more sustainable future for the country by harnessing knowledge and adopting climate-smart agricultural practices. — _*ITNewsAfrica*_

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