The need for retaining indigenous knowledge systems in predicting seasonal forecasts remains a very fascinating piece across the country where continuous adaptation to climatic risks and impact is unavoidable and fundamental to sustainable and climate-resilient development and livelihoods.
Enhancing disaster preparedness mechanisms help governments and all stakeholders to plan and respond effectively to disasters. Improved preparedness also provides an opportunity to quickly recover, rehabilitate and reconstruct in the event of natural disasters.
Therefore, hybrid forecasting, through Seasonal Participatory Scenario Planning (PSP), is helping farmers in Mwenezi and Chiredzi districts to combat climate change by preparing for the farming season based on seasonal forecast probabilities including climate-related hazards, risks, opportunities and to safeguard their livelihoods.
The PSP platforms supported by the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF): Enhancing Community Resilience and Sustainability (ECRAS) project are creating space for meteorologists, community members, local government departments and NGOs to share scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge to produce a hybrid localised seasonal outlook to inform the farming season.
The ZRBF -ECRAS project which is being led by Care International in partnership with Plan International and International Crop Research Institute for the semi-arid regions (ICRISAT) is working in 29 Wards Wards of (17) Chiredzi and (12) and Mwenezi districts.
The project is aimed at improving communities’ absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities strengthening beneficiaries’ capacities to withstand shocks and disasters in the face of climate change through interventions ranging from resilient climate-smart crop and livestock production, water harvesting technologies, fish farming to post-harvest management and asset-based Village Savings and Lending (VSAL), among others.
The ZRBF is a $100 million fund, which is supported by the Government of Zimbabwe, the European Union (EU), the Embassy of Sweden, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), formerly DFID.
The seasonal forecasts are also providing climate-related information which is important in influencing the adaptation of decisions, approaches and technologies by farmers at various timeframes.
Mwenezi Crop and Livestock District Officer, Veronica Muchechetere is of the view that the new technologies can be infused with Indigenous Knowledge Systems to increase probabilities.
“Through the PSP in Mwenezi, we have a downscaled hybrid forecast co-generated through combining observed indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) indicators and their resultant behaviour with the scientific probabilities from Metrological Services Department (MSD).
“We create a hybrid forecast using contributions from indigenous forecasters, ranging from dreamers, prophets to traditional healers, while others study the behaviour of animals or use changes in vegetation to predict the seasonal outlook. We then make use of these indicators to come up with a holistic localised forecast,” explained Muchechetere.
She added that while the Meteorological forecast has been helping the farmers, it uses three broad regions which do not include spatial-temporal rainfall variations within the local communities.
However, hybrid forecasting has been assisting to account for the different micro-climates within the districts and farmers now have advisories that are local which they contribute to annually.
Plans and advisories are then communicated to the farmers through various local platforms such as community meetings and WhatsApp groups.
ZRBF-ECRAS Team Leader Fungai Gutusa said, “The project has been carrying out PSP workshops for the past 5 years enabling farmers to have informed decisions towards farming.
“We work with over 49 000 farmers in Mwenezi and Chiredzi districts and such interventions are helping communities to adapt to the impact of climate change. We have implemented PSPs with the government for the last five years of the project and we have seen great improvement in yields because farmers can now better plan and prepare for any unexpected disasters.
New seed crops and varieties have been adopted for use by farmers thereby enhancing their food security systems.
“Participants of the PSP method consider the probabilities of changes in the climate, assess their likely hazards, risks, opportunities, and impacts, and develop scenarios based on such an assessment.
“Farmers discuss on how to prepare for risks such as leaching, pests and animal diseases, floods, crop failure, drought, among others. They discuss the potential implications of these scenarios on livelihoods, which lead to agreement on plans that respond adequately to the identified levels of risk and uncertainty,” said Gutusa.
Mwenezi based Agritex Agronomist Denhere Jemitias said, “Using both the indigenous knowledge together with the Met information has been very helpful. It has helped extension staff to disseminate relevant information pertaining to the season.
As Agritex we now know the benefits of it and continue to run PSP for the benefit of the farmers who now inquire and request for it annually because they have seen how it has transformed their lives especially on planning to avoid crop and food losses,” said Denhere.
Moscow Machegula, a model farmer who has been using PSP plans and advisories in Mwenezi said; “The PSP has really transmuted our lives in Mwenezi. I used to get two 50kg bags of grains but now on a one-hectare farm, I produce around 1,2 tonnes of grain.
“Last season we had PSP dialogues and indigenous forecasters also predicted days that we would receive rain, and these came to pass. We used to be uncertain about the season and we always had harsh weather conditions but now we plan ahead together with our Agritex officers bringing about some lasting impact and we have been adaptive,” said Machegula.
In rural Zimbabwe, where rain-fed agriculture supports four out of five people, complex and interconnected shocks, and stresses, from increasingly variable rain to economic volatility, can devastate communities, undermining their ability to care for and invest in their families.
Through an innovative set of investments in resilience building, the ZRBF-ECRAS project is working to break these cycles of poverty and food insecurity entrapping the country’s most vulnerable and marginalised communities.
According to Meteorological Services Department, there is a projection of six more cyclones during the remainder of the current rainy season thus the importance of robust mechanisms for monitoring natural phenomena cannot be overemphasized.