Zimbabwean subsistence farmers in drier regions are being encouraged to embrace drought-resistant traditional small grains such as sorghum and millet instead of the water thirst staple maize crop in the context of climate change-induced droughts and erratic rainfall.
In an interview with SAT, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development John Basera said climate change remains a major threat to national food security, hence the need to embrace climate-smart agriculture.
“We know that climate change is indeed a reality and we basically have two options. The first option is to adapt and the other option is obviously to give up and die, but certainly, we will choose to adapt and one of the ways to adapt to climate change is the adoption of climate-smart cropping and livestock options,” Basera told SAT.
In the last decade, dry spells have increased in frequency across Zimbabwe, impacting negatively on rural farmers who mostly depend on rain-fed agricultural production.
In response, Basera said the government is encouraging the production of small grains to counter the risk of poor yields due to climate change.
Unlike maize, small grains can help mitigate the effects of climate change-induced droughts since they are tropically adapted plants with high water use efficiency due to their structural characteristics.
Despite the calls to gravitate toward drought-tolerant crops, farmers in drier regions had continued to grow maize due to its favorable pricing and strong demand from the domestic market.
As a result, in a bid to encourage farmers to invest in climate-smart small grains, this year the government introduced a grain-swap system where farmers can exchange their small grains for maize.
Grain Marketing Board (GMB) CEO Rockie Mutenha said the facility is meant to ensure that farmers in regions that are incompatible with maize production have access to the staple crop, as they move to sustainable alternatives.
“We want to promote crops that can do well by region, and that’s why we are saying that those in marginal areas where there is not enough rainfall, they must grow what is best produced in that area, should they want maize, they can go and exchange it and get maize,” Mutenha told SAT.
According to the agriculture ministry, Zimbabwe’s maize crop for the farming season year 2021/22 stood at 1.5 million tons. Zimbabwe requires 2.2 million tons of maize annually for both human and livestock consumption.