Creating resilience in Zimbabwe’s predominantly agro-based economy can only be achieved once the country is able to guard its agricultural production capacity against oscillating climate conditions which also underpins downstream manufacturing industries, experts have said.Research has shown that for years the country has received inadequate rainfall, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures have crumbled, while a surge in economic production has been noted in years when the rains were sufficient for agriculture.
Zimbabwe’s economy is largely based on agriculture whose receipts contributes over 20 percent of GDP while the sector’s downstream effects account for over 70 percent of raw materials feeding into the manufacturing industries.
Agriculture employs a significant number of Zimbabweans directly and indirectly with official figures from the parent ministry stating that it sustains over 70 percent of all livelihoods in the country.
The extreme weather conditions that have ravaged most agricultural endeavours in the country have had adverse implications on the national economy with analysts calling for sustainable measures that ensure the economy is not held at ransom by climatic changes which have become rampant in recent years.
Addressing key stakeholders at a Media workshop on climate change organized by the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) held in Harare last week, Professor Amon Murwira from the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe said there was a distinctive corresponding trend between rainfall and economic production patterns in Zimbabwe, a scenario he termed “hazardous” to the prospects of a resilient economy.
“Zimbabwe’s economy is completely linked to its climate as tangible data since the 1960s highlight.
“We notice that whenever the rainfall is inadequate for crop survival our production levels cutting across all sectors of the economy have fallen immensely whereas the opposite is true when we recorded sufficient rains.
“We must de-link our agricultural production from the rainfall patterns and that should be the basis for building a resilient economy free from natural shocks in this current context of climate change where we now have a ratio of one in every three years being a good year for us in terms of rainfall,” Prof Murwira said.
Data shows that during the drought years of 1992, 2002, 2008 and 2015, the country’s GDP plummeted as compared to 2006 and 2010 for example, when rains were averagely sufficient for agricultural production.
The current year (2016) has already seen growth targets revised to 1.4 percent from the 2.7 percent initially projected in the 2016 Fiscal Statement announced last year which had anticipated the agriculture sector to spur growth which was however not to be as the country received little rainfall to sustain its agricultural activities.
He said the economy was very vulnerable to weather extremes which are now frequent as a result of global warming which has led to rains either becoming less frequent or surpassing required volumes and called for investment into areas of research and technology to mitigate the current challenges as what other regional countries like South Africa and Zambia have done.
“We have to utilise on the multiplicity of water bodies at our disposal through creating strong irrigation systems and invest in water harvesting mechanisms as seen in other countries facing the same predicament as ours yet their agricultural production cycles remain resilient against negative weather conditions.
“Currently we are using just above 9 percent of dammed water for our agriculture production which leaves a huge gap for exploration. We have to be resilient as an economy and let the yield increase regardless of rainfall patterns,” he added.
Zimbabwe is piling a hefty amount on top of its already huge import bill in sourcing grain imports to avert the food shortages in the country following poor harvest as a result of El Nino induced drought, which hit the country in the last planting season, a case which was widening the country’s current account deficit.
Analysts have also warned of latent economic effects of climate change which have hit hard on agricultural value chains threatening other key sectors of the economy such as the banking and manufacturing sectors.
“Climate change have been the major cause for NPLs (Non Performing Loans) at most local banks dealing with farmers as the farmer’s capacity to repay has been heavily compromised by their vulnerability to poor rainfall patterns,” Mr Charles Dhewa an agronomist with e-Mkambo, a physical and web based knowledge platform for agriculture markets and products.
He said most Microfinance institutions financing agriculture projects in the communal areas have been left counting heavy losses as a result of unforeseen climatic conditions which leads to poor project yields.