Dry spell anxiety grips farmers

The Chronicle

Chronicle Reporters
ANXIETY has gripped farmers in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces following a prolonged dry spell, which is threatening to cripple this year’s harvest as crops have started wilting due to moisture stress.

Despite projections of a normal to above normal rainfall in both the first and second-half of the 2021/2022 cropping season, farmers now fear for the worst should the dry spell persist beyond this week.

The dry spell, which has persisted for about three weeks in some parts of the country has caused moisture stress on crops, which are mostly at vegetative stage, which is the most critical when crops require enough water to mature.

Over 2,5 million hectares had been put under cropping nationally by February 1 with 1 563 200 hectares of maize planted.
With only a month left before the normal rain season comes to an end, agronomists have warned that if the dry spell continues, the current crop is likely to be declared a complete write off.

A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited selected peri-urban farms in Umguza District in Matabeleland North, parts of Matabeleland South and Midlands where it observed that maize at tasseling and grain filling stage had been severely affected with most of the crop showing signs of wilting.

Mr Isaac Phiri and his wife Mrs Sibongile Phiri tour their wilting maize crop in Hope Fountain, Umguza District yesterday

Some farmers who planted sugar beans said the crop was now under threat from cutworms.

Mr Isaac Phiri, a farmer at Hope Fountain in Umguza District said: “This is now scary because the rains have disappeared and my fear is that my crops will be a write off.

“I managed to put two hectares of maize under Pfumvudza/Intwasa Programme and all along I was hopeful that I would be able to deliver at least 20 bags to GMB.”

Another farmer from the same area, Ms Maggie Sibanda, a widow, said: “My crops have started wilting because of the dry spell. I started very well, but from the look of things we are doomed as the prolonged dry spell is beginning to take its toll on my crops.”

Ms Sibanda said she had managed to earn a good harvest from the last season due to good rains.

Mr David Sibanda of Mahatshula suburb said the season had begun well and was promising but now all hope was fading away.

Matabeleland North provincial agronomist Ms Zenzele Ndlovu, however, said some crops could be saved if rains come now.

“Without the rains farmers are in extreme danger. From our crop assessment, we also observed that small grains, which had initially been enduring drought have started wilting,” she said.

“If the dry spell continues it means there will be a reduction in yield, which will be a great loss to the farmer. Some of the crops that we hoped would soon be harvested have started wilting.”

Ms Ndlovu said supplementary irrigation was the only option in the wake of poor rains.

“Without the rain, nothing will come out from the fields except for farmers irrigating their crops. Our worst fear is that if it doesn’t rain next week, we are likely to encounter disaster,” she said.

Ms Ndlovu said farmers have also been affected by the outbreak of fall armyworm, which increases in dry times. She said the ministry was currently conducting a livestock and crop assessment exercise in the province and the results will be out at the beginning of March.

Ms Sithembile Ndlovu, an agricultural extension officer in Umguza, said farmers in her district were also affected by their failure to make early land preparation.

“We advised farmers to mulch their fields in the event of erratic rains to avoid evaporation, but sadly this area doesn’t have enough pastures and all the grass is depleting,” she said.

In Matabeleland South Province, crops under Intwasa/ Pfumvudza programme are in a fair condition with farmers still optimistic of a good harvest. Government adopted Intwasa/Pfumvudza to address the problem of low production and productivity, which continued to negatively affect food security in Zimbabwe.

The concept promotes climate proofing agriculture by adopting conservation farming techniques and involves the utilisation of small pieces of land and application of the correct agronomic practices for higher returns.

A farmer from Matjinje area in Gwanda, Mr Christopher Nleya, said while the weather patterns have been harsh for the past weeks, he was hopeful that he would harvest something from his Intwasa/Pfumvudza plots.

“The maize, which isn’t under Intwasa has started to wilt and it we don’t receive rains by next week all will be lost,” he said.

Mr Thembani Moyo from Garanyemba said despite embracing Intwasa/Pfumvudza programme, the heat was too much of late and crops were generally wilting.

He, however, said he was likely to salvage traditional grains and crops, which are more resilient.

Acting provincial agricultural officer for Matabeleland South, Mr Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu said the province has 10 000 hectares of maize crop under the Intwasa/Pfumvudza Programme.

While the Intwasa crop was doing well there was need for farmers to irrigate their crop to extend life.

“This time around we were urging farmers to have at least three plots under Intwasa/Pfumvudza so that at least they can harvest something in case of poor rains. Crops that were planted under the programme are in a fair condition and farmers are expecting a good harvest,” he said.

“The rest of the maize crop which was planted using the traditional method, especially in the dry parts of the province is in a bad state.”

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Dr Shadreck Makombe said the situation was worrying in most parts of the country.

“In some areas the crops are now a write off and cannot recover even if we get the rains soon. Farmers under Pfumvudza or Intwasa can save their crops through supplemental irrigation since their plots are small,” he said.

Agriculture expert Mr Ivan Craig said when rains fall farmers must harness as much rain as possible storing it in the soil and then fully using it.

In Midlands Province, crops have already started showing signs of wilting and moisture stress.

The situation has resulted in some farmers turning to dam water to irrigate their crops to avoid total loss while those who rely on rains continue singing the blues.

Provincial director, Agricultural and Rural Development Services, Mrs Medeline Magwenzi said the situation was not good.

“The situation in the province is pathetic to rainfed crops especially maize. The crop is already showing signs of temporary wilting and we are praying that rains come at any time this week otherwise it will be a disaster,” she said.

“Maize is the worst affected as most farmers had applied fertilisers during the time when rains were falling abundantly and all of a sudden, we are in the midst of this heat, which has negatively impacted on the crop.”

Mrs Magwenzi said cotton and sorghum were also uncharacteristically showing signs of wilting.

“This is the time when cotton should be blooming but it is already showing water stress signs. This is the critical stage where rains are needed since the crops are early vegetation and late vegetation crops,” she said.

Midlands Province had surpassed its maize target after it put 296 628ha under maize against a target of 285 000ha.

According to the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) rains are expected in Matabeleland South and Masvingo provinces today but the outlook is still dry for most parts. Isolated thunderstorms occurred in all Mashonaland provinces, Harare Metropolitan and Matabeleland South on Monday.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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