Fueled by climate change, Zimbabwe's erratic harvests cause farmers with HIV to struggle

Tarisai Mubhoyi, 43, farms her field of ground nuts that she's been able to grow despite the drought.

Mwenezi, Zimbabwe (CNN)Jemitias Denhere shakes his head as he explains why, despite being a specialist in soil management and crop production, he specializes in beef livestock.

The district agronomist -- plants specialist -- owns 27 hectares of land in the Mwenezi area of southern Zimbabwe, a particularly arid location. Here, farmers endure extreme weather challenges such as drought and flash flooding -- and, thus, some of the highest food shortages.
His cattle can exist on the little grass that remains during dry times, but to produce crops without irrigation is risky -- so he decided against it. "One year, you win; one year, you will fail; repeat," he said.
    But over the past five years, the situation has become worse.
      One of the rising uncertainties climate change is bringing to the country: The rains have come much later, with the November rainy season beginning as late as January -- and when it comes, there's less of it, sometimes falling for just one day.
      "We're experiencing the worst style of drought. If we receive rains, it will be like a cyclone: very violent, too windy. Very erratic. So you cannot bank on it. Things are changing every day."
      As a result, maize, the staple diet of rural Zimbabweans, can no longer be counted on with traditional farming methods.
        Denhere, a university-educated professional who has trained in Brazil and China, is one of the lucky ones, with a salary as the district agronomist and 25 cattle.
        But about 80% of Zimbabwe's population -- rising to 90% in this area -- are subsistence farmers, meaning they rely on rain-fed agriculture to feed themselves and their families.
        Life as a farmer in Zimbabwe is tough, with lack of water, poor sanitation and little food. It's common to have only one or two meals a day of sadza, a porridge dish. Extreme weather is adding to the problem, with most agreeing that conditions are very different from 20 or 30 years ago.
        Jemitias Denhere, Agriculture Officer, teaches a class of farmers from across Mwenezi at the Red Cross farming school.

        'Gambling on the rainfall '

        Tadios Chikuko, 44, began farming as a boy and inherited his parents' land in the small village of Mharadze in Mwenezi district, about 100 miles from the South African border. He says the weather started to change dramatically in 2000.
        Traditionally, he has grown maize in the red clay soil, on one field around his compound and another 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away. But he's had to diversify to feed his family of four sons and two daughters, aged between 9 and 22, as well as his wife and sister-in-law.
        He now plants small grains such as sorghum and finger millet, as well as velvet beans because they are naturally more resistant to drought and have shorter seasons, so there is less risk if a whole harvest is lost.
        "Previously, we could rely on the weather. Now, we are gambling on the rainfall."
        Food shortages are already acute. The Zimbabwean government estimates that more than 2.4 million people in rural areas will face acute food insecurity at the peak of the current "lean season" of January to March.
        Tadios Chikuko, 44, with his son Apology, 18.