DEFICIENT rains in Manicaland are a cause for a big worry. The situation is more alarming as it has dampened all hopes of a bumper harvest to build on the 2016/17 season’s success. Farmers are helplessly watching as agricultural gains get erased due to unfavourable weather.
Even the agriculture extension officer (Manicaland) Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa, who get daily updates from extension officers across the province on Wednesday warned that there was likely to be less water available for the crops due to dry weather. Mrs Rwambiwa acknowledged that the current dry spell has adverse implications for the overall productivity of crops.
More than half of the province is affected. The province last had a heavy pound around Christmas last year and what followed was a prolonged dry spell. The water level in reservoiurs has fallen significantly compared to previous years. Many on-farm dams, which do not usually dry up this time of the season, are also alarmed by the dry spell. Water levels in major rivers and dams are diminishing fast.
The dry spell has also scorched pastures especially in communal areas. Severe heat, made worse in some areas by drought, has already gripped the province and prospects are for even more of the abnormal heat. Average temperatures for the summer so far been hovering around 38 degrees Celsius, instead of averaging temperature of around 20, and combined with a heat wave — this has worsened conditions in many parts of Manicaland.
Abnormally dry conditions now encompass most of the province such that weather experts had to advise people to take an afternoon break, or siesta, to limit strenuous work and sun exposure during the hottest part of the day. The health effects include heat stroke and severe sunburn as well as the compounding of effects from such conditions as diabetes and heart problems.
In all this, crop losses have mounted across Manicaland, one of the country’s top breadbaskets, which accounted for nearly 300 000 metric tonnes of grain last season. The drought, made worse by the high temperatures and blazing sun, has also laid waste thousands of hectares of land which have not been planted land.
There is no immediate relief is in sight. The extremeness of drought did not change following the light showers received on Wednesday this week. Fears are that if the showers do not intensify, the crop situation might worsen as the little moisture gets wiped through evaporation by the blazing sun. Farmers should not put their eggs in one basket.
They should not be obsessed with cropping, but diversify. They must complement crop husbandry with livestock, fisheries and wildlife farming and broaden their livelihoods. On the same footing, Government and Non-Governmental Organisations must intensify training of these farmers in basic livestock extension.
With livestock gaining more prominence after the launch of Command Livestock, Fisheries and Wildlife, training farmers on livestock production and management must be prioritised. It is critical. Since the province no longer receive enough rainfall to sustain crop production, it is better to also focus on livestock. Sometimes, rural communities only need more knowledge and exposure to new ideas and innovations to improve their condition.
The drought, apart from taking its toll on many crops, has also reduced pasture production and water bodies in many parts of the province. This means livestock will also be affected. Thus farmers must prepare supplementing their feedings with hay to improve and sink alternative sources of water for their livestock. Farmers may also need to destock to manage the breeding herd.
They should improve management of their herd to reduce vulnerability from blackleg, a bacterial infection that can take hold during drought.