A conversation with Wendy Madzura
Sometime in March this year, Business Weekly in partnership with the Financial Markets hosted a Climate Change Adaptation Conference. One of the panel discussions was on Agriculture and how it can relate and adapt to climate change. Among the speakers was Seed Co Zimbabwe’s head of agronomy services, Wendy Madzura. Below we share her responses to questions that were directed at her.
Question: Achieving food security is a key area for the Zimbabwe Government and its people, but droughts and floods are always a threat. Can you put us to speed in terms of the effects of climate change on agriculture?
Response: Indeed, achieving food security plays a pivotal role in the attainment of the National Development Goals (NDS1 & 2) coupled with the need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 1 & 2 (poverty alleviation & zero hunger respectively) through Climate Action 13 & partnerships for the goals 17 (SDG 13 & SDG 17 respectively).
Climate change has and will continue to have direct and indirect impacts on agriculture and the food security of a growing population. In view of this, climate change adaptation and mitigation becomes pivotal especially this season when predictions are that we will have an El Nino phenomenon with high chances of a normal to below normal rainfall season.
Climate change effects on Agriculture include:
False start to rainy season
Prolonged mid-season dry spells
Premature termination of the season
Floods, drought owing to the unpredictable rainfall distribution or absence of adequate rains
Reduced groundwater recharge, reduced dam water level replenishment in some areas
Erratic spatial rainfall distribution across Zimbabwe resulting in change in Agro-ecological zones
Temperature increase (Extremely high heat units)
Poor land-use practices, especially deforestation & soil degradation
Reduced production and productivity levels (quantity/ yield & quality)
Question: We want to quickly move to mitigation, what are we doing so far and do you think that is enough?
Response: Proactiveness, Mitigation and Resilience are three main pillars in reducing the negative effects of Climate Change. Through the Ministry of Agriculture and private sector participation and other key Ministries with vested interests in climate change issues have employed climate-smart agriculture strategies that are aimed at building a resilient agriculture and food security system.
The Ministry of Agriculture has rolled out several strategies that include crop mapping by agro-ecological regions, water harvesting and conservation and irrigation rehabilitation amongst many other strategies that aligned mostly to NDS1 & NDS2.
As the private sector players in the seed industry, efforts have been made to avail Climate-smart crops that are drought tolerant (sorghum, millet, sunflower) and climate-smart varieties in strategic crops that include maize, by availing varieties in different maturity groups (ultra early, very early, early, medium and late maturity suitable for both dryland and irrigated production guided by the agroecological regions and seasonal forecast.
In addition to this, several strategies have been employed to build national capacities in Early Warning Systems for Disaster Prevention, seasonal forecasts, preparedness and management (excessive rains, drought, floods, heat waves) amongst many others. Other mitigation measures are listed below.
Maintain productivity under climate change and preserve development gains through climate-proofing agriculture through such programmes as Pfumvudza/Intwasa,
Irrigation development riding on abundant land and water resources, rehabilitation and construction of irrigation facilities and water bodies.
Input support programmes
Promoting sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture practices conservation agriculture (3 pillars),
Promoting Climate Smart Crop and variety selection (drought tolerant, disease and pest tolerance to resistance.
Water use efficient technology;
Modernise existing irrigation systems & use water efficiently — move from flood to centre pivots, to drip irrigation to achieve precision agriculture including irrigation & chemigation /fertigation
Explore water harvesting and conservation techniques.
Promote the use of renewable sources of energy and technology such as solar irrigation systems
Innovation hubs, new innovations, research and development into climate smart technologies — crop varieties and animal breeds, infrastructure and machinery and equipment.
Integration of technologies for land use mapping and precision farming through the use of drones
Promoting the use of renewable and sustainable energy sources
So in a nutshell yes a lot is being done in that regard, but there is always room to do more.
Question: As temperatures continue to rise, new pest and disease pressures are impacting crop yields and quality. We then start using chemicals, what is the cost-benefit of that vis-a-vis climate change?
Response: In a bid to align to climate change-induced pest and disease pressure, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is encouraged.
The use of tolerant to resistant crops and varieties is strongly advocated for e.g. maize streak virus resistance, GLS, leaf rust in wheat, soya bean rust s it eliminates the need for chemical control to be used.
However, there are cases where chemical control may be required. Hence farmers are implored on to be guided by regular scouting and control pests with chemicals when the economic injury or threshold levels to void the developments or resistance or luxurious chemical applications
In extreme cases poor pet and disease control may result in 50 percent to 100 yield loss which in the short term affects the farmers’ food security.
So the cost-benefit analysis of responsible chemical use on new diseases and insect pests is devastating in the short term compared to the risk of the applied chemicals causing long-term cumulative effects on climate change
Question: How do we move from being reactive to being proactive in the management of drought emergencies?
Response: The Ministry of environment would be poised best to respond to this. However, as the agriculture fraternity, the impetus is on us to align to the drought associated emergencies and warnings issued by the metrological services department through crop diversification, spreading risk by establishing varieties in different maturity groups, and embracing conservation farming depending on the nature of the season.
Question: I read that increasing soil health can combat climate change from the ground up. How true is that and is it something we are doing in Zimbabwe? How do we enhance resilience and increase productivity?
Response: That’s true increasing soil health through nurturing and soil preservation impacts on climate change because it has a direct effect on the organic matter content of the soil which builds up naturally depending on our operations. This in turn results in reduced dependency on in-organic fertilizers which contribute to climate change.
In addition, healthy soil tends to sequester more carbon thereby aiding in combating climate change.
Carbon sequestration in cultivated soils can be increased by adding appropriate organic and mineral nutrients for biomass production, as well as by reducing tillage, and using cover crops. Directly improved soil health in terms of soil pH levels and microbial activity increases crop production in a cost-effective way resulting in increased productivity and profitability for the farmer.
Question: What are the key challenges and barriers in achieving a transformation in agriculture that leads to addressing socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector?
Response: There are several and these include slow adaptation to mitigation measures owing to resistance to change and over reliance on old customs and tradition. Poor farming practices that promote subsistence and not surplus production.
Poor value-addition practices the preserve food for longer and increase return on production investments. Lack of diversified crop production into more climate smart crops like the traditional grains. Access to affordable agriculture inputs outside of the government programmes as well as access to good markets.
Question: Is there a way of making farms climate-friendly and what would that do to food security?
Response: Farmers should strive to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture. Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) through.
Adopting proven practical techniques that fall under the Conservation Farming principle including minimum soil disturbance (till only were you are planting), permanent ground cover (using live mulch or dry mulch), and rotations (growing crops in different families).
Farmers can embrace conservation farming in different scales of production with the small-scale or resource-constrained farmers being implored on to embrace the Pfumvudza/ Intwasa method of farming.
No-till or strip-till planting, this tillage method is usually practiced by resource endowed farmers or large scale commercial farmers through the use of specialised farming equipment meant to reduce soil disturbance in crop production.
The adoption of an integrated crop and livestock management system that includes the use of practices like mulching, inter-cropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, integrated crop-livestock management (to avail organic matter content for farming), agroforestry, improved grazing and improved water management, investing in modern/ automated farm equipment and precision farming tools will go a long way in making agriculture sustainable, productive and profitable. Farmer should always start with the right seed to mitigate the effects of climate change
Question: What should farmers do to prepare for adverse climate trends?
Response: Farmers should work hand in glove with the technical experts to always be informed in terms on the possible adverse climate conditions in order for them to prepare accordingly.
Question: How can we produce more food while implementing adaptation and mitigation measures at the same time?
Response: We can through food crop diversification in all agro-ecological regions, and crop production mapping to match the seasonal forecast. The use of hybrid or certified seed with known generations.
Above all by adopting Good Agronomic Practices (land use planning, effective nutrition and pest management and the other practices that fall under Climate Smart Agriculture.
Question: Do we need to change our eating habits — eat less meat — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Response: Allow me to give a politically correct answer here. Yes — In the sense that from a health security perspective, a change in feeding habits has grasped the Zimbabwean community already with some people being conscious of the calories, proteins, and vitamins they consume as such this is a positive development as it couples health security to the food security drive, while the growing of a diverse range of crops contributes to increased production even under the unforeseen weather vagaries that result from climate change so yes it is a positive climate change mitigation measure. And no — We should not eat less meat, maybe we should diversify the meat we eat instead and add more colour to the plate by promoting more vegetables to obtain health security
Parting shot, feeding growing population, with reduced amount of rain-fed arable land in the face climate change, we need to act and act now. Remember it starts with the right climate smart seed.