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Climate change…of indigenous African templates

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IN ancient Great Zimbabwe, as early as the 9th Century, traditional agrarian solutions to climate change were ingrained and taught in the Shona indigenous way of life. 

Ancient people of Zimbabwe understood the seasons; correctly discerned rainfall patterns, predicted droughts as well as guarded against natural floods and harvested water for the dry seasons. 

They supplicated to their ancestors and Mwari for sufficient rains and bountiful crops.

Many Shona traditional agrarian practices and even linguistic phrases allude to the fact that climate change is not a new phenomenon but has been exacerbated in modern times by colonial industrialisation, urbanisation and the loss of institutional knowledge on conservation of natural resources and climate proofing methods.

Besides the annual rainmaking ceremonies practiced throughout the continent, and in Zimbabwe, which attest to erratic weather patterns, other traditional ceremonies included the annual clearing of forests, which also reduced forest fires.

Late Iron Age archaeological evidence of farming proves that the indigenous ancients of Great Zimbabwe practised conservation agriculture — termed today as ‘Pfumvudza’. 

They also trenched canals and practised water harvesting and ensured maximum usage of water. 

Water conservation methods of farming were widespread and practised traditionally in Zimbabwe. The technique of sowing multiple seeds with minimal tilling prevented soil leaching, while yielding a greater harvest using organic fertilisers. 

Evaporation was reduced by covering the fields with natural organic matter.  

To ensure sustainability, only good seed was meticulously selected and preserved for the following sowing season. 

Strip cropping prevents soil erosion and can improve soil fertility.

Kusanduka kwemwaka — the changing of traditional conventional seasons, kushanduka kwe mamiriro ekunze — the changes in weather patterns, are old indigenous Shona phrases that attest to their awareness of the whims and vagaries of nature and the weather.

Architecturally, MaDzimbawhe and other lesser-known fortresses and stone buildings around Zimbabwe were ecologically climate-proofed structures through the terraced landscapes, while spiritually safeguarded through the cultural beliefs norms and practices.  

The climate was considered a fundamental component of our African natural heritage.

Though Zimbabwe has shown great commitment to addressing climate change issues by being among the first countries to ratify the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, and has “...demonstrated its willingness to contribute to the preservation of the global climate for sustainable development through the formulation of the Zimbabwe National Environmental Policy and Strategies…” which cover issues of climate change; but as I mentioned in a previous article titled ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies in Zimbabwe’, real action is thin on the ground.  

The numerous conferences and policymaking alone will not mitigate global warming and the various other ramifications of climate change currently affecting Africa — and Zimbabwe specifically.

As carbon emissions continue unabated worldwide, Zimbabwe has not been spared the effects of global warming that are mostly felt hardest by the world’s poorer communities — and Africa, in particular, is frequently experiencing extreme weather variability. 

According to the Meteorological Services Department of Zimbabwe, the country has experienced six warmest years on record since 1987, with daily minimum and maximum temperatures rising by about 2°C over the past century. 

It is known from historical records that Zimbabwe’s mean annual surface temperature has risen by about ~0.10C every 10 years (~0.9°C between 1901 and 2018).  

Rainfall has undergone significant variations during the same period. 

While total annual rainfall does not show any significant trend, the intra-seasonal characteristics, such as onset and cessation dates, frequency of droughts and floods, mid-season dry spells and the frequency of occurrence of heavy rainfall events, have undergone significant changes.

 Over the past two decades, the country has experienced 10 droughts, decreased freshwater and destroyed biodiversity. Recent research indicates that surface water resources within the country will reduce significantly by 2080 as a result of climate change. 

The western and southern parts of Zimbabwe are projected to dry up, leaving a large part of the population at risk of water shortages; millions of Zimbabweans will face hunger and poverty as a result.

Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts despite its low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  

Seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa.  In 2015, four African countries ranked among the 10 countries most affected, viz Mozambique (1st), Malawi (3rd), Ghana and Madagascar (joint in 8th position).

Despite having contributed the least to global warming and having the lowest emissions, Africa faces exponential collateral damage, posing great risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture and livestock as well as general livelihoods.  

Climate-related loss and damage is escalating across Africa, with many countries experiencing new forms of climate impacts of increasing intensity threatening to undo the modest development gains achieved to date and threatening to slip into higher levels of extreme poverty.

As a result, many national governments across Africa are initiating adaptation programmes, which focus on mechanisms such as disaster risk management, public awareness and adjustments to relevant technologies as well as scientific-based approaches to farming.  

But estimates by a 2013 UN Environment Programme study shows that most African countries cannot fund these projects and require funding from developed countries. 

It is estimated that Africa will need investments of over US$3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030 in order to implement its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  

A UNEP-commissioned research estimates that the cost of adapting to climate change across Africa could reach US$50 billion a year by 2050, if the global temperature increase is kept within 2°C above pre-industrial levels. 

Many of their commitments, however, are conditional upon receiving adequate financial, technical and capacity building support.  

African countries, including Zimbabwe, have outlined bold aspirations to build climate resilient and low-carbon economies in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement in mitigation to global warming and climate change – rainmaking ceremonies no longer suffice.

 Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has committed itself to sharing knowledge globally that will enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Under the Paris Agreement reached at COP21, all countries agreed to take collective action on climate change and to maintain global temperature increases to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.  

The grave consequences, especially for Africa, of a temperature increase above 1.5°C were highlighted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 2018.  

Having signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, nearly all African countries have committed to enhancing climate action through reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience. Yet, as of November 2019, out of the 54 sovereign African countries, 49 had ratified their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – five had yet to do so!

Climate change has proved to be a global catastrophe threatening human survival and the regeneration of earth’s natural resources.  

The continent of Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population. 

A report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation projected that Sub-Saharan Africa, with a medium-high climate change, will have an additional 2,4 million undernourished children by 2050. 

 Climate change poses a major threat to Africa and its achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, for the African continent, including Zimbabwe, decisive action by all and adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change is vital and urgent. 

Dr. Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, MPVM, is currently conducting Veterinary epidemiology, and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. E-mail:  MONDA@gmail.com

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