Zimbabwe: Livestock farmers adapt to new climate (Zimbabwe Standard)

| June 30, 2008

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Raphael Shirto farms in an arid region of Zimbabwe, in western Matabeleland Province. In recent years, the effects of climate change on his dairy farm are obvious. Pastures are browning and dusty in patches. Thorn scrub is growing where grass used to grow. Boreholes are becoming weaker and weaker.

Mr. Shirto has been forced to make major changes to the way he feeds his animals and grows his crops. He can no longer rely on rain to water pastures or crops.

Standing in one of his several cow pens, Mr. Shirto explains that he now practices zero grazing. Rather than grazing in rain-fed pastures, his livestock are confined to pens and he brings food to them.

Mr. Shirto has never irrigated his fields of sorghum and millet in the past, but now he must. He has learned the technique of drip irrigation. This method delivers water directly to the roots of the plant, making efficient use of scarce water.

Professor Ntombizakhe Mpofu is a livestock specialist researching the effect of climate change in. He says the area has always been dry, but rains are becoming more unpredictable. Earlier this year, rains came suddenly as flash floods.

Joseph Ndlovu is also a grain and livestock farmer in Matabeleland. He says the rainy seasons are not the same as before. This year, flash floods, followed by drought, destroyed his one acre of maize.

Mr. Ndlovu’s sorghum and finger millet fields survived and promise a good harvest. He says he’s thinking of switching all of his fields to millet and sorghum, because these crops are more resilient. He’s also considering short-season maize varieties.

Mr. Ndlovu’s search for drought resistant varieties also extends to his beef cattle. He says extension officers have advised him to consider crossing his indigenous breeds with exotic ones to enable them to better cope with dry conditions.

Professor Mpofu has an additional suggestion for livestock farmers coping with the uncertainty of climate change. He says farmers should preserve more stock feed in bales or silos to prepare for poor pastures and poor feed harvests.