La Nina could be a fil­lip for Com­mand Agri­cul­ture Scheme

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Business - Sife­lani Tsiko

SADC cli­mate ex­perts are meet­ing in Harare to carve out a com­pre­hen­sive re­gional weather fore­cast for the 2016-2017 crop­ping sea­son which is likely to shift from the dreaded warmer-than-av­er­age weather pat­tern — El Niño, which caused a dev­as­tat­ing drought in the en­tire sub-re­gion, to La Nina char­ac­terised by bet­ter rain­fall and cli­mate con­di­tions.

Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vices De­part­ment di­rec­tor Dr Amos Maka­rau told the Zim­pa­pers Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vice that Sadc cli­mate ex­perts were en­gaged in a rig­or­ous anal­y­sis of cli­mate data in prepa­ra­tion of the 20th South­ern Africa Re­gional Cli­mate Out­look Fo­rum (SARCOF) con­fer­ence that will run from Au­gust 24-26 next week.

“Cli­mate ex­perts from all Sadc coun­tries are meet­ing this week to come up with a sea­sonal fore­cast for the 2016/2017 rainy sea­son,” he said.

“They are analysing cli­mate data so that they can come up with a sea­sonal fore­cast. The final report will be is­sued out by the Sadc Cli­mate Ser­vices Cen­tre at the main SARCOF con­fer­ence be­tween Au­gust 24 and 26.”

Cli­mate ex­perts from all Sadc coun­tries usu­ally meet ev­ery year to an­a­lyse cli­mate data and share the in­for­ma­tion with all-weather sci­en­tists and user com­mu­ni­ties.

“Tech­ni­cal ex­perts an­a­lyse data from their own coun­tries and use com­mon al­go­rithms to come up with a weather fore­cast for the whole re­gion. They do com­par­isons and agree on the fore­cast for the en­tire re­gion,” Dr Maka­rau said.

“Zim­babwe will have its own com­pre­hen­sive fore­cast apart from the re­gional one as cli­matic con­di­tions dif­fer from one coun­try to the other. The way La Nina will af­fect South Africa is not the same way it will af­fect Zim­babwe.

“The weather pat­terns in South Africa are not the same as those here, for ex­am­ple. Each coun­try has its own unique lo­calised weather con­di­tions. So we will is­sue out the Zim­babwe fore­cast while the Sadc Cli­mate Ser­vices Cen­tre will is­sue out the fore­cast for the whole re­gion.”

Ear­lier this year, Sadc cli­mate ex­perts said the El Nino weather pat­tern which caused drought in South­ern Africa and other parts of the world in the 2015-16 crop­ping sea­son was now break­ing into a neu­tral phase that could de­gen­er­ate into its op­po­site phe­nom­e­non — La Nina cre­at­ing a pos­si­bil­ity of heavy rain­fall and flood­ing in the 2016- 2017 crop­ping sea­son.

Ex­perts say La Nina is the op­po­site con­di­tion of El Nino and while the lat­ter causes high tem­per­a­tures and dry spells, the for­mer is char­ac­terised by heavy rain­fall, floods and vi­o­lent storms.

The shift to the La Niña event has buoyed hopes for some farm­ers who hope that the bet­ter rain­fall and cli­mate con­di­tions in the months ahead could sig­nif­i­cantly boost the re­cently launched Com­mand Agri­cul­ture Scheme which aims to pro­duce more than two mil­lion tonnes of maize a year.

The US$500 mil­lion scheme is tar­get­ing 2 000 farm­ers who will be al­lo­cated in­puts and ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment to pro­duce grain and en­hance the coun­try’s food security po­si­tion.

Farm­ers un­der the scheme are ex­pected to pro­duce two mil­lion tonnes of grain on the tar­geted 400 000 hectares of farm land in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try.

El Niño events are as­so­ci­ated with a warm­ing of the cen­tral and east­ern trop­i­cal Pa­cific. La Niña events are the re­verse, with a sus­tained cool­ing of th­ese same ar­eas.

A Zim­babwe Farm­ers’ Union of­fi­cial said he was op­ti­mistic that the La Nina phe­nom­e­non could be a fil­lip to the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

“If the La Niña event doesn’t de­gen­er­ate into se­vere flood­ing, I’m con­fi­dent that we are go­ing to get a bumper crop this com­ing farm­ing sea­son,” said the of­fi­cial.

“The above-nor­mal rain­fall will re­plen­ish the soil mois­ture and re­sult in an im­prove­ment af­ter the harsh con­di­tions that have re­sulted from the drought. Apart from agri­cul­tural crops, live­stock and dairy farm­ers would also ben­e­fit from the im­proved rain­fall.”

Other agri­cul­tural econ­o­mists said if the La Nina event brings bet­ter rain­fall pat­terns for the coun­try, it will bring re­lief for the lo­cal agri­cul­tural sec­tor, agribusi­nesses and food com­pa­nies which are aim­ing to im­prove their per­for­mance and profit mar­gins.

They also said in­creased food sup­ply could help re­duce grain prices which had spiked up in re­cent months due to se­vere food short­ages.

The gov­ern­ment’s huge grain im­port bill for the 2015/2016 sea­son could also be re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly and spur a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the econ­omy.

Some agri­cul­tural ex­perts said bet­ter rains could lower food prices by ben­e­fit­ing the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple hard­est hit by the El Nino-in­duced drought.

“If the Com­mand Agri­cul­ture Scheme is well funded and run ef­fi­ciently, it will be easy for Zim­babwe to switch from be­ing a maize im­porter to maize se­cure na­tion re­sult­ing in huge sav­ing on our huge grain im­port to feed our peo­ple,” said the ZFU of­fi­cial.

“We just hope there will be no heavy flood­ing that could jeop­ar­dise agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity and food security. I re­main op­ti­mistic that armed with our Com­mand Agri­cul­ture Scheme and La Nina, we can turn around our agri­cul­tural for­tunes this com­ing sea­son.”

The cur­rent El Nino-in­duced drought grip­ping the re­gion, has threat­ened food security, weak­ened power gen­er­a­tion and led to the mas­sive death of live­stock.

The cur­rent drought has slowed down so­cioe­co­nomic devel­op­ment for the re­gion, which de­pends heav­ily on rain-fed agri­cul­ture.

Pre­dic­tions for the 2015/2016 crop­ping sea­son were al­most cor­rect, show­ing that the Sadc re­gion would have nor­mal to be­low nor­mal rain­fall for the pe­riod be­tween Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber 2015 and the Jan­uary to March pe­riod.

Cli­mate ex­perts say the El Nino weather pat­tern which, caused a mas­sive drought in the en­tire Sadc re­gion, is now break­ing into a neu­tral phase, but warn that it could de­gen­er­ate into its op­po­site phe­nom­ena, known as the La Nina.

Drought has left up to 16 mil­lion peo­ple in need of food as­sis­tance across the re­gion. Zim­babwe is one of the worst af­fected coun­tries by the dri­est year in decades fac­ing south­ern Africa — in­clud­ing Malawi, Zam­bia, Le­sotho, Swazi­land and South Africa.

The UN’s World Food Pro­gramme said about 16 mil­lion peo­ple in South­ern Africa are fac­ing hunger due to poor har­vests in 2015, caused by El Nino weather con­di­tions.

A ma­jor­ity of small-scale farm­ers are strug­gling to pro­duce enough food to feed their fam­i­lies ow­ing to the drought that rav­aged most parts of Zim­babwe and other Sadc coun­tries.

Dam lev­els have dropped to their worst lev­els in decades.

With the com­ing of La Nina, some farm­ers are hop­ing for the best. They are op­ti­mistic that bet­ter rains will bring re­lief to them.

“I don’t know what La Nina means, but if you say the rains will be bet­ter, then, I am happy,” said Mr Pharoah Kah­wayi, a farmer from Mu­toko.

“All we want are good rains. Our dams have dried up and any weather con­di­tion that can bring some im­prove­ments is most wel­come. We want wa­ter to sur­vive, we want wa­ter for our live­stock and we want wa­ter for us to grow crops and earn some money.”

The wa­ter sit­u­a­tion is des­per­ate across the coun­try and if La Nina-in­duced rain­fall ar­rives in the com­ing few months, it will bring a huge sigh of re­lief to farm­ers.

As for now, the ef­fects of El Nino are still blaz­ing bring­ing un­told hard­ships on the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who de­pend heav­ily on rain-fed agri­cul­ture.

De­spite the ben­e­fits of La Nina which are be­ing talked about, it will take time for farm­ers like Kah­wayi to smile again. — Zim­pa­pers Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Dr Amos Maka­rau

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