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Climate migration in Zimbabwe is a sign of what’s to come


Too little, too late

In the scorched parts of Zimbabwe, some farmers have tried to acclimatize and stay put. They have returned to the cultivation of traditional drought-resistant grains such as millet, pearl millet, and sorghum. Others have switched from irrigating their crops by flooding entire fields with systems that drip only the necessary amount of water next to each plant.

Some, including Blessing Zimunia, a farmer in Chitura, have attempted to collect rainwater for irrigation and other uses. Zumonia uses a 5,000 liter container to collect water from his rooftop and a 100,000 liter tank to collect running water on the ground. Supplement these systems with water from a nearby river.

Natalie Watson, managing director of Popoma Villages, an NGO that runs a clean water and hygiene project, says rainwater harvesting has great potential to make a difference. She cites a well-known Zimbabwean farmer named Zivania Ferry Maseko, who before his death transformed dry land into fertile fields using methods now taught to the Watson Organization.

Its program is currently focused on the Zaka region in southern Zimbabwe, where hundreds of farmers are participating. Some in neighboring Midlands county have also begun experimenting with rainwater harvesting.

90-year-old Leah Tsiga lives alone in the arid Mudzi region of Zimbabwe, sometimes for days without a solid meal.


However, the total number of farmers in Zimbabwe who have followed this practice is still very low. Of the more than 7 million small farmers across the country, only a few thousand have tried it in the driest counties. Despite the efforts of organizations like Watson, most farmers do not have the money to build large water storage tanks. Many still do not know what rainwater harvesting is, or how to get started.

Other nonprofit programs are underway to help farmers adapt by learning new soil moisture conservation practices and finding ways to diversify their incomes outside of agriculture. Last year, the Zimbabwean government announced a plan to create 760,000 new “green” jobs in four years in areas such as solar energy, hydropower, energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture. But these efforts are still in their infancy.

Gift Sanyanga of Haarlem Mutare City Link — the ranking of two cities between Haarlem in the Netherlands and Mutare in Zimbabwe that commissioned a 2019 report on climate migration in the Eastern Highlands (and paid me to travel to Haarlem to speak in the same year) — says adaptation measures have largely failed, The only viable option left for many farmers is to emigrate.

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