Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in the Southern Africa region with an area of over 390 000 km2. It is bordered by Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia (Figure 1). It is situated between 15 and 22° south latitude and 26 and 34° east longitude. Climatic conditions are largely sub-tropical with one rainy season, between November and March. Rainfall reliability decreases from north to south and also from east to west. Only 37% of the country receive rainfall considered adequate for agriculture.
Rainfall characteristics in the five natural regions of Zimbabwe
|Area (km2)||% of total||Rainfall Characteristics|
|I||7 000||2||More than 1 050 mm rainfall per year with some rain in all months.|
|II||58 600||15||700 – 1 050 mm rainfall per year confined to summer.|
|III||72 900||18||500 – 700 mm rainfall per year. Infrequent heavy rainfall. Subject to seasonal droughts.|
|IV||147 800||38||450 – 600 mm rainfall per year. Subject to frequent seasonal droughts.|
|V||104 400||27||Normally less than 500 mm rainfall per year, very erratic and unreliable. Northern Lowveld may have more rain but topography and soils are poorer.|
Natural Region I is a specialized and diversified farming region. The region is suitable for forestry, fruit and intensive livestock production. Smallholders occupy less than 20% of the area of this region.
In Natural Region II flue-cured tobacco, maize, cotton, sugar beans and coffee can be grown. Sorghum, groundnuts, seed maize, barley and various horticultural crops are also grown. Supplementary irrigation is done for winter wheat. Animal husbandry like poultry, cattle for dairy and meat, is also practiced in. Smallholder farmers occupy only 21% of the area in this productive region.
Natural region III is a semi-intensive farming region. Smallholders occupy 39% of the area of this region. Large-scale crop production covers only 15% of the arable land and most of the land is used for extensive beef ranching. Maize dominates commercial farm production. The region is subject to periodic seasonal droughts, prolonged mid-season dry spells and unreliable starts of the rainy season. Irrigation plays an important role in sustaining crop production.
Natural regions IV and V are too dry for successful crop production without irrigation, but communal farmers have no other choice but to grow crops in these areas even without access to irrigation. Millet and sorghum are the common crops but maize is also grown. Communal farmers occupy 50% of the area of Natural Region IV and 46% of the area of Natural Region V.
The current population in Zimbabwe is about 12 million (FAOSTAT, 1999) with an estimated annual growth rate of over 3%. The annual growth in agricultural output is currently estimated at 2.5%, but fluctuates with weather conditions. Therefore, whereas in years of good rainfall the country produces enough food to feed the nation and enjoys surpluses for export, in years of drought the reverse is the case. Additionally, even in good years many households are not able to grow enough food for home consumption largely because of poverty and because of inadequate access to land. Moreover the little land they occupy is poor land in general.
Zimbabwe’s economy is driven by agriculture and the majority of the rural people depend on it for their livelihood. Moreover, about 80% of the rural population live in Natural Regions III, IV and V where rainfall is erratic and unreliable, making dryland cultivation a risky venture. The success rate of rainfed agriculture in Natural Regions IV and V has been known to be in the order of one good harvest in every four to five years.