Prospects of good rains good, but region needs to plan adequately for new season

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With regional climate experts having forecast a good rainy season across the SADC region for the period October-November-December, governments in member states need to plan adequately for the forthcoming agricultural season in order to avert hunger.

As we report elsewhere in this issue, the regional rainfall pattern for the 2019/20 agricultural season is encouraging as parts of Southern Africa are expected to receive adequate rainfall in the first half of the season. This is an improvement from the previous season where less rainfall resulted in adverse impacts on agriculture, water resources and hydropower generation in most of the region.

The latest outlook produced by regional climate experts who met recently in Angola forecasts that there will be “normal-to-above-normal” across most of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between October and December 2019.

Given that most countries in the SADC region are heavily dependent on agriculture, good rains would be a boon for their economies while poor rains spell doom for the people of the region. 

But as we have said before, it is time countries in the region moved away from heavily relying on rain-fed agriculture.  There is a need for serious investment in dams and irrigation infrastructure to mitigate the effects of climate change which have seen intermittent droughts sweeping across Africa.

While we welcome prospects of a good rainy season, we call upon SADC member states to plan carefully and ensure that adequate measures are put in place to deal with issues of security and disaster in the event of flash flooding.

This does not augur well for Southern Africa given that some parts of the region are still reeling from a cyclone that hit parts of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe in March this year. And with the effects of climate change likely to cause havoc not only in the region but around the world, we believe it is time for leaders in the region to think outside the box and come up with sound measures against the effects of droughts, floods and pest invasions.

We believe the region can adequately plan for rains to feed its people, as well as droughts if there is political will by governments to invest in dams and irrigation systems that would ensure countries do not have to wait for the rainy seasons, but can plant crops year round. Already, countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are reeling from serious power outages due to low rains last season which reduced power generation.  Perhaps it is time governments in the region seriously consider alternative forms of power, other than hydro-electricity, in view of the effects of climate change. 

Examples abound elsewhere in the world where other forms of power generation such as wind and solar are sustaining nations. In terms of agriculture, arid countries have gone on to develop their agricultural systems such that they do not feel the effects of droughts. As we have mentioned in the past, if a country like Israel, which is largely desert, can develop its agriculture to a point of being a net exporter of food, what stops countries in Southern Africa from doing the same?

The region is endowed with good climate and has fairly large rivers which could be dammed for agricultural purposes.  We see no reason why year in and year out, countries watch millions of cubic metres of water flowing to the Indian and Atlantic oceans, but sit and mourn about poor rains.

It’s sad that even countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe that have invested a lot of money in developing dams still rely on rain-fed agriculture when they could develop irrigation systems to grow crops all year around.

We believe it is time for the region’s leaders to put their shoulders to the wheel and develop a sophisticated agriculture system that will not only result in food security in Southern Africa, but also for the export market and in turn, lead economic growth.  The region is endowed with good soils and a splendid climate for sound agricultural production.

While not much can be done by regional countries to prevent floods, as happened last year, we believe rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by floods should take priority.  We also believe in an early warning system to warn about impending disasters and where possible, efforts should be taken to make sure people are not settled in flood prone areas.

As we have reported before, the region is going to experience more such climate calamities due to the climate change and this therefore calls for redoubling of efforts to mitigate the effects on the populace.    

It is also time for SADC countries to be on high alert for pests, and take corrective measures before these deal a devastating blow to crops.  Over the past few seasons, a new pest, the fall armyworm which is believed to have originated from the Americas, has dealt a huge blow on crop yields in the region.  We urge agricultural experts to be on high alert for such pests and come up with lasting solutions as to how these should be controlled.

Agriculture plays a pivotal role not only in Southern Africa, but the entire continent and this therefore calls for concerted efforts to develop it so that we kick hunger and poverty out of Africa. 

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