Simulation models alert on impacts of climate change and need for smarter farming policies in Zimbabwe

Integrated simulation modelling conducted by agricultural researchers continue to point to huge impending social and economic impacts from climate change in Zimbabwe. The impacts were measured with various indicators for economic development, nutrition and food security and reveal that more than half the population is vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change. The outcomes point to an urgent need for implementing ‘research-informed’ climate-smart farming policies in Zimbabwe, given its international and national climate change commitments.

Agriculture accounts for 20% of Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product. It has potential for growth with the right investment and policy environment. However, there is a mismatch between specific farming systems, proposed policies, climate-change adaptation interventions and the allocation of financial and technical resources. Research-based decision support tools can help implement effective policies towards climate proofing Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector and increasing its resilience to shocks and stresses by envisioning the future of sustainable approaches to food security and economic growth.

Scenarios guide climate-change adaptation decisions

In response to the need for research-informed climate-change adaptation actions, a workshop was organized on the theme “Building Agriculture’s Future Scenarios: Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainability”. The goal was to inform agricultural development and climate change adaptation at local-to-national levels and address policy decision gaps. The workshop was designed as a learning dialogue. Researchers met with Government and development representatives on the use of AgMIP decision support tools for climate-change adaptation processes.

A number of future scenarios i.e. Representative Agricultural Pathways (RAPs) were presented to guide decision makers in Zimbabwe in understanding the impact of policy decisions for climate-change adaptation planning processes in the agricultural sector. Figure 1.

The RAPs seek to answer the question of what would happen should Zimbabwe continue agricultural and climate policy investments following any of these pathways (Figure 2).

The RAPs have illustrated that it is important to get agricultural policies right to support the transition to resilient and sustainable development and adaptation strategies by involving all actors through:

Farm and market dynamics: Increased diversification, integration and value addition for crops and livestock, combining biodiversity, sustainable land use and value chain approaches to sustainably intensify agricultural production and increase market offtake.

Capacity building and networking: Investment in institutional capacity and human skills, stakeholder driven and cross-disciplinary joint ventures, financial inclusiveness, gender responsiveness and equality so that sustainable agricultural production systems can evolve.

Influencing policy: Political will enabling policies and risk management, enhanced policy implementation, undergoing regular review in support of national sustainable development goals and climate change adaptation and mitigation planning.

Designing policies and coping mechanisms: Making farming systems more resilient to shocks (e.g. COVID-19).

A critical challenge was identified to bridge the gap between policy, research and what is happening on the ground, so that implemented strategies speak to challenges in climate change adaptation, within particular farming systems. The current gaps are a result of an unstable political and economic environment, competition over resources and institutional weaknesses. As such, policy processes are fragmented top-down with limited interface to using research-based evidence.

Policy makers need to invest in tools that enable policy to action processes based on research needs. Researchers on the other hand, should involve policy makers in the research design, execution, and results process to allow uptake of key messages that can be used for decision-making. This two-way process requires capacity building on both fronts.

Modeling the future of agriculture and food security

The AgMIP Regional Integrated Assessment (AgMIP RIA) help address complexity and capture local conditions by characterizing farming systems relationships and key components. The AgMIP RIA builds on the RAP scenarios to illustrate farming systems in the present and the future. The RIA includes projected climate scenarios (changes in temperature and precipitation), bio-physical conditions like soil fertility, crop and livestock management, crop production and household information to project a range of economic and food security indicators for defined communities and farm types, and how they interact with climate change. Click here for an example from Nkayi District.

Words in action

  • Workshop participants drew action plans that would allow addressing the collaboration issue:
  • Widening cross-scale dialogue: Begin with a virtual awareness creation workshop, stakeholder testimonials to establish buy-in. Policy dialogue events follow that showcase key results, partnering with Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit, and developing policy relevant key messages and briefs.
  • Evidence impact for upscaling: Feedback and strategic links to Government Ministries, sharing of results through their websites and information channels, to support continuity. As a consortium it is more effective to access funding mechanisms, e.g. Green Climate Fund, NAPs, NDCs.
  • In-country capacity development, presenting research results beyond AgMIP: National teams need to trust, understand and apply research methods and results, for different farming systems, with methods evolving as policies change.
  • A continuous and long-term process to account for changes in current conditions, shocks and changes in political conditions.

Participant feedback

Models are necessary, as research is costly, and the models can assist us making decisions towards the future. Ms Dorah Mwenye, Department of Research and Specialists Services, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, Zimbabwe.

The scenarios help determine mechanisms and interventions, what to do to remove barriers that hinder implementation of adaptation. Ms Chiedza Saungweme, Principal Economist, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, Zimbabwe.

Acknowledgements: The workshop held on April 14-16 in Zimbabwe was financially supported by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, and the CGIAR Research Program CCAFS. The views expressed herein are those of the creators and do not necessarily represent those of the organizations.


Dr Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Chitedze Research Station, Lilongwe, Malawi;
Dr Roberto Valdivia, Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA; and
Busani Bafana, Science Writer, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Edited by Jemima Mandapati, Senior Officer-Communications, ICRISAT.