Samuel Kadungure Senior Farming Reporter
RAINS received this week have rekindled hope among farmers after rejuvenating crops which had been left miserable and wilting due to moisture stress following weeks of intense dryness in Manicaland.
The province received deficient or scanty rains between October and December 2017, which were followed by weeks of intense dryness, which left both the dry-land tobacco and staple maize looking miserable and wilting in the scorching heat that lately brazenly blighted the province.
This left farmers yearning for rains to avoid huge loses and food insecurity, and this week the prayers were answered for those in the leeward as the heavens proved generous and released moderate showers on Monday.
However, some communal settlements in regions four and five were still to receive rains.
Rainfall is the major determinant of a successful agricultural season in Zimbabwe, and once the heavens are generous, everything else fall into place.
The Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU) executive director Mr Paul Zakaria said every drop is desperately needed as the country cannot afford to slide back, but instead build on the successes of the 2016-17 season.
“Given the intense dryness of the past weeks, any measure of rain is welcome. Every drop is desperately needed,” said Mr Zakaria.
Mr Zakaria said the truant rains, coupled with high temperatures being experienced this season point to significantly reduced yield, especially in rain-shadow regions three, four and five.
He said the lean period has also negatively affected the water levels of most farm dams and major rivers, putting even the irrigated crop at risk.
“The season was characterised by late and erratic rains, which is not a good agricultural indication as it speaks to a reduced yield,” said Mr Zakaria.
Mr Zakaria said at this juncture that the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) should play a key role of advising farmers on weather conditions and how they should respond to such challenges.
He said this is the only way farmers can make informed decisions. The MSD had predicted normal to above normal rains, raising hopes among farmers that with favourable rainfall, then, a bumper harvest was in the offing.
“It is tricky to say farmers should continue planting or not, but what they should remember is that the rainy season is just a window which cannot be extended. Planting period is mid-October to December, and anything outside that speaks to reduced yield.
“This is the critical time that the MSD should intervene and play key advisory role so that farmers can make informed decision based on scientific advice. Our weather experts should give farmers detailed updates so that they plan accordingly, and preserve resources at their disposal. Farmers need to know if the rains are coming or not and when exactly it will rain,” said Mr Zakaria.
Acting Provincial Agritex Officer Manicaland Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa said pockets of Manicaland that traditionally receive early rains and occasionally record bumper harvests have a good crop.
“We received some light rains in regions one, two and three, but in regions four and five the crop is stressed due to increasing lack of moisture. It this dry spell persists, the crop will suffer because the farmers have no means to irrigate. The crop can still be resuscitated if the stressed areas receive rains between now and next week. The delay in both frequency and severity of rains has also affected the planted area. Traditionally planting winds-up in the second week of January, but we still have many farmers who recently received inputs, but could not plant because it is dry,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
Mrs Rwambiwa, who could not divulge statistics on the planted hectarage so far and affected planted area citing restrictive protocol, said for the past two weeks maize in drier regions of the province looked miserable due to the scorching heat, raising strong fears that the cereal may not reach maturity.
Cases in point are Buhera, Makoni South, Lower parts of Chipinge, Chimanimani, Makoni North, Marange area, Nyanga North and parts of Mutasa which lie in the rain shadow, and are synonymous for small grains and cotton given their ability to endure extreme weather conditions.
In these regions huge tracts of land were also left un-tilled as the rains received were very low, highly variable and unsuitable for crop planting and production.
The inconsistent rains and heat wave are also coupled by the devastating fall armyworm that is wrecking havoc in maize fields and green pastures, putting the province at risk of failing to meet food requirements for its growing population and livestock.
Last season Manicaland received evenly distributed rains from the second week of November 2016 into late February 2017 nurturing a lush new growth of pasture grasses, refilled long-dried rivers, inland dams, cattle ponds and crops, especially the staple maize and small grains.