Initiatives to use biotechnology for adaptation: Climate change in Zimbabwe

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Writes Dr. Deckster Tony Savadye, CEO and Registrar of the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, like any other country in the world, has experienced climate change. The country has been experiencing frequent droughts, the emergence of new diseases and pests, and also increase in temperatures.

The adverse effects of climate change have therefore affected food production systems and the health and well-being of people and animals and there is a need to take action to adapt to climate change. As a nation, Zimbabwe has already started to make initiatives to use technology and in particular, biotechnology to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The application of biotechnology covers the various areas of the economy, including agriculture, the mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy, health for both humans and animals, management of the environment in general, and the industrialization of the economy.

The increasing frequency and severity of drought has negatively affected food production. So in addition to the building of dams and strengthening the irrigation capacity of the nation, there is also a parallel process aimed at developing different crop varieties of crops that are tolerant to drought and resistant to diseases and pests.

Biotechnology applications championed by the National Biotechnology Authority in collaboration with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, and Fisheries have created a conducive environment to conduct research and development for new crop varieties adapted to climate change. The main target crops have been maize (staple food), cotton, and soya beans.

The use of molecular biology, genetics, and various breeding technologies has led to crop varieties that are resistant to drought, emerging diseases, and pests. Working with the Ministry of Lands, seed companies, and research agencies have seen new varieties being tried and released into the market.

For example, the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre has commercialised several maize varieties that are drought tolerant, the most popular being SIRDAMAIZE113.

Research on crops has also looked at popularising the production of local indigenous grain crops namely sorghum, millets, cowpeas, and fortified beans. These crops are well-adapted to Zimbabwe and have natural drought and disease-resistant traits. Coupled with improved crop varieties and good agronomic practices, especially the Pfumvudza Concept, Zimbabwe has been able to produce sufficient food at the household level, thereby ensuring food and nutritional security.

Another initiative for adaptation to climate change taken by Zimbabwe is the effective, efficient, and sustainable use of natural resources. Of particular mention is the collaboration between the National Biotechnology Authority and rural communities to process and add value to naturally occurring indigenous fruits.

The first project was undertaken in the Mwenezi District of Masvingo Province, where a factory was established at Rutenga to process mapfura or marula fruits.

The Mapfura/Marula Value Addition Factory was launched by His Excellency the President of Zimbabwe, Cde DR. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa on the 25th of October 2021. The factory has since gone into production and processes Marula fruits in beverages, wines, oil, and other by-products.

The marula fruits thrive in times of drought when most crops fail and the establishment of the factory has provided alternative means of livelihood for the local community.

The Mapfura/Marula Value Addition Project making use of traditional Biotechnology has provided a good model for rural industrialisation in addition to being a means of adaptation to climate change.

The model, based on the Philosophy of Heritage-based Education 5.0, has since been adopted by other districts, provinces, and institutions in Zimbabwe. The Bikita and the Muzarabani Rural District Councils have since provided land to the National Biotechnology Authority to undertake industrial projects for processing and value-adding fruit found naturally in those respective areas. There is still a lot of potential in producing food, medicines, and industrial products based on natural resources found in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe, led by the National Biotechnology Authority, has taken many bold steps to adapt to climate change using local resources and home-grown solutions. The application of Biotechnology, together with other emerging technologies will no doubt help Zimbabwe to mitigate the negative effects of climate change with scaling up of the initiatives being taken.

Zimbabwe will no doubt maintain a positive national development trajectory even in the face of climate change. Biotechnology applications will stimulate the production of an increasing number of products and services for the nation using locally available resources to satisfy both local and export markets.