Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube has recognised how drought has become the norm, rather than the exception in Zimbabwe.
So, on Thursday he set aside $165 million to guard against such unforeseen shocks in the new year while committing to ramp up irrigation and strengthen early warning systems.
Prof Ncube would know the extent of devastation from a shortage of rain. Through March 2020, his ministry is expected to bankroll the feeding of seven million Zimbabweans who are going hungry following the drought from last summer.
The Finance Minister has watched as failures in agriculture precipitated a tailspin in economic growth for 2019, crashing to a decline of -6,5 percent from an initial growth forecast of 3 percent.
His growth model — like those before him — is predicated on the sectors of agriculture and mining leading the expansion, and everything else following. But extreme weather events, including drought, have frustrated such efforts.
“Government is . . . creating a fiscal buffer . . . to cater for drought shocks,” Prof Ncube stated, when he released the 2020 National Budget in Harare last Thursday.
“Other, drought proofing measures such as investment in irrigation infrastructure, dam construction and desalination as well as research and extension services, adoption of drought resistant varieties (traditional grains) will be put in place during the 2020 agricultural season,” he added.
Even though Zimbabwe accounts for under one percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions total — and Africa just about 5 percent — Zimbabweans have seen some of the worst impacts of climate change, largely due to a lack of money and capacity to cope with the changes.
Temperatures have risen by about a degree since the early 1900s and rainfall declined by between 5 percent and 15 percent in the last 60 years, according to Government data.
Droughts and floods have increased in frequency and severity. Sometimes droughts have occurred in back-to-back seasons.
Since the 1800s, Zimbabwe has been hit by 16 deadly droughts, Sadc studies show.
The one in 1991/92, considered the worst in living memory, affected the rest of southern Africa, but Zimbabwe was hardest-hit.
It killed more than one million cattle here, and the maize staple failed completely, leaving millions of people hungry. Only half the average annual rainfall fell at the time. Future models predict climate change will result in frequent and extreme drought events, perhaps equal (or worse) to the 1991/92 event in severity, unless global temperature increase was curbed at 1,5°C in this Century.
Against this background, Professor Ncube is attempting to build systems capable of limiting future damage.
“It is evident that the economy is agro driven resulting in booms in a good agriculture years and lows in bad rainfall periods,” he observed.
His strategy includes strengthening of technologies that forecast weather and climate in such a way that related information is delivered to farmers on time, with precise, relevant details on impending rainfall events (or otherwise).
To this end, the National Budget has committed another “$165 million for the procurement of a weather radar system equipment”. This is important for several reasons.
For climate adaptation to work, farmers need reliable climate and weather data. But severe spending cuts at the State-run Meteorological Services Department have left farmers throughout most of rural Zimbabwe without access to such crucial information, which can help farmers understanding of micro-climates, and minimise crop failure.
Today, the Meteorological Office tends to produce vague and generalised information for entire provinces, say for Mashonaland Central, which consists of dozens of large districts with differing climates. That is helping no one.
So, the replacement of Zimbabwe’s five weather radars, which reached the end of their 30-year lifespan in the early 2000’s, is expected to improve the provision of reliable weather and climate data, key tools to coping with climate change.
Replacing them was estimated to cost about US$12 million.
The radar is able to provide precise, area-specific forecasts of severe weather and climate occurrences, say experts. Extreme events such as tropical storms or hail can be accurately detected a day, even hours, before they occur or as they build up, they say.
The Herald Finance & Business understands that four of the five weather surveillance radars will replace those at Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and Buffalo Range in Chiredzi.
Minister Ncube also spoke about boosting irrigation, as a resilience strategy. He said: “Under the 2020 Budget, irrigation development is receiving top priority in order to guarantee food security in the country. “
He revealed that the State will spend $423 million on irrigation next year, with the primary aim of clocking 1,8 million tonnes of maize.
“For this purpose, capable farmers with irrigation facilities will be identified with a view of contracting and supporting them to produce required grains specifically for food security,” said Prof Ncube.
Irrigation is widely considered a key tool for helping rural farmers in agro-based economies like Zimbabwe’s adapt to climate change.
The technology has been found to hold potential that redefines water use and water use efficiency to maximise agriculture production systems and yields.
Zimbabwe has built dozens of small and large dams, mainly to support irrigation. But irrigation remains poor for a lot of reasons.
God is faithful.