Published on Nasikiliza

Beyond Mopane worms: Zimbabwe's prospects for economic growth under climate variability

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Zimbabwe’s fields and forests are becoming drier. Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank

Dried, mopane worms are traditionally offered to foreigners visiting Zimbabwe as a welcoming snack. Not really worms at all, they are the caterpillars of the Emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina), hand-picked from mopane trees in the wild, their names “madora” in Shona and “amacimbi” in Ndebele a testament to their local popularity.

As such, they have long been an important source of protein in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Southern Africa, as well as an exotic delicacy—marketed as mopane worms or masonja, and salted, they even grace the shelves of smart department stores in London.
Now, climate modelers are projecting an expansion of mopane forest in Zimbabwe, but at the expense of other natural forest species, such as miombo and baikiaea. More mopane trees may not necessarily mean an increased abundance of mopane “worms,” of course—there may be other factors to consider.

But while a potential increase in tasty caterpillars doesn’t seem like a bad deal, the warmer and drier climate that suits mopane forest expansion is, in fact, a warning sign: Zimbabwe is becoming a climate change hotspot.

Facing the threat…
Climate change hotspots are zones where strong signals about the climate come together with high concentrations of vulnerable people present. Global Circulation Models (GCM) provide estimates of trends that show consistent warming in Southern Africa. For Zimbabwe, most GCMs predict drying and reduced precipitation. This is particularly worrying because about 80% of the country’s rural population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, making it highly vulnerable to the fallout of climate change.


Figure 1: Projected changes in temperature and precipitation for Zimbabwe across 20 GCMs run under the RCP 8.5 emissions scenario. Source: Industrial Economics (2017

Changes in climate variables, coupled with the extreme poverty and vulnerability of the country’s rural populations can result in climate change having a disproportionate socio-economic impact on them, as well as multi-sectoral effects.

Warmer and drier climatic trends in Zimbabwe would lead to declining yields for major crops, and a reduction in river run-off and reservoir capacity. Less rain, or decreased precipitation, would restrict the potential for hydro-electric power and water supply. Shared resources, like the Zambezi River Basin, would be hampered by reduced rain, triggering resource constraints on a broader regional scale. 

by looking ahead
Faced with these threats, the Government of Zimbabwe has increased its efforts to address climate risks strategically. It has developed a National Climate Change Response Strategy. The Cabinet also recently adopted a National Climate Policy (NCP), integral to the integration of the government’s broader actions.
With the support of the Zimbabwe Reconstruction Fund, and through the Climate Change Technical Assistance Program (ZIM-CLIM), the country is doing a number of things, such as advancing its Nationally Determined Contributions’ implementation framework; developing approaches to investments in mainstream climate change; revising its agroecological zones; and developing a strategy to mobilize climate finance.
ZIM-CLIM has identified these strategic areas for investment:
  • Scale-up climate resilient irrigation and water management infrastructure through targeted rehabilitation of on-farm reservoirs, as well as solar-powered water pumping and irrigation systems.
  • Enhance landscape management practices for increased climate resilience, land productivity, and improved livelihoods.    
  • Increase deployment of renewable energy (solar and wind) and improve energy efficiency to reduce pressure on large, shared hydro resources to reduce the risks of economic shocks linked to energy shortages.
  • Strengthen climate services, such as hydro meteorological institutions to improve the production, management, and analysis of the information needed to manage climate variability and natural disasters. 
Zimbabwe has multiple challenges to overcome to achieve a trajectory of sustained economic growth. By integrating the possible effects of climate change into every facet of resource development, its government is trying to improve the country’s changes of economic recovery and reconstruction.


Pablo Benitez

Senior Economist, Environment & Natural Resources, Africa Region

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