CLIMATE INFORMATION SERVICES IN SOUTH EASTERN SEMI –ARID REGIONS OF ZIMBABWE
Smallholder farming communities in Zimbabwe‘s semi-arid regions depend on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. However, changing climatic conditions have increased the risks of depending on agriculture as a source of living, amidst limited access to climate information. With increased variability in weather and climate and associated uncertainties, traditional extension approaches and methods are no longer able to meet the demands of farmers, particularly their access to climate information and advisories. In many cases, not much is known on how those farmers with access to climate information respond to the information and the concomitant adaptive mechanisms they implement. It is against this background that a study was carried out in the south-eastern semi-arid regions of Zimbabwe, covering Gutu, Chirumanzu and Zvishavane districts. The main objective of the study was to examine the effectiveness of extension approaches in climate information dissemination for improved farmer adaptive capacity. A mixed method research approach was employed in a multi-disciplinary team comprising of natural and social scientists. Both qualitative and quantitative research designs were employed and these included case study design, household survey and a quasi-experiment. For this study, 380 (48%) respondents aged 30 years and above were purposefully selected from a generic dataset. Two treatment groups with 6 farmers who had received primary Short Message Service (SMS) weather forecast messages in the 2014/15 rainy season and the other groupwith 6 Non-SMS recipients were assessed. The study presents the following findings and conclusions in line with the study objectives: Perceived key issues and challenges with regards to climate change and its impact on livelihoods differed from community to community despite the fact that respondents were from the same livelihoods zone. There were significant differences (p<0.05) in what communities perceived as causes of climate variability with previous access to formal training on climate change associated with a more scientific understanding of climate change compared to the general population of farmers who leaned towards religious and traditional attributions for climate change.However, such training was not related to how the farmers responded to weather forecasts in the adaptive strategies employed cope with weather and climate variability. Whilst communities agreed iv rainfall was the major weather parameter of concern, there were significant differences (p=0.00) in the perceived changes in rainfall patterns and distribution across sites. The majority of the rural households in the study area of Gutu, Chirumanzu and Zvishavane districts, 97-99%, rely on rain-fed cropping as a major source of livelihoods while only 35-40% relied on less risky off-farm activities as major sources of livelihoods. Communities employed a diversity of short-term coping strategies and long-term adaptation strategies to meet their livelihoods requirements. There were no major differences in the diversity of climate extension service providers across the districts though trends indicated a shift from relying on traditional forecasts and indigenous knowledge systems to more science based forecasts. Community ratings of effectiveness of extension methods and channels of communication were related to geographical location of respondents. There were significant differences (p<0.05) in perceived sources and diversity of major channels of communication across the three districts. No general conclusion could be drawn on effectiveness of extension methods in disseminating climate information using community ratings as much depended on who was responding and location of respondent. The study provides evidence that primary access to climate information through SMS influenced responses and actions taken by smallholder farmersto adapt to weather and climate forecasts to a certain extent. The study provides evidence that primary SMS recipientshad the ability to plant the appropriate crops and varieties resulting in increased yield of sorghum and millets. This could be attributed to climate information received in time to carry out appropriate agronomic practices. However, the SMS platform was not the only source of climate information. Other factors that influenced the adaptive agricultural strategies that smallholder farmers implemented were socio-cognitive and included factors such as attitudes, age and previous experience; whether or not the respondent was a member of a farming group and had access to micro finance.The study provides evidence that multiple extension strategies for disseminating climate informationmay be more effective than a reliance on a single method of extension. This assertion was supported by the multiplicity of extension methods that farmers indicated worked best for them in the survey. v The study, therefore, recommends institutional reforms and enabling policies at macro level, and at micro level an integration of climate communication strategies, integration and diversity in extension approaches, recognition of local level climate information generators, co-generation of climate and agricultural data and provision of an enabling environment to enhance access to climate information and adaptive capacity of communities in semi-arid regions. The implications for development are depicted in the proposed climate communication model and extension model. The model promotes dialogue and recommends the concept of information /knowledge brokers in communicating climate information.