A proactive stance in taming El Niño way to go
PROACTIVE people carry their own weather with them.
These words by American educator and writer, Stephen Covey aptly describe what Government and its people are doing.
They are not waiting for the predicted El Niño phenomenon to rock the 2023/24 farming term and shape the outcome of the season but are preparing to steer it in a less devastating direction that will allow the country to salvage yields and avert outright crop failure and the subsequent food insecurity.
Following the recent predictions that the country, along other Southern African states such as Mozambique, South Africa and Madagascar, is likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall thanks to the El Niño phenomenon that is naturally associated with below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures leading to heatwaves.
This also means that the country has prepare to receive erratic rains, which obviously hints at a distribution pattern that will not be equitable for the good of agricultural production.
But that does not mean that people have to forego crop production in such a season.
They have to prepare themselves for such a situation — prepare for less rainfall and expect to walk through extreme weather events.
In most cases, rainfall amounts that are known to fall in certain areas may not change significantly but may have a bias towards below normal.
Being proactive enables them to shape circumstances and not vice versa. They cannot afford to watch a stone that is about to strike them and remain transfixed to a spot and not duck or block it.
Of course, news of the impending El Nino threat does not sound good for agricultural production but the reality on the ground is that people have to produce and get yields enough to meet the national requirements or even more.
The country has to bear in mind that this is not the first time the El Nino weather has visited our shores.
The 2015/16 El Niño-driven drought that affected most parts of the country is still freshly imprinted in most minds and the normal thing is that it must have left lessons that should be used this time around.
Yes, the mention of that season may evoke sad memories given that the below-average rainfall that characterised it led to crop failure, increased food prices and heightened levels of food insecurity throughout the country but the wealth of knowledge it left must be put to good use now.
What is exciting to note is that the Government demonstrated great foresight when it introduced the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme a few seasons ago, which has essentially become the bedrock around which the country is now building its mitigation strategies.
The Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept is one sure way of guaranteeing an escape from outright crop failure given that it promotes high moisture preservation that makes it possible for crops to tolerate long periods of dry weather, as they wait for some erratic showers or downpours to chance by.
Most farmers, especially in the communal areas where droughts usually have far-reaching consequences have since been romancing with Pfumvudza/Intwasa and have already started digging planting holes, which now leaves them to just choose the right crop varieties to plant and they are good to go.
The Government has also been relentlessly stressing on the need for farmers to choose crops that match their different agro-ecological regions’ soil and climatic requirements for good yields.
Currently, all efforts are focussed on climate-proofing agriculture, which is an indisputable way of ensuring that there is no crop failure caused by bad climatic conditions.
This way the country is being proactive and not waiting for weather circumstances to shape the nature of its summer seasons. In a way, the country is shaping the way its seasons should go and not leaving its fate in the hands of nature.
The Government has also announced that there will be more traditional grain seed accessible through its two parastatals – the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) for the forthcoming 2023/24 season, which puts paid to fears of seed shortages.
Traditional grains are expected to play a central role in ensuring that the country is food secure at the end of the season, thanks to their resilience and natural capacity to survive through harsh weather conditions, for instance, conditions that the El Nino weather may bring.
It is good to also note that the country’s efforts to avert a potential crisis are even getting support from outside its borders with the African Development Bank (ADB) extending financial support for the traditional grains programme.
The ADB gesture will allow Zimbabwe to increase the percentage of traditional grains seed availability by ensuring that ARDA and GMB package standard traditional grains as seed for the 2023/2024 season towards boosting food security.
The Government has since announced compulsory traditional grain production in agro-ecological regions 4 and 5, as it outlined guidelines for Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme in the 2023/24 agriculture production season to counteract the forecast dry spell.
This will allow areas with surplus to sell grain to those with deficits, which ensures that all parts of the country will have access to food.
And to incentivise the production of traditional grains, the Government will be announcing the planning prices and marketing modalities for the crops in August each year while it is also supporting selected farmers in 460 irrigation schemes through timeous availing of the Presidential Inputs to them. This will help boost production and ultimately food security and also comes through as one of the measures contained in the 2023/24 Summer Cropping Plan and State of Preparedness report approved by Cabinet on May 18, 2023.
This and other strategies will help the country meet its target hectarage for strategic crops that has since been set at 3 040 000 ha with an expected yield of 3 782 658 tonnes.
It is also worth noting that Government is prioritising irrigation and dam construction, as part of a raft of measures vital for climate-proofing agriculture.
Dams will allow harvesting of rain water that can later be used when the seasons are bad.
The Government has made its intentions clear on the need to modernise agricultural production in line with the current technological trends to which irrigation is a part.
With the escalating challenges of climate change globally, irrigation is fast becoming the way to go in guaranteeing the sustainability of all farming enterprises.
Under this drive, the Government has also embarked on revitalising irrigation schemes that are not performing to their full potential in a move that has seen the area under irrigation rising from 150 000ha in the recent past to the current 204 000ha.
It is also preparing to launch the Adapt, Mitigate, Act (AMA) scheme to support the already existing conservation farming methods.