Friday, November 19, 2010

War Against Climate Change Rages in Zimbabwe

War against climate change rages

By Tichaona Zindoga and Roselyne Sachiti
Zimbabwe Herald

THE onset of the rainy season has always provided a reason to smile for Ambuya Agnes Chamba of Guzha Village in Murehwa, Mashonaland East Province, and her community.

With the season always came the prospects, and realisation, of plenty in this area that usually receives enough and sometimes more than enough rains to tender crops.

Dry and barren years have not been unencountered here as well, although they have been coming here and there.

But the predictability that came with the seasons has been diminishing with each passing year and uncertainty tinges the excitement with which she receives each coming season.

"To tell you, I do not know what to expect," says the 60-year-old woman.

"Back then we used to know when to commit seed to the soil (plant), with the early rains in October or November but now that might be disastrous if you commit all your seed and the rains disappear to come back in December.

"For that contingency, I have to spare some seed to plant in December where rains will be more consistent. But even then the rains might stop when the crop needs the rain most," she said.

It was all confusing, she conceded, as one never knew just what to expect as seasons shifted and natural phenomena did not work according to their time-honoured expectations.

Ambuya Chamba took time to explain how in the old days people looked to nature to provide clues as to what weather to expect as things like the fruiting of mazhanje, matamba, among others; the nest-building behaviour of ants and the mediation of spirits foretold what was to come.

"Now you get the feeling that all that has been bunked," she moaned.

With the extreme weather events that have been the story of recent years, most regrettably the recurrence of droughts, Ambuya Chamba is part of the tragedy of climate change that has affected mainly the poor climes in this part of the world where people have little knowledge of what might be going on.

Not least, they have had no major part in the creation of their situation, reminiscent of what Zimbabwe leader President Robert Mugabe said at a crucial meeting on climate change last year that when the gods of pollution belch it is us lesser mortals who falls sick and perish.

In fact, that the December 2009 United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, failed to produce a meaningful solution, especially as demanded by those most affected in Southern Africa tends to point to this fatalistic view.

But then small, poor communities like that of Ambuya Chamba can make a difference to lessen the impacts of climate change and improve their lot.

Recent research has pointed to communities’ ability to respond to climate change by adapting to its impacts, which reduces the magnitude of the negative reality of climate change.

The 2010 report, "Responding to climate change Impacts — Adapatation and mitigation strategies as practised in the Zambezi River Basin" by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre recognises the power of communities, away from the all powerful policy-making institutions of the world — where disappointment has been wrought thus far.

It states that adaptation is "the adjustment to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli, with such adjustment moderating harm or exploiting beneficial activities."

It notes that due to the vulnerability of the Zambezi River Basin — which covers a number of countries in Southern Africa including Zimbabwe, adaptation is necessary as the impacts of climate change is also exercebated by such stresses as poverty, unequal access to resources and diseases such HIV and Aids.

Besides, climate change impinges on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, inordinately so affecting women, who also happen to form the bigger chunk of the population.

The report says that adaptation to climate change is not a new phenomenon in the Zambezi River basin as people have continuously been at risk from the vagaries of climate hazard but have sought ways of adapting at community, national and basin levels.

These include increasing the capacity to bear losses by accumulating food surpluses, livestock, financial savings and other assets, hedging risks by diversifying crops, income sources, food sources and location of productive activities, reduction of exposure to climate hazards by relocating either temporarily or permanently and sharing risks through kinship networks, pooled community funds, insurance and disaster relief.

Reducing the sensitivity of production and incomes from natural resources by restoring degraded lands, using drought resistant seed varieties, harvesting rainfall, adopting irrigation and using seasonal forecasts as well as increasing the capacity to adapt through public sector assistance such as extension services, education, community development projects and credit services are some of the adaptation measures.

SARDC notes that historical adaptive measures might need to be "revived and strengthened."

"New adaptation measures in the form of new technologies suitable to the vulnerable communities need to be introduced," it adds.

Conservation farming, being spearheaded by the Community Technology Development Trust has been cited as one of adaptation and mitigation interventions in combating climate change.

One woman relates how in three years of conservation farming her yields improved remarkably.

Conservation farming emphasises use of natural farming methods with minimal soil disturbance to produce maximum harvest. CTDT provides fertilizer and seed.

The woman lives to tell a tale of success.

"Before I joined the conservation programme I harvested only three bags which is about 150 kilogrammes. My harvest has remarkably improved to about 16 to 18 bags," she says.

"I now can afford to sell some of the maize. I get the money to pay school fees and I have more time to work in my own field. There is no need to toil in other people’s fields for money anymore."

She can also afford to not only share her story of success, but also the knowledge she has gained in ensuring food security for the community.

Community-Based Adaptation strategies are believed to be key to tackling climate change challenges.

"Incorporating indigenous knowledge into the climate change policies can lead to the development of effective adaptation strategies that are participatory and sustainable," the reports notes.

It observes that local communities in the region have developed systems of gathering, predicting interpreting and decision-making in relation to weather.

In the upper Zambezi basin, for example, CBA involves cultivation of fruits and vegetables, harvesting of reeds and grass for use in house building, mat making and basketry, some of which is for sale outside the valley.

Communities have also introduced growing of crops that are not likely to be adversely affected by climate change.

These include cassava and cashew nuts. The two crops can survive in sandy soil and withstand drought, and are commercially viable.

In order to stimulate cultivation of crops, adaption incentives such as processing plants where local growers could trade their crops are viewed as critical as their absence has resulted in communities abandoning crops such as cashew nut orchards.

However, apart from crop related activities, community based early warning systems are effective in parts of the basin.

In the past, local knowledge about early warning signs had been largely dismissed as unscientific, but it is increasingly clear that such knowledge can complement technical warnings.

So instead of dismissing this local knowledge, it should be studied and integrated into warning systems.

Therefore local authorities and communities clearly have a major role to play in the communication and dissemination of warnings.

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