Columnists Features

Shrinking water bodies suffocate smallholder gardening

IN PEMBA district, just like other locations in Southern Province, vegetable production through gardening is a key income-earning activity among smallholder farmers.
Southern Province is described as the lowest rainfall-receiving region of the country.
Most farmers have no option but to diversify their agricultural activity for guaranteed food and income security. Gardening provides one of the alternative sources of income.
“Gardening is critical to our survival as smallholder farmers here. With frequent droughts, we have no option but to diversify into gardening for food and income security,” Mr Moroson Hakakwale, a farmer of Hajunza village in Pemba district, said.
During the dry season, between May and October, most families target wetlands in and around water bodies for easy irrigation of their vegetables, which they sell for income to buy additional staple food in case of crop failure.
But it seems things have changed. Streams are shrinking in size and drying up too early, affecting the smallholder farmers’ dry season gardening activities.
“The biggest problem we are facing is that since 1995, droughts have become more frequent here. Streams are becoming smaller each passing season and dry up as early as June and this has forced most farmers out of the gardening business to charcoal burning”, Mr Hakakwale lamented.
The farmer, who is also Hajunza village headman, pointed out that before the early 1990s, market gardening was flourishing in the area although it was mainly for home consumption as opposed to being an income generating venture.
Headman Hajunza said it was unfortunate that climate is not favouring farmers at a time when market gardening has become critical to their survival amidst the challenges of climate change.
“For me to survive in gardening up to now, I had to get a K5,000 loan from Vision Fund last year with which I bought a diesel irrigation pump. Otherwise I would have followed others in the charcoal-making business,” Headman Hajunza said.
He said sustainable irrigation techniques could cushion most farmers from food insecurity as a result of climate change.
Southern Province principal agriculture officer Paul Nyambe also acknowledged the problem of shrinking water bodies.
Mr Nyambe emphasised the need for farmers to change their attitude and adopt climate-resilient technologies that are being taught through the extension services under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and other stakeholders.
He said the provincial agriculture office is concerned about the problem of shrinking steams, which he blamed on the farmers’ poor practices among them cultivating near streams leading to silting.
“While we sympathise with them, it is unfortunate that most streams in the province are shrinking due to silting and this, compounded by reduced rainfall, is not helping our farmers in the area of gardening,” Mr Nyambe said.
It is for such reasons the extension service branch was emphasising on the adoption of environmentally-friendly practices and as well as change of mindset among farmers.
“We cannot, however, run away from the fact that climate change is with us and the best answer is for our farmers to change their mindset and adapt. Agriculture today cannot be practised as it used to be done 20 years ago. Things have changed,” Mr Nyambe said.
But age-old wisdom states that to every challenge there is a solution. Farmers are seeking ways to adapt to the water problem for their continued market gardening activities.
Unfortunately, some farmers have resorted to the use of weirs – blocking part of the stream with the sole purpose of diverting the flow of water for irrigation.
But with the communal structure in the villages, this method of irrigation is a recipe for trouble.
“The ministry is discouraging the use of weirs because it disadvantages other members of the community from accessing water for other purposes,” Brighton Miyanze, Southern Province farm power and mechanisation officer said.
Mr Miyanze said the ministry has had cases where communities have come close to fighting over the usage of weirs.
With the negative impacts of climate change already being felt by smallholder farmers, especially those in low rainfall areas, some farmers and experts believe conservation agriculture remains the solution to food and income security challenges.
One such conservation farmer is Silas Muzuma of Pemba district.
“I know gardening is profitable, but food security comes first and conservation agriculture guarantees food security. Regardless of the rainfall pattern, ripped lines and basins keep enough moisture for crop resilience during drought periods for guaranteed yields.
“I feed my 13-member family without a problem. Engaging in gardening for me is a bonus just for income, otherwise, I am always food-secure through my conservation farming,” Mr Muzuma said.
With over 80 percent of Zambia’s population dependent on agriculture for livelihood, conservation farming could be a key component in sustaining the gains the country has made in the area of food security.                                          NAIS

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