Categories: Articles, Resource managementPublished On: 20th September 2023

Farmers in Zimbabwe warned: Change your ways! El Niño on its way

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Dry earth ,Cracked texture

Zimbabwe’s weather services have warned farmers to adjust traditional farming cycles, fearing a drought onslaught caused by an El Niño weather pattern.

In an advisory early this month, the Zimbabwe National Climate Outlook Forum, which is coordinated by the environment and climate ministry, warned farmers ahead of the 2023/24 cropping season that much of the country is “likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall”.

The period covers the month of October this year when planting season starts in earnest, up to March next year when farmers are expected to be harvesting their crops.

The bulk of the country’s agriculture is rainfed, and poor rains triggered by El Niño could lead to drought as has happened in the past.

The term El Niño (Spanish for ‘the Christ Child’) refers to a warming of the ocean surface, or above-average sea surface temperatures, in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It is notorious for its ability to impact global weather. El Niño has historically been associated with record high temperatures and droughts in summer rainfall regions of Southern Africa.

“Those with irrigation facilities should not wait for rains to fall,” the advisory warned.

“They can begin planting any suitable time from now (September), taking into account the temperature thresholds needed for germination as guided by agricultural extension officers,” the National Climate Outlook Forum added.

The advice comes amid long lingering concerns that farmers follow traditional seasons to start farming despite the disruption of farming cycles caused by climate variations.

Yet for farmers such as Burzil Nhlapho who runs a maize plot just outside Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, land preparation and global climate issues are not connected. He has always done the same thing for years despite the evident vagaries of climate change that have for years left him counting his losses.

“We have always started land preparation in October in anticipation of the rainy season,” Burzil said.

“We cannot do anything about whether or not it is going to rain. It has always been the way we do things here,” he said.

Does he pay attention to weather forecasts?

“I don’t listen to the radio or watch television for such information. We follow the weather patterns we grew up following,” he said, echoing a sentiment found among many farmers here.

The country’s Meteorological Services Department, which provides free updates via WhatsApp, warned in July that El Niño was measured in the ocean, meaning dry, hot weather heading towards the country. Farmers were warned to plan accordingly.

“There is need to intensify water harvesting and conservation programmes. Agricultural activities such as planting and fertiliser application should be guided by the 10-day weather forecasts as well as agricultural authorities,” the National Climate Outlook Forum noted.

Yet for smallholders such as Nhlapho, this is advice that must still reach their ears.

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