Jeffery Gogo Climate Story
Tracy Simango can only but watch as her fresh produce — months of hard labour — rots away. With prime markets in Harare initially closed, then semi-opened under strict rules, the 45-day (so far) Covid-19 lockdown has been a major blow for smallholder horticulture farming in rural areas.
“Most of our produce is in the compost,” the 52 year-old vegetable and tomato farmer from Wedza told Pelum Zimbabwe.
“We cannot give our neighbours because they have their own vegetable gardens,” she said.
Making money on lockdown has been an impossible task for smallholder farmers, who are still smarting from a succession of climate change-triggered drought and flooding events.
It has become a double fight for survival, not only against the deadly new coronavirus but also against severe financial loss. Until now, the lockdown appears to have prevailed.
Simango knows this all too well.
“There is no market because all the market places are closed. People are just indoors so marketing is becoming a problem for us,” she lamented.
The extent of her financial loss from the rotten produce could not be immediately ascertained, as per the Pelum Zimbabwe interview.
Pelum works with farmers, promoting agro-ecology for the purposes of improving nutrition security, livelihoods and environmental sustainability, it says on its website.
After seeing off the worst of a devastating flood, and then drought, over the past three farming seasons, smallholder farmers throughout Zimbabwe now have to contend with tough hindrances to market access, as harvests of maize, sorghum, millet, tobacco and other crops begin.
This is because the coronavirus lockdown of the last 45 days has left thousands of farmers stuck with perishable produce that was ready for sale, as fresh produce markets like Mbara Musika in Harare were fully closed, for a time.
Zimbabwean authorities were later forced to partially open agriculture markets supposedly under strict rules to prevent the virus spread, but the damage was already done.
There’s no official figure, nevertheless, industry experts estimate agriculture-related losses due to the coronavirus pandemic to run into several millions of US dollars.
Pelum says it is now working with agriculture research firm Knowledge Transfer Africa and the Agroecology Fund “to transform how marketing is approached and supported by various actors in Zimbabwe.”
“The closure of farmers’ markets (under Covid-19) has had a huge blow on both urban and rural folks who buy produce in these markets,” according to Pelum Zimbabwe spokesperson Theophilus Mudzindiko.
“Closure of farmers’ markets has also affected many smallholder farmers who supply produce to farmers’ markets,” he said.
For Simango, the Wedza farmer, the danger is still unabated.
“I have nearly a hectare of sweet potatoes almost ready for selling. But there is no market or transport. There are a lot of things in my garden but I don’t know what to do with them,” she moaned.
According to Pelum Zimbabwe, post-harvest losses are common among smallholder farmers.
Very little investment has been directed towards reducing post-harvest losses. This year, farmers will lose more than they will sell, it said.
“If we had driers maybe we could have preserved our produce,” opines Simango, who has struggled to get fuel for the water pumps on her small farm during the continuing lockdown.
“Our produce is drying in the field. We are now forced to water using buckets. There is nowhere to get fuel and where there is fuel they want payment in United States Dollars. I have no access to US dollars,” she complained.
Agriculture faces the greatest risk from climate change, mainly as a result of a shortage of rain or too much of it in periods of short bursts that yield floods. But viral outbreaks such as the novel coronavirus are presenting a new dilemma.
The virus’ link to climate change has arguably been established, meaning agriculture is facing threats from multiple fronts, albeit, mostly from a single source, apparently.
There are other issues farmers have to contend with, yet a formidable plan will involve resolute measures to adapt to the changing climates.
God is faithful.