Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Climate Change impacts: Prolonged drought worries farmers, Government in Zambia

By Friday Phiri
“We have had both heavy rains as well as a prolonged drought within a month”, says Neva Hamalengo, a small scale farmer of Pemba district in Southern Zambia.

Hamalengo lost an entire hectare of market-ready tomato worthy 15, 000 Zambian Kwacha (about $2500), to a heavy storm and later suffered crop failure in his field due to a prolonged drought that followed three weeks after the storm.

“We expect very poor yields this season. About 50 of us in this area representing over 100 hectares, suffered crop damage during the one day heavy storm and when our crops needed the rains to recover, we had a prolonged drought”, lamented Hamalengo.

The situation above typifies the challenges that smallholder farmers in Zambia who mostly rely on rainfall for their production, face. 

And the state of affairs has also worried government considering that the country might experience reduced production of the staple crop, maize, prompting Republican Vice President, Inonge Wina to call for caution on the on-going maize sales by the country’s strategic reserve agency, the Food Reserve Agency-FRA.

Mrs. Wina directed the FRA management to safeguard the maize stock warning that careless sales would plunge the country into a crisis due to this season’s uncertain production.

“Because of prolonged dry spells mostly in the southern half of the country being most affected, maize fields have wilted due to severe moisture deficit,” said Mrs Wina during a briefing with Journalists on Thursday, 9th April 2015.

It was in this vein that she said it would be unwise to let the country’s strategic reserves diminish.
As an interim measure whilst awaiting the results of the 2015 national assessment, Mrs Wina said, “food assistance of 50 metric tonnes has been provided to each of the severely affected districts which are mostly in Western and North-Western Provinces”.

Two weeks ago, the country’s strategic reserves Agency, FRA, was called upon to off load maize to local millers in order to help stabilise mealie-meal prices.

According to records released last month, the country has over one million metric tonnes that the strategic reserve agency is currently holding.

While Zambia is estimated to consume about 120 metric tonnes of maize per month, government is not leaving matters to chance, hence the caution.

Meanwhile, Republican President, Edgar Lungu has assured that the country has enough maize stock to last until the next farming season.

However, the President has called for more efforts towards crop diversification and irrigation for the country to move away from rain-fed dependant agriculture.

Mr Lungu said government is “working on promoting irrigation farming and crop diversification as one of the interventions to fight food shortage”.

The Zambian President was speaking in Ndola, the provincial capital of the country’s mineral rich province-the Copperbelt, when he met some traditional leaders.

Despite the assurances from the President, the country’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit -DMMU- is not taking anything to chance and has appealed to stakeholders to put in place appropriate measures and remain alert to avert any food security threat that might arise from crop failure resulting from poor rainfall this farming season.

In a statement to the media, DMMU National Coordinator Patrick Kangwa described the 2014-2015 rainfall distribution as poor, likely to affect this season’s harvest.
“Western, Southern and Eastern provinces are some of the places that have been reported to have been experiencing dry spells for more than 14 days and the situation has resulted in wilting and crop failure raising production uncertainty”, the statement read in part.

And the Zambia Climate Change Network-ZCCN, a consortium of civil society organizations working on climate change related programmes, says the poor rainfall pattern experienced should be a wake-up call to stakeholders on what to expect if nothing is done to avert global warming.

ZCCN Board member, Robert Chimambo says although the drought situation cannot explicitly be attributed to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-IPCC fifth assessment report released last year hints at the increase in frequency and intensity of “unusual" weather such as droughts and flush floods.

“To this extent, drought, short and scatted rainfall experienced in some parts of the country, could be a manifestation of climate change”, Mr. Chimambo, who is also the UN-REDD Policy Board Africa Region Representative, concluded.

And highlighting the challenge of extreme weather conditions, Neva Hamalengo thinks sustainable insurance measures should be devised to help smallholder farmers cope with climate hazards which have become frequent.

“Our challenge is that we usually remain helpless in such times other than waiting for government’s food relief. I think it is about time that we should be helped sustainably, for example pro-poor micro-insurance could prove a difference”, said Hamalengo.

With the high dependency on rainfall for agriculture, droughts and/or floods remain a common feature highlighting the need for sustainable solutions such as irrigation agriculture and crop diversification.

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