Climate Story Jeffrey Gogo
Could satellite technology help medium to large-scale Zimbabwean farmers cope with the changes in climate?
We do not have a definite response to this question. But we know that advances in technology in the areas of disaster monitoring or in other mechanised farming fields are already doing this, to some extent.
Now, there is some promise of a data-driven sector in which commercial farmers harness satellite technology and the power of the internet to boost yields at a time of global warming and climate change.
Science and Technology Development minister Amon Murwira, a professor of geo-information science and earth observation, has announced plans to set up a National Geo Spatial and Space Agency, a first in Zimbabwe, for this purpose and more.
Minister Murwira says the agency will “focus on the use of air space . . . satellites to solve a number of problems including mineral discovery and agriculture monitoring”.
Zimbabwean agriculture is still very much labour-intensive, concentrated in rural areas and resettlement areas, where small-scale maize or tobacco farming flourishes.
But a few farmers are making the transition to industrial agriculture using tractors, combine harvesters, chemical fertilisers and hybrid science, which has helped boost production in recent years.
Satellite technology could be ground-breaking for farming enterprises here, where Government has over the last three years spent more than $100 million trying to mechanise agriculture, with support from the Brazilian government.
More broadly, the technology could help quicken Zimbabwe’s food security targets, in what is essentially a plan to regain lost glory.
But for that to happen farmers need seamless data connectivity.
This doesn’t look like much of a problem.
Thanks to Zimbabwe’s technological revolution in the last decade, a revolution born rather more of necessity than is deliberate, more than half of Zimbabweans are connected to the internet, either through cellular phones or personal computers, according to telecommunications regulator POTRAZ
And because risk reduction is important to farmers, “data, information and communication is central to reducing that risk.”
“Access to information is key and aid the farmer towards higher crop yields, reducing the risk of crop failure, and minimising operational costs,” says Gillian Langmead, a communications expert based in Zambia, but with interests here also.
“Connectivity is vital to having access to all the information that is available. The internet is also key to improving access to financial services, provision of agricultural information, improving data visibility for supply chain efficiency and enhancing access to markets,” she said, via email.
Zimbabwe’s economy is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, one in which agriculture plays a dominant role.
The sector contributes between 15 and 20 percent to GDP.
However, agriculture faces the greatest risk from climate change, threatening the lives and livelihoods of over 9 million people that depend on it.
Also, agriculture anchors much of the manufacturing that takes place in Zimbabwe’s industries.
Failures in the sector are more than likely to cause faults in the wider economy, giving rise to widespread socio-economic losses.
With yield declines estimated to reach 50 percent by mid-century, according predictions by the UN expert panel on climate change, never at any time before has tackling climate change in agriculture become more important.
And this not just from an adaptation perspective, but also mitigation.
The sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, accounting for 22,8 percent of the national total.
This will not be the first time that Zimbabwe has used satellite technology to tackle pressing climate-related issues.
In 2016, while still with the University of Zimbabwe, Prof Murwira – the incumbent Science and Technology Minister – led a team of scientists from the university in developing a satellite-based technology that monitors weather and flood events as they occur, as part of efforts to improve national disaster response.
The tool, which tracks water-flow following a rainfall event using satellite, predicting with some precision the likelihood of a flood within a day or so, was deployed with successful results during the flash flooding of early 2017, Minister Murwira told this publication in a previous interview.
“It is helping make decisions in the national Civil Protection Committee meetings and right now they are monitoring Cyclone Dineo using the same technology,” he said then.
Through specialised computer models, the University of Zimbabwe scientists managed to calculate and predict the probability of floods, or lack thereof, of different catchments based on the information they already know about those specific areas.
In the end, what you get is a series of maps tracking the water flow following a rainfall event, including the flood’s build up and recession.
With a limit in the accuracy of meteorological information needed to help make key decisions at times of climate-linked disasters, satellite tools can be very useful for evaluating ground conditions, providing important data for aid workers. In principle, similar intelligence can be applied in agriculture to boost crop output.
God is faithful.
Source: The Herald