Zimbabwe: Water management becomes important as farmers face climate changes (EarthBeat)

| June 21, 2021

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In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, farmers are facing high temperatures and water shortages. The Matabeleland South province in southwestern Zimbabwe is very arid, with little rainfall, especially in the past two years. But Spiwe Moyo has been able to grow a good crop of tomatoes. She relies on watering her crops morning and evening to make the best use of available water and ensure a good harvest. Other farmers are switching to livestock rearing and growing fodder crops. Many farmers and NGOs are putting extra money towards pumps and wells to help with irrigation.

In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the environment for farmers is unforgiving: high temperatures and difficulties supplying enough water for human and domestic animal consumption. The Matebeleland South province in southwestern Zimbabwe is very arid, with little rainfall, especially in the past two years.

Despite these unfavourable conditions, Spiwe Moyo has been able to grow a good crop of tomatoes. Other farmers in the Evergreen Community Market Garden are growing onions, green beans, and other vegetables.

Mrs. Moyo waters her garden daily to ensure a good harvest. She adds: “I am just weeding out the crop and inspecting for pests and other diseases, because in this hot weather, crops can suddenly suffer diseases or pest attacks. We only water the crops in the morning or evening to conserve the water.”

The water comes from a solar-powered well funded by Catholic Church organizations. Without it, Mrs. Moyo says, “there would be no green crops to talk about, as the rains are not sufficient.”

But it’s not only water shortages that affect farmers. Climate change can also mean unexpected rains earlier than anticipated.

Uncertainties brought on by climate change can result in farmers being less food secure. Felix Ncube is a member of the management committee of St. Joseph’s Agro-Ecological Centre in Matopos. He says: “The seasons are changing and we are seeing the impact of climate change, because we usually have the first showers in August, and at the end of October we then get the first planting rains. But in the last two years, there have basically been no rains here.”

To address the issue, Catholic agencies like Trócaire, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, also called CAFOD, and the Catholic Relief Services, have been installing community wells in many southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia.

Farmers have also been attending agricultural training programs to learn ways to adapt their farming practices to climate change. Some farmers are turning to livestock rearing. 

Timothy Ngulube is a 60-year-old livestock farmer in Fula, a village near Beitbridge. He says, “I used to grow tomatoes and maize, but it is getting drier and hotter here, [and] hence I have to focus on livestock, which are resilient to these dry weather patterns.”

He says he hopes to earn enough to install his own solar pump to irrigate the fields where he grows crops.

Oscar Singo, 36, has also adapted his livestock rearing practices. Instead of just growing fodder and cabbages for his herd of cattle, he also buys animals from other livestock breeders, fattens them up, and then auctions them off.

As the climate changes, experts recommend planting earlier to reduce the risk of heavy storms and flooding before they can harvest their crops. They also encourage farmers to plant trees and other vegetation to retain moisture and create additional windbreaks, and to ensure that cattle and goats do not devour newly planted trees and other vegetation.

In Beitbridge, farmers find that fodder crops that serve as animal feed can also help avoid erosion and provide an additional source of income.

Since local rainfall is influenced by deforestation, Catholic groups have been working alongside farmers in the hope that avoiding deforestation will make the environmental conditions better for everyone. 

This story is based on an article written by Tawanda Karombo and published by EarthBeat, a publication by the National Catholic Reporter, on October 20, 2020, titled “In Africa, farmers learn new methods for facing drought, floods.” To read the full story, go to: https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/africa-farmers-learn-new-methods-facing-drought-floods

Photo: A Zimbabwean man walks through his drought-affected corn field outside Harare in January, 2020. Credit: CNS/Philimon Bulawayo, Reuters