La Nina could be a fillip for Command Agriculture Scheme
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