Indigenous African Templates and Climate Change

Published on 15th August 2023

In ancient Great Zimbabwe, as early as the 9th Century, traditional agrarian solutions to climate change were ingrained and taught in the Shona indigenous way of life. Ancient people of Zimbabwe understood the seasons; correctly discerned rainfall patterns, predicted droughts and guarded against natural floods and harvested water for the dry seasons. They supplicated their ancestors and God (Mwari) for sufficient rains and bountiful crops.

Many Shona traditional agrarian practices, and even linguistic phrases, allude to the fact that Climate Change is not a new phenomenon; but has been exacerbated in modern times by colonial industrialisation, urbanisation and the loss of institutional knowledge on conservation of natural resources and climate proofing. Late Iron Age archaeological evidence of farming show that the indigenous ancients of Great Zimbabwe practised conservation agriculture termed today as ‘pfumvudza’. They also trenched canals and practised water harvesting to ensure maximum usage of water. Water conservation methods of farming were widespread and practised traditionally in Zimbabwe. The technique of sowing multiple seeds with minimal tilling prevented soil leaching, while yielding a greater harvest, using organic fertilisers. Good seed was meticulously selected and preserved for the following season. Evaporation was retarded by covering the fields with natural organic matter.

Kusanduka kwemwaka (the changing of traditional conventional seasons); kushanduka kwemamiriro ekunze (the changes in weather patterns) are old indigenous Shona phrases that demonstrate an awareness of the whims and vagaries of nature and the weather.

Architecturally MaDzimbawhe and other lesser-known fortresses and stone buildings around Zimbabwe were ecologically climate-proofed structures through the terraced landscapes; and spiritually through the cultural beliefs and norms.  The climate was considered to be part of our African natural heritage.

Zimbabwe has shown great commitment to addressing climate change issues by being among the first countries to ratify the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, and has “...demonstrated its willingness to contribute to the preservation of the global climate for sustainable development through the formulation of the Zimbabwe National Environmental Policy and Strategies” which covers issues of climate change. But, as I mentioned in a previous article titled ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies in Zimbabwe’, more needs to be done today to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Numerous conferences and policymaking alone will not mitigate global warming and the various other ramifications of climate change currently affecting Africa, and Zimbabwe specifically. As carbon emissions continue unabated worldwide, Zimbabwe has not been spared the effects of global warming.  The effects of global warming are mostly felt hardest by the world’s poorest communities, and Africa, in particular, is frequently experiencing extreme weather variability.

According to the meteorological services of Zimbabwe, since 1987, the country has experienced its six warmest years on record, with daily minimum and maximum temperatures rising by about 2°C over the past century. Evidence from historical records show that Zimbabwe’s mean annual surface temperature has risen by about 0.10C every 10 years (~0.9°C between 1901 and 2018) whereas rainfall has undergone significant variations during the same period. Total annual rainfall does not show any significant trend, but intra-seasonal characteristics (such as onset/cessation dates, frequency of droughts/ floods, mid-season dry spells and the frequency of occurrence of heavy rainfall events) have undergone significant modifications.

Over the past two decades, the country had to deal with 10 droughts, decreased freshwater and destroyed biodiversity.  Recent research indicates that surface water resources within the country will reduce significantly by 2080 as a result of climate change.  The western and southern parts of Zimbabwe are projected to dry up, leaving a large part of the population at risk of water shortages; millions of Zimbabweans will face hunger and poverty as a result.

For Zimbabwe to reduce its emissions, the country needs to enact laws that promote the use of cleaner sources of energy and introduce policies that allow for sustainable environmental changes.

Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts despite its low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  Seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa. In 2015, four African countries ranked among the 10 countries most affected: Mozambique (1st), Malawi (3rd), Ghana and Madagascar (joint in 8th position). Despite having contributed the least to global warming and having the lowest emissions, Africa faces exponential collateral damage, posing systemic risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture, livestock and livelihoods. 

Climate-related loss and damage is escalating across Africa, with many countries experiencing new forms of climate impact of increasing intensity, threatening to undo the modest development gains achieved to date and slip into higher levels of extreme poverty. As a result, many national governments across Africa are initiating adaptation programmes which focus on mechanisms such as disaster risk management, public awareness, adjustments to relevant technologies and scientific-based approaches to farming. However, according to estimates by a 2013 UN Environment Programme study, most African countries cannot fund these projects and require funding from developed countries. It is estimated that Africa will need investments of over $US3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030 in order to implement its NDCs.  However, many of their commitments are conditional upon receiving adequate financial, technical and capacity building support.

A UNEP-commissioned research estimates that the cost of adapting to climate change across Africa could reach US$50 billion a year by 2050, if the global temperature increase is kept within 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris Agreement reached at COP21, all countries agreed to take collective action on climate change to keep global temperature increases to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.  The grave consequences, especially for Africa, of a temperature increase above 1.5°C were highlighted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (2018). 

In mitigation, African countries, including Zimbabwe, have outlined bold aspirations to build climate resilient and low-carbon economies in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. Having signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, nearly all African countries have committed to enhancing climate action through reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience. Yet, as of November 2019, 49 African countries out of 54 had ratified their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Climate change has proved to be a global catastrophe threatening human survival and the regeneration of earth’s natural resources.  Climate change is a major threat to Africa’s achieving of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Zimbabwe is committed to sharing knowledge, globally, that will enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. Thus, for the African continent, including Zimbabwe, action and adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change is vital and urgent. 

By Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, DPVM.

The author is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. E-mail: [email protected]

Courtesy: The Patriot


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