Hunger Stalks Zimbabweans In Climate Change Policy Vacuum

In recent years Mutunya has barely produced enough to keep hunger at bay and has joined his compatriots now relying on handouts to supplement the meagre output from their fields.

“Our studies have shown that some areas such as Kadoma and Kwekwe which were suited for maize production are now suited for small grains,” said Reginald Sithole, of the environmental watchdog Practical Action.

“The characteristics of these areas now fall under region 3 because climate change affects ecological characteristics of regions.”

But farmers like Mututunya lack knowledge on the effects of climate change in their regions and continue to stick to maize production with their yields dwindling by the season resulting in perennial food shortages.

A policy vacuum and lack of knowledge on the effects of climate change threaten some Zimbabwean communities from achieving their full agricultural potential this coming season.

Climate change, which is fast becoming the world’s number one development challenge, is blamed for erratic rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures uncharacteristically. These conditions alter the productivity, diversity and functions of many ecosystems and livelihoods around the world.

As droughts increase in frequency and magnitude as a result of climate change many communities will be doomed to perpetual disease, hunger, poverty and food insecurity unless they adapt to the phenomenon.

Practical Action’s, Social Scientist-Reducing Vulnerability, Sithole, said the changes in the seasons as a result of climate change had affected ecological characteristics of some regions in Zimbabwe.

Failure by government to develop a strategic focus on climate change has also meant that communities may not share the knowledge on its effects.

Non-Governmental Organisations, who for the better part of the decade, have been involved in the fight against the effects of climate change, have launched programmes to develop local capacity to expand the knowledge base on climate change to support effective adaptation in the agriculture sector. The NGOs are working with communities to foster public awareness about potential effects of climate change.

Sithole, said Practical Action works in semi arid areas such as Gwanda where there is a food security and a disaster risk reduction project.

“In terms of adaptation to climate change, we are working with communities to empower them through community based planning. We also empower them through training for transformation. This is to make them drive the development initiative,” said Sithole.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Project Manager, Leonard Unganai, said his organisation was helping with the dissemination of information on the effects of climate change.

“We have a range of pilot demonstration projects which aim to assist the farmers to build their own resilience to climate change demands,” said Unganai.

He added: “So we have some projects that are focusing specifically on rain-fed agriculture because we realised that most of the farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture. We want to make sure that rain-fed agriculture is cushioned from climate vulnerability and change.”

But NGOs efforts are hampered by a lack of a backbone in the form of a policy framework that will formalise their interaction and operations in the area of climate change.

This interaction, if coordinated by a policy framework, strengthens the work that the NGOs are carrying out.

Furthermore, a policy framework will provide a platform for in-depth research in the area of climate change thus creating a bank of indigenous knowledge which will become available to future generations.

The absence of such a policy, the NGOs said, leaves uncoordinated efforts dotted around the country with organisations working in isolation.

Unganai, said in an interview that the need for a policy framework on climate change has now become “desperate”.

“At the moment that is (policy framework) one of the major limitations that we face as a country and we sincerely hope that we move towards that direction sooner rather than latter. We need to make sure that there are clear guidelines on how people must respond to issues of climate change. At the same time when you have so many projects on the ground, they help to inform policy formulation. We need a policy that is knowledge based and if we do not have research and demonstration projects going on, then it is difficult to generate the necessary knowledge to inform policy,” said Unganai.

“We desperately need some kind of national strategy in the form of a policy framework to guide climate change projects in the country,” he added.

“We desperately need some kind of national strategy in the form of a policy framework to guide climate change projects in the country” The NGOs have, however, been interacting but “there is no formal arrangement”, according to Unganai.

Climate change is a hot issue the world over but in Zimbabwe, mostly from the Government perspective, there is not much happening.

Indigenous knowledge, developed over many generations, looks to fall victim to the administration’s failure to provide guidelines and a framework for the passing of these norms to latter generations.

Apart from losing a wealth of experience and knowledge developed through history, Zimbabwe faces the threat of falling victim to other nations’ dictates, especially those of developed nations, because the country has not tapped into the pool of resources that are passed on through formal interactive process among communities and organisations.

While government dithers on such a crucial policy framework at a time when debate on climate change is raving around the world, Zimbabwean communities lose valuable knowledge which they cannot share among themselves.

A snap survey has just shown that the lack of national guidelines has left communities working in isolation and sometimes problems being faced in some parts of the country could have been solved in other parts, but there is no formal process that this may be communicated.

But to fight the impact of climate change, UN Resident Coordinator, Alain Noudehou said “unity” among stakeholders is key.

“If you want to unite against hunger, it means that you have to push for social justice for better social safety nets,” he added.