CLIMATE CHANGE AND VARIABILITY: SMALLHOLDER FARMING COMMUNITIES IN ZIMBABWE PORTRAY A VARIED UNDERSTANDING
Increasing awareness of risks associated with climate change and variability among smallholder farmers is critical in building their capacity to develop the necessary adaptive measures. Using farmer participatory research approaches and formal questionnaire surveys, interaction has been made with >800 farmers in two distinct smallholder farming systems of Makoni and Wedza Districts in eastern Zimbabwe to determine the current level of understanding of climate change and variability, current responses to perceived changes, as well as identify sources of agro-meteorological information. The results indicated that farmers portrayed a varied understanding both within and across the study sites. While poor rainfall distribution was seen as the major indicator for climate
change by over two-thirds of the respondents in both sites, more farmers in Makoni attributed delay in onset of rains, high incidences of flush floods and unpredictable ‘wind movements’ yielding cyclones to climate change. In Wedza, it was recurrent droughts, winter and summer temperature extremes, and increased pest and disease incidences for both crops and livestock that indicated climate change. Perceived changes were linked more to natural and human forces (Makoni), unknown forces as well as breakdown in cultural norms and beliefs and rise of Christianity (Wedza). Disparities between the two sites could be attributed to the inherent differences of the communities in terms to their social settings. The national extension, Agritex, was ranked first by 50-60% of the
farmers as major source of weather information. Electronic media (radio and television) ranked second with 47% of farmers in Makoni and 35% in Wedza. Concerns were raised over inadequacies of such information, apparent lack of reliability, timing and frequency of dissemination that directly influenced the utilisation of the information. Common coping strategies included early planting which was the more prevalent in Makoni, while combinations of cereals and legumes were a preferred solution in Wedza. We concluded that farmers’ interaction with various information sources and knowledge sharing platforms needs to be enhanced in order to deepen their understanding as well as increase their capacity to respond to pressures of climate variability and change.