ZIMBABWE is party to several international agreements, including environmental agreements, namely:  Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, signed, but not ratified.  

Currently, Zimbabwe participated at the UN’s 29th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 29) held in October 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. 

There are three main river basins in Zimbabwe, viz Zambezi (in north-west and north); Limpopo (in the south) and Save (in the east and south-east) divided into six drainage basins. 

The largest are the Zambezi and the Limpopo. 

The western parts of Matabeleland connect to the Okavango inland drainage basin through the Nata River.  Most of southern Mashonaland and adjacent parts of Masvingo drain through the Save River into the Indian ocean. 

Two smaller drainage basins cover parts of Manicaland and drain into the Indian Ocean through Mozambique. These are the Pungwe River to the north and the Buzi River to the south.  

It has a total renewable water resource of 20 km (2011), and 1 735 km² irrigated land (2003).

Zimbabwe has abundant natural resources.  

These include coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin and the platinum group metals.  

The UN also counts wildlife, arable lands, forests, surface and groundwater as resources. 

The country also has a well-developed and diversified agricultural sector. 

It produces food crops, cash crops and livestock.  

Beginning in 1985, Zimbabwe was one of a few sub-Saharan African countries to export beef to the EU.  

Sheep, goats, pigs and poultry are also extensively farmed.  

Zimbabwe produces much of its own food, except in years where drought affects maize and wheat production. The staple food crop is maize and other cereal crops include barley, millet, sorghum and wheat. 

About 80 percent of the population depend on agriculture for a livelihood.  

A total of 70 percent of the country’s population resides in rural areas where the majority are agro-producers and subsistence cattle ranchers.  

Agriculture is the major employer of the country ‘s labour force, accounting for 65 percent of the active population.  Women farmers form the majority.

The main agriculture sectors are: Large scale – approximately 300 farmers (white and black), of an average size of 2 200 hectares, covering 1 377 000 hectares; A2 – 16 386 farmers on plots averaging 318 ha, covering 2 918 334,08 ha; A1 – owned by 145 775 farmers each averaging six hectares of arable land (excluding grazing), covering 5 759 153,89 ha;  Old Resettlement – 76 000 farmers on an average of 46 hectares (including grazing), covering 3 500 000 ha; and Communal – 1 300 000 farmers with average of 12 hectare-plots (inclusive of grazing and forest), covering 16 400 400 ha

Prior to the Land Reform Programme (1999-2010), smallholder production share of agricultural output rose from nine percent in 1983 to 25 percent in 1988 and 50 percent in 1990.  

Tobacco produced on approximately 86 000 ha, prior to 1999, was the largest export crop (23 percent of exports in 1997). Zimbabwe was among the world’s biggest exporters.  

In 2011, approximately 128 million kg of tobacco were produced, worth  US$349 million based on average auction price of US$2,71/kg.  

In 2012, the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) reported that Zimbabwe sold 140,8 million kg and earned US$517 million. Sugar and cotton were other main exports while in years of surplus, maize was exported.  

Indigenous farmers and peasant farmers produced over 70 percent of the maize and cotton annually. 

Horticulture grew rapidly – Zimbabwe was the world’s third-largest exporter of roses.

The manufacturing sector in Zimbabwe stemmed mainly from agriculture and in turn, the sector provided services and goods to agriculture through synergies between the two sectors.

The aim of the protracted land resettlement programme was to meet the land needs of landless Zimbabweans, by targeting derelict land; underutilised land; land owned by absentee landlords; land owned by a person with more than one farm; land exceeding the prescribed limit in a region and land contiguous to communal lands 

These criteria were designed to increase the availability of land for resettlement, and to yield higher levels of agricultural production. The beneficiaries of the resettlement programme included: 

People living in overpopulated communal lands;

Displaced farm workers with no home to return to;

People with special competence in Agriculture, like master farmers, agricultural graduates and

Special disadvantaged groups, like women, charitable organisation’s and cooperatives, among others. 

Agriculture’s share of GDP generally fluctuates, depending on the impact of rain/drought and the level of world prices for export crops.  

From the mid-1980s, it has fluctuated from 17 percent (1985), 12 percent in 1990, 14 percent in 1996 (drought periods) to 28 percent in 1998. 

The major agricultural commodities contributing to Zimbabwe’s agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) include: tobacco (25 percent), maize (14 percent), cotton (12,5 percent), beef and fish (10 percent), sugar and horticulture (seven percent) and livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and ostrich) (24 percent), while 0,5 percent is accounted by subsistence crops.

Of these commodities; tobacco, cotton, sugar, horticulture, tea and bananas account for exports. 

Maize production failed to reach previous self-sufficiency levels (approximated at 1,8 million tonnes); yields remained below 800kg/ha between 2000 and 2011.  The highest deficit in the maize was experienced in 2006-

2007 seasons with a shortfall of 980 000 tonnes.  

Wheat production has fallen to below 20 percent of the pre-2000 levels of approximately 400 000 tonnes.

Forest land constitutes 40,4 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area and is inhabited by different wildlife species, consequently offering potential opportunities for wildlife-based economic activities.

The Forestry Commission produced about half the country’s timber.  

Zimbabwe’s forestry sector produced 29 000 cubic meters of non-coniferous sawn wood, 3 000 cubic meters of non-coniferous sawn logs and veneer logs as well as 1,8 million cubic metres of industrial round wood (1994).  

Rough-sawn timber was exported to Botswana and South Africa. High quality timber was exported mainly to the UK.

Much of Zimbabwe is high plateau with higher central plateau – highveld, forming a watershed between the Zambezi and Limpopo river systems. 

The Limpopo and the lower Zambezi valleys are broad and relatively flat plains. 

The eastern end of the watershed terminates in a north-south mountain spine called the Eastern Highlands.  About 80 percent of the land is higher than 600m and less than five percent is above 1 500m, with the highest part in the Eastern Highlands. 

The country has four major regions, distinguished on the basis of elevation: Lowveld (33 percent of total) (300m to 600m above sea level); Middle veld (40 percent of total) (600-1 200m); Highveld (25 percent of total) (above 1200m); and Highlands – a narrow north-south mountain range stretching along most of the eastern border.  

Agricultural development in Zimbabwe is related to the agro-geographical and ecological subdivision of the country into five natural agro-regions from a survey conducted in 1960 by V. Vincent and R.G. Thomas, largely defined according to the meteorological and natural topography of Zimbabwe.  

These divisions primarily determine the type of agricultural production suitable to each geographical region. 

Other distinguishing features of these agricultural zones and regions are the average mean rainfall and the various unique climatological characteristics.  

Natural Regions Three, Four and Five are the most suitable for both crop and livestock production.  

The Agro-ecological potential of these areas are distinguished as follows:

Natural Region One – 1,56 percent of total area, receives over 1 000mm of annual rainfall.  It is a specialised and diversified farming region with plantation forestry, fruit and intensive livestock production. Tea, coffee and macadamia nuts are grown in frost-free areas; 2007 seasons with a shortfall of 980 000 tonnes.  

Wheat production has fallen to below 20 percent of the pre-2000 levels of approximately 400 000 tonnes.

Forest land constitutes 40,4 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area and is inhabited by different wildlife species, consequently offering potential opportunities for wildlife-based economic activities.

The Forestry Commission produced about half the country’s timber.  

Zimbabwe’s forestry sector produced 29 000 cubic meters of non-coniferous sawn wood, 3 000 cubic meters of non-coniferous sawn logs and veneer logs as well as             1,8 million cubic meters of industrial round wood (1994).  

Rough-sawn timber was exported to Botswana and South Africa.  

High quality timber was exported mainly to the UK.

Much of Zimbabwe is high plateau with higher central plateau – highveld, forming a watershed between the Zambezi and Limpopo river systems. 

The Limpopo and the lower Zambezi valleys are broad and relatively flat plains. 

The eastern end of the watershed terminates in a north-south mountain spine called the Eastern Highlands.  About 80 percent of the land is higher than 600m and less than five percent is above 1 500m, with the highest part in the Eastern Highlands. 

The country has four major regions, distinguished on the basis of elevation: Lowveld (33 percent of total) (300m to 600m above sea level); Middle veld (40 percent of total) (600-1 200m); Highveld (25 percent of total) (above 1200m); and Highlands – a narrow north-south mountain range stretching along most of the eastern border.  

Agricultural development in Zimbabwe is related to the agro-geographical and ecological subdivision of the country into five natural agro-regions from a survey conducted in 1960 by V. Vincent and R.G. Thomas, largely defined according to the meteorological and natural topography of Zimbabwe.  

These divisions primarily determine the type of agricultural production suitable to each geographical region. 

Other distinguishing features of these agricultural zones and regions are the average mean rainfall and the various unique climatological characteristics.  

Natural Regions Three, Four and Five are the most suitable for both crop and livestock production.  

The Agro-ecological potential of these areas are distinguished as follows:

Natural Region One – 1,56 percent of total area, receives over 1 000mm of annual rainfall.  It is a specialised and diversified farming region with plantation forestry, fruit and intensive livestock production. Tea, coffee and macadamia nuts are grown in frost-free areas;

Natural Region Two – 18,68 percent of total area, receives 700-1 000mm rain mostly in summer. The region is suitable for intensive farming based on crops or livestock production; 

Natural Region Three – is a semi-intensive farming region covering 19 percent of Zimbabwe. The region receives moderate rainfall of 500-750mm accompanied by severe mid-season dry spells. Maize, tobacco and cotton, are the key crops produced as well as livestock rearing; 

Natural Region Four – 17,43 percent of total area, is a semi-extensive farming region covering about 38 percent of Zimbabwe. Rainfall is between 450-650mm. The area is suitable for cattle ranching with crops requiring irrigation;

Natural Region Five – 33,03 percent of total area, is an extensive farming region covering about 27 percent of Zimbabwe. Rainfall is usually less than 450mm. The area is suitable for extensive cattle or game ranching.

Institutional responsibility for Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector rests with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development. 

This Ministry has been strengthened during the past years through the World Bank’s Agricultural Sector Management Project (ASMP).  

One of its objectives was to formulate the Agricultural Sector Investment Programme (ASIP).

While globalisation exposed economies and societies to a greater range and severity of economic risks and opportunities, global warming and climate change is today a greater threat as the mean and spread of rain change.  

Not only seasons, but areas that traditionally received abundant rainfall are changing. 

Today, climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to the planet and human societies, which needs to be urgently addressed by all parties.  

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all parties must share a vision for long-term co-operative action in order to achieve global goal objective of reducing carbon emissions that cause anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations and global warming.

“Warming of the climate system is scientifically verified and that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid twentieth century are very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations…” assessed the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fourth Assessment Report.

How will Zimbabwean farmers, especially in rural areas, fare in light of increased agricultural production, global warming and climate change?

Dr Tony Monda is Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and scholar. He is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe and southern Africa. 

For views and comments, email tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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