Tough season for farmers

droughtElita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
Farmers have described the 2015/ 16 summer cropping season as tough as their crops and livestock have succumbed to drought, severely threatening household food security.

In some parts of the country, maize has been declared a write-off while livestock especially in Matabeleland, Masvingo and some parts of Midlands have started succumbing to drought.

Cotton, which is drought tolerant, is also being affected by the poor rains.

The farmers said the situation was made worse by the fact that they are coming out of another bad season and did not yield much in terms of food for household and livestock sustenance.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Davis Marapira yesterday confirmed that little was going to come out of this farming season due to the drought.

He said all crops including tobacco had been affected by the drought.

“We cannot expect much from maize because even if the rains come, the crop will not improve in most areas. We could have realised a better yield from irrigated tobacco, but the crop was affected by power cuts during planting.

“The dry-land crop was affected by the delays and erratic rains and not much will come from there. This year, we are at 95 percent El Niño and this is not good for agriculture. Farmers should have been irrigating, but the rivers have dried up due to siltation,” he said.

Zimbabwe National Farmers Union vice president, Mr Garikayi Msika yesterday said the situation was bad even for those with irrigation facilities due to high evaporation.

“The temperatures are so high that even farmers with irrigation are facing challenges.

“This is one of the worst years in agriculture. We are not looking forward to any meaningful harvest. Even cotton growing areas are affected by the drought,” he said.

Mr Msika said circumstances are forcing farmers to take drastic measures like selling their livestock to get money to buy food and also to save the remaining herd.

He urged farmers to consider moisture conserving techniques to salvage the current crops.

“Farmers can use drip irrigation instead of flood irrigation that wastes water. Farmers can also plant other small pieces of crops such as sweet potatoes, beans and vegetables that can be irrigated on a small scale. Irrigation should not always be mechanical, farmers can irrigate with buckets on a small piece of land and be assured of food,” he said.

Zimbabwe Farmer’s Union agriculture economist, Mr Prince Kuipa said the season was bad in that farmers only save food until the next harvest as they do not have facilities to store grain for several years.

“The other problem is that farmers heavily rely on rain-fed agriculture for crop and livestock production. The pastures are not irrigated as farmers rely on rains. Now the rivers have dried up and farmers do not have access to water,” he said.

Mr Kuipa urged Government to invest in modern irrigation which required less water.

“Farmers should also adopt conservation agriculture that include minimum tillage, pot holing and mulching that conserve moisture for crop development. We do not encourage farmers to mechanically weed their fields as this exposes roots to the heat,” he said.

The Meteorological Services Department has predicted a normal to below normal rainfall and weather experts have said this is the worst year in 18 years.

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