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Climate change and variability impacts on crop production in the low potential smallholder farming regions of Zimbabwe.

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Climate change and variability is one of the most serious global problems affecting many sectors in the world. It is considered to be one of the most serious threats to sustainable development with adverse impact on environment, human health, food security, economic activities, natural resources and physical infrastructure. Southern Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in the world, particularly because of widespread poverty, recurrent droughts, inequitable land distribution, over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture and low adaptive capacity. Yet rural farmers in southern Africa have managed to survive the vagaries of climate change over the years. The central argument in this study was that coping and adaptation strategies to climate change by local smallholder farming communities in Zimbabwe who traditionally relied on indigenous knowledge systems are at risk and less effective because the use of indigenous knowledge systems is becoming unreliable due to climate change and variability. The main objective of this study was to identify local smallholder farmers’ perceptions to climate change and variability and the influence of indigenous knowledge systems in deciding and adopting coping and adaptation strategies. This study used a combination of participatory and field data collection tools in Chiredzi District, one of the areas affected by climate change impacts in Zimbabwe. Household surveys, focus group discussions and key informant interviews were done in selected wards in the district. Field trials were done to identify climate smart cropping options to assist farmers in coping and adapting to climate change and variability. The results indicate that farmers use a variety of local indicators for weather forecasting and climate prediction, for adapting to climate change and variability. Integrating indigenous knowledge systems with climate scientists’ efforts can contribute to effective on-farm adaptation initiatives. One objective of this research was to identify IKS used by farmers to predict seasonal weather patterns, and the subsequent adaptation strategies. The information was collected using focus group discussions, household survey, and ethnographic interviews. Most farmers (72.2%) indicated that low rainfall is the major limitation to agricultural production. Without reliable local scientific weather forecasts the farmers use tree phenology, animal behaviour and atmospheric circulation as sources of local knowledge to predict the onset and quality of the season. These forecasts are then used for designing crop choices, planting dates and agronomic practices. Study results obtained show that the use of IKS in local farming communities is an effective way of building coping and adaptation strategies. The results revealed that IKS are being eroded and becoming less accurate in seasonal weather prediction. Therefore, future studies on IKS should use multiple methods that combine indigenous knowledge and scientific weather data in order to obtain more complete and accurate information for local area season quality prediction. Another study objective was to examine farmer perceptions on climate variability, current adaptive strategies and establish factors influencing smallholder farmers’ adaptation to climate change. The results showed that farmers perceived that there has been a decrease in annual rainfall and an increase in average temperatures. A linear trend analysis of rainfall and temperature data from 1980 to 2011 corroborated the farmers’ perceptions. Farmers’ adaptation options included adjusting planting dates and crop diversification. Off-farm income has reduced the dependence of the farmers on agriculture. A multinomial regression analysis showed that socio-economic factors such as gender, age, number of cattle owned, land size and average crop yields influenced farmer adaptation strategies. We conclude that although farmers are diverse in their socio-economic attributes, they exhibit homogeneous perceptions on changes in climate, which are consistent with observations of empirical climate data. These perceptions help to shape smallholder farmer coping and adaptation strategies. The variability of climate demands the use of a variety of agronomic strategies and crop choices in order to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change and variability. Traditional drought tolerant crops such as sorghum are often chosen when drought seasons are anticipated. However, there are certain crops, originating elsewhere, that could help the smallholder farmers increase diversity of crops that can be grown in changed climates. One such crop is tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolias). Resource poor farmers, affected by drought effects of climate change, can adopt climate smart crops to achieve food, nutritional and heath security from combinations of cereals and legumes. This study revealed that these rural farmers are highly vulnerable and resilient, largely using indigenous knowledge systems to cope and adapt to climate change. Availability and access to scientific weather information to make cropping and other decisions at the local level remain key issues to usage of climatic data by rural farmers. One the other hand, indigenous knowledge is what they have been using but is also becoming unreliable due to climate change, increasing vulnerability and demanding more resilience. Integration of indigenous knowledge and scientific seasonal forecast seems to be a key possible thrust to reduce vulnerability, enhance resilience of rural farmers and increase their adaptive capacity. This study concludes that farmers can use indigenous knowledge systems to make adaptation decisions. However, there is need to integrate indigenous knowledge systems and scientific knowledge to reduce vulnerability and increase adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers. Climate smart crops provide a useful option for farmers affected by climate change and variability to improve food and nutritional security and livelihoods.


Doctor of Philosophy in Crop Science. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Crops and climate -- Zimbabwe., Crops -- Adaptation -- Zimbabwe., Crops -- Development -- Zimbabwe., Theses -- Crop science.