World Environment Day 2021: See how one farming community is defending itself against climate change

World Environment Day 2021: See how one farming community is defending itself against climate change

Sarah in her field in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. She has been farming for 25 years and in that time, changing weather patterns have affected her crop yields. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

One of the key messages of this year’s World Environment Day is that we cannot turn back time. We can, however, be the generation that makes peace with nature and make the kinds of changes that can not only ensure our survival, but that of our planet. As we prepare to mark World Environment Day this Saturday 5 May, we meet a farmer in Zimbabwe who reveals how an Oxfam initiative helped build resilience against the effects of changing rainfall patterns…


Sarah (55) is a farmer in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. For nearly 25 years, her livelihood has been at the mercy of changing weather patterns, as shifting rainfall patterns have resulted in major fluctuations in her harvests.

Where we expect it to rain [in October or November], it doesn’t rain so what we have planted doesn’t grow well because the rain hasn’t come as expected.

In 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline, one of the strongest storms to hit south-eastern Africa, damaged the main canals on the north bank of the Nyanyadzi River, which Sarah and her family rely on to irrigate their land.

“We woke up to a field full of sand with all the crops gone,” she says. After the storm, the canals were covered with silt. To gain access to water, farmers had to shovel the canals out.

Since then, people in Nyanyadzi have been vulnerable to weather extremes, from frequent heavy rain to prolonged drought. At times, Sarah says, she has gone a month and a half without water.

Sarah is a widow and the sole provider of income and care for her children. What her family eats comes from her fields, so if her harvest is damaged, they might not be able to eat.

Sarah checks the water level at the Nyanyadzi River. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

It’s not just the crops that are affected, I wake up every day and say that I am going to work so that I can send my children to school... While I am working, I will be hoping that the crops I plant grow well, so that my children can survive, go to school, and have something to eat.

Adapting agriculture practices that protect farmers from the harmful effects of climate change

In 2014, Oxfam and partner organisations implemented Scaling up Adaptation in Zimbabwe, a project to support rural farming communities and build climate resilience. Sarah and members of her community received lessons in water management and irrigation infrastructure, including training in gabion basket-making (gabions are structures that control erosion) and construction of gully plugs (small dams that help conserve soil moisture) and silt traps. This new set-up stopped silt from moving into canals.

Now, with the canals functioning as they should, Sarah can do her job. She points out that there were no breakdowns or water shortages this year.

Sarah sells her tomatoes at the market. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

When Cyclone Idai devastated southern Africa in 2019, Sarah was mostly spared. She lost some land when the Odzi River flooded, but she considers herself lucky compared to the damages to property and loss of life others had to endure. However, the pipe that collects water was swept away. This issue has yet to be fixed. Without support, Sarah says it will have an effect on the community’s ability to secure water.

I am good farmer. If I get enough water, and I have my inputs, I really have a good farming season.

The climate crisis is affecting people in every country on every continent, but it is those with the fewest resources – like farmers in Sarah’s community – who are enduring its harshest affects. By the 2030s, large parts of Southern, Eastern, and the Horn of Africa, and South and East Asia will experience greater exposure to droughts, floods, and tropical storms.

Along with our partners, we are working with communities vulnerable to climate change, providing them with the vital adaptation techniques they need to continue to feed their families and earn an income.