Zimbabwe: Farmers measure rainfall for themselves as official data dries up (Trust)

| March 23, 2015

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The rains that mark the start of the planting season disappeared as quickly as they had come. In the village of Zunzanyika, most of the seeds planted in October failed. But 38-year-old farmer Takesure Chikata didn’t panic.

Unlike many small-scale farmers in his village, 170 kilometres northeast of the capital, Harare, Mr. Chikata has a backyard rain gauge. So when the rain finally returned in mid-December, he knew just when to plant his maize.

For the last four years, Mr. Chikata and 30 other farmers from Zunzanyika have made detailed records of the rainfall in their area. They use this information to determine when the soil is moist enough to give their crops a good start.

The government of Zimbabwe has severely cut funds for its meteorological department, leaving farmers in much of the country without reliable information on local weather and changes in climate patterns. The budget of the Meteorological Services Department, or MSD, was slashed by 25 per cent in 2015.The limited rainfall data available is of little use to many farmers. According to MSD, only one in four of the country’s 1,400 weather stations is currently operational, so the likelihood of obtaining accurate local rainfall data is small.

Mr. Chikata is the chairman of Zunzanyika Farmer Field School. The community project teaches local farmers about climate change and conservation agriculture, and how to make and install rain gauges.

The makeshift rain gauges are made from old half-kilogram metal or plastic jam containers, which are firmly secured to the top of a tree stump or a wooden pole, one metre above the ground.

Each of the 15 gauges in Zunzanyika is carefully stationed on farms in open spaces, away from obstacles. Each morning, farmers use a classroom ruler to measure the amount of rain that fell during the previous 24 hours. They record the quantity on charts kept in their homes, and circulate the information among the members of the field school.

Isaac Manenji Zvirewo is the agriculture extension officer for Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe district. He says: “The farmers [made their own rain gauges] to get a picture of the amount of rainfall received … After more than three seasons of record-keeping, they have acquired immense knowledge that has helped their decisions on planting. It’s quite beneficial.”

Mr. Chikata’s cracked hands caress the green leaves of his maize plants, which will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. He says the lack of information on rainfall caused farmers to spend too much on seeds without a guarantee that they would germinate properly.

Mr. Chikata says the accumulated rainfall data allow him and his fellow farmers to better understand when the rains will begin and end, how often dry spells occur, and how long the growing season lasts. This knowledge gives them greater confidence.

He says: “Now we plant only when we have received at least 25 millimetres of rain on three successive days. This [rain] gauge has greatly helped the way we practice our agriculture. No more guesswork!”


To read the full article on which this story was based, As official data dries up, Zimbabwe’s farmers gauge rainfall themselves, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20150311100827-6abjj/