Lessons from the impending drought

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IT is becoming more obvious by the day that 2016 is going to be a year of drought unless the gods of rain change their minds at the eleventh hour and perform a miracle of sorts. More troublesome is the fact that the El Nino phenomenon which, as many allege, is behind this impending drought, is affecting almost the whole of SADC.
This alone means countries which have assisted each other in the past, providing grain to those with a grain deficit, are unlikely to do so this time.
The implications are clear. (Mai vatsva kumusana, mwana atsva kudumbu)
Southern Africa may need to look beyond itself for grain imports and this alone means more costs and more budget deficits.
And such deficits are likely to trigger more borrowing from notorious barracudas such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank institutions well-known for insisting on their “pound of flesh”.
Should we allow ourselves then to become permanent victims of nature? Are we helpless and incapable of addressing such a critical survival issue?
Zimbabwe has always been a drought-prone country. The fact is confirmed by a particular pre-colonial folktale in which drought is framed in the context during which animals of the forest are compelled to forego their differences and fear of each other in order to dig a well.
If members of the animal kingdom can sit down together and find solutions to drought, surely we can do better and rise to the challenge.
One way to respond to the challenges posed by recurrent droughts is to accept our fate with meekness, beg for food donations from charity organisations and hope for the best.
The problem with such a response though is that we unwittingly place our destiny in the hands of outsiders who may not always wish us well. In any case no self-respecting people would accept food handouts as a permanent solution to challenges posed by droughts.
Drought in 2016 is likely to affect millions of SADC citizens and such issues should not be left to the goodwill and vagaries of charity organisations which in turn rely on financial contributions from elsewhere.
While it is obvious that a national policy to build as many dams as possible and capture most of the water which annually flows to the Indian Ocean is in place, that policy needs to be implemented as a strategic national priority directly linked to the survival of our population.
Our tendency to talk about the importance of water harvesting only when we are in the middle of drought and then forgetting about harvesting water as soon as the drought is over is a major stumbling block to our national development.
Climate change, which many of us tended to regard as an abstract threat has now become an immediate threat to our welfare at household level. For the first time the water level at Kariba Dam is so low that we cannot generate the amount of electricity the dam was built to produce.
For the first time thousands of households in Zambia and Zimbabwe directly feel affected by climate change in concrete terms. For the first time many households in our rural homes which have relied on water wells and boreholes for decades are finding these water sources dry because the water tables have gone down further owing to the prevalent droughts during the last 20 years.
The million dollar question is: What is to be done? Below are a few of the many initiatives that can be undertaken.
First: The policy in regard to water harvesting may need to be revisited in order to effect appropriate changes and to re-classify it as a national priority of strategic importance. We need to address the drought issue as a national security threat.
The state should not hesitate to borrow the necessary funds in order to transform Zimbabwe into a self-sufficient country able to feed all its people and to export surplus grain.
Second: All our farmers should be persuaded to develop grain storage capacities which can host grain safely and securely for at least two years. This means that our AGRITEX officials should work hard in advising us on how to grow our crops with minimum moisture available; how to develop facilities with increased storage capacities; how to come up with a balanced allocation of land portions for food security and for cash crops.
The work done by our AGRITEX officials needs to be vigorously monitored so that the data which they collect at household level directly feeds into the national data base specifically designed for food security purposes.
Third: Since droughts in Southern Africa are almost becoming bi-annual occurrences, it is also critical that every farmer is empowered to operate with plan A and Plan B. Plan A for a normal rain season and Plan B for the ever threatening drought. The latter plan should be underpinned by drilling boreholes which supply water for our household use and for irrigating relatively small pieces of land, for example under the Zunde Ramambo programme. This kind of approach can be done at a communal level or better still at an individual family level by those able to do so on their own. Such pockets of irrigation areas would at least guarantee that hunger does not threaten our lives on a wholesale regional basis.
Fourth: We are all aware that the Ministry of Agriculture has been encouraging those in arid and semi-arid areas to grow drought-resistant crops and small grains which do better in such areas of little rainfall.
What is needed now is to go beyond encouragement and insist that a certain percentage of land available at village level is allocated for small grains at family level. Such a requirement should be monitored and verified by our AGRITEX officials who in turn will submit relevant data on such to the national food security data base. Why? Because food is a national security issue that goes beyond our right to grow what we want.
Fifth: A serious awareness programme to educate all of us about the importance of food security needs to be undertaken during the good rainy seasons and the bad ones as well.
We all need to appreciate the precariousness of our survival in relation to our geographical location as a country and in relation to our changing climate patterns.
We need to generate this kind of awareness so that all initiatives undertaken by the state to improve our food security situation are easily understood and supported by the rest of us.

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