Forewarned is forearmed: Make a risk management plan for La Nina

Obert Chifamba
Agri-Insight

FROM the cyclical El Nino to La Nina!

That is the unambiguous news farmers and the generality of the population have to contend with hardly a monthly after the 2023/24 cropping season, which was ruined right from the start to the end by the outgoing El Nino weather phenomenon.

El Nino events are often known to bring about extreme weather conditions such as droughts and floods, disrupting crop yields and livestock productivity.

In contrast, the transition to La Nina can bring excessive rains, impacting planting schedules and even harvests.

In both scenarios, farmers have to adapt by implementing resilient agricultural practices, diversifying crops, improving water management strategies and investing in climate-resilient livestock breeds too.

By preparing for both eventualities, farmers can mitigate risks and capitalise on the benefits of these natural climate phenomena.

One undisputed fact is that both phenomena require the farmer to act and mitigate the potential devastating impact they can have on both crop and livestock activities, which in a way leaves the farmer groomed to survive under the onslaught of either of the two.

According to climate scientists, La Niña-induced weather is usually associated with high rainfall and warm winters, the opposite of El Niño, which normally comes with low rainfall and cold temperatures.

La Nina generally increases the likelihood of above-average rainfall in certain areas of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe included, and can potentially lead to flooding.

Predictions that La Nina is on its way and may even trigger rains as early as July in some parts of Southern Africa may also mean that there are chances of an early start to the season or farmers may be able to grow early maturing crops varieties before the traditional onset of the next season.

Whether that should bring some kind of relief or not, depends on where the farmer is geographically situated.

Forecasters are expecting a fast transition from El Nino to La Nina but the length of the time it will stick around remains an open question.

This cycle tends to swing from extreme dry weather to extreme wet weather every three to seven years on average, but while El Ninos tend to be short-lived, La Ninas can last two years or longer.

This kind of eventuality therefore requires the farmer to at least do something to help his situation.

It is a fact that La Nina will bring with it both negatives and positives but it will take the proactive farmer to salvage something from either scenario.

It is a fact that the subject of water is central in both El Nino and La Nina situations.

It is either available or unavailable.

As a starting point in rolling out mitigation measures, farmers must learn to manage their water usage. They need to monitor their water consumption and implement efficient water usage practices.

These can include techniques such as rainwater collection, drip irrigation and mulching.

By doing so, they can contribute to conserving water and minimising the impact of water scarcity should the season be characterised by water shortages.

One sure fact farmers have to bear in mind is that the timing of La Nina events can range from annoying to absolutely devastating.

Severe storms and floods can happen just before harvest or planting, or during the cows’ calving season, for instance.

It is therefore important for them to pay close attention to weather bulletins and heed advice from experts on matters relating to the La Nina event, for instance, what the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) and Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development would be saying farmers should do.

The key to best manage severe weather events is for farmers to have their own risk management plans in place well before the next event, for it is always a certainty that there will naturally be another one coming!

These events are not always restricted to just flooding or outright unavailability of rains, they at times include storm damage to vegetation (wind, hail and many others) and slope runoff (flash flooding) causing damage — such as erosion, dams bursting and landslips — affecting buildings, fences, roads, access tracks and more.

Smallholder farmers are usually the hardest hit each time there is a weather catastrophe because in most cases they are caught unprepared without any kind of defence or mitigating mechanism in place.

This may even happen despite the fact that they will be aware of the impending danger but are not prepared to smother its harsh effects.

It is true that smallholder farmers are usually at the mercy of such developments because they do not have the means to protect themselves given that most mitigation measures require people to go out of their ordinary day-to-day chores or spending and do something new.

Logically, one cannot stand and observe a stone that is about to strike her without ducking, blocking or fleeing.

It is always good for farmers to have a risk management plan in place way before disaster strikes.

During a time like this when the world is facing growing climate change problems, farmers must always have a risk management plan that helps limit the impact of La Nina and El Nino events since the likelihood of either of them occurring in any given season is always high.

The risk management plan must also influence the way the farmer develops or prepares properties to ensure they can stand the harsh conditions of La Nina or El Nino if it comes with violent winds or storms.

Of course one priceless thing farmers can do is to stay abreast with climate and weather forecasts and being proactive to the point of responding positively to pieces of advice on developments on the weather front.

It is always better to be safe than sorry!

In this day and age, farmers, regardless of the scale of their production must make it a priority to take out insurance policies that include coverage for certain weather events.

This will come in handy in the event of disaster striking regardless of farmers’ attempts to mitigate the impacts.

After taking out a policy, the farmer should keep premiums updated while keeping an up-to-date and detailed inventory and valuation of everything that is insured.

There are also actions the farmer can take to safeguard his operations against weather-induced disasters.

The farmer can build or modify infrastructure for La Nina events.

This includes having well-designed fences and flood gates, electric fence cut-out switches, contour bank systems to reduce erosion, well-designed stock containment area(s) to save livestock from the subsequent hostile weather conditions.

Access roads/tracks must be well formed and drained with water (creek) crossings that are well designed and made with depth indicators while large trees that could fall on buildings should be removed.

Farmers can also build up humus in their soil to limit erosion and runoff and keep the soil covered to reduce runoff.

Where possible, farmers should not plough or disturb the soil surface.

This is the point at which farmers practising conservation agriculture can easily brag about its efficacies in the face of those who do not.

Safety matters usually start with guaranteeing the welfare of the farmer and his family.

He should make sure they do not try to drive or walk through flood waters, as floods can change the condition of the surface underneath considerably.

If it is not safe to stay, everyone should leave before the event starts but the farmer must not forget to move livestock to high ground, with feed and water.

This done, the farmer must remove important valuables to a safe place and check that insurances are up to date and accessible.

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