Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
Agriculture experts have urged farmers not to sit back and watch their crops succumb to dry weather conditions and pests, but to conduct good agronomic practices since there are still chances of recovery if the country receives significant rains.
The Meteorological Services Department has said some parts of the country may receive rains starting this Friday.
Crops are suffering from moisture stress, while pests thrive in dry and hot weather conditions.
The worst affected crops are maize, dry land tobacco, which is now showing false ripening and small grains that are now showing signs of wilting.
Secretary for Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Dr John Basera said farmers should continue taking good care of their crops as there were chances of recovery.
“The bulk of the crop is at temporary wilting point,” he said.
“We expect that when rains come, the crops may recover and give farmers better yields.
“Farmers should always adhere to good agronomic practices. We encourage the farmers to continue with agronomic practices such as weed and pest control. Weeds compete with the crops for nutrients, moisture and, therefore, should be removed.
“Farmers should also scout their crops regularly for pests. Scouting enables the farmer to quickly identify pests before they cause extensive damage.”
Dr Basera said it was important for farmers to correctly identify the pest before implementing control measures.
He urged farmers to use registered chemicals that were effective in pest control.
Seed Co Head of Agronomy (Zimbabwe division) Mrs Wendy Madzura said pest control was important in crop production as significant yields could be lost if farmers did not take care of their crops.
“The rise in global temperatures associated with climate change has resulted in an increase in insect metabolism and growth rate until optimum temperatures for growth of the insect are reached,” she said.
“As we wait for the rains, the few crops we have are being affected heavily by insects because of the heat. Regular scouting is a must.”
Mrs Madzura said scouting frequency depended on crop and intensity.
“Farmers should also consider the economic threshold for effective control of pests such as the African armyworm and the fall armyworm,” she said.
“Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is encouraged for sustainable agriculture. Correct identification is key for effective control and farmers can consult extension officers or nearest agronomists for advice. Scouting data should be recorded for future use.”
Meanwhile, the country is expecting an improvement in rainfall activity from Friday with scattered thunderstorms anticipated in Matabeleland North, northern areas of the Midlands, all Mashonaland provinces, Harare Metropolitan Province and northern areas of Manicaland Province.
Most areas are expected to receive low volumes while a few will receive between 20mm and 30mm in 24 hours.
Responding to e-mailed questions
yesterday, the Meteorological Services Department confirmed that scattered thunderstorms were anticipated in some parts of the country.
“An improvement in the rainfall activity is expected from the 10th to the 14th of January 2020 as there will be infiltration of moisture from the north and west of the country.
“In terms of the daily amounts, the rainfall is not much in most areas, 10mm of rainfall or less in most areas. However, localised heavy rainfall may be experienced in places recording between 20mm-30mm of rainfall in 24 hours.
“Because of the heat, which is currently being experienced though the rainfall might not yield much, it can be very violent in some places and the general public is encouraged to take caution,” said the Met Department yesterday.
The MSD said it was unfortunate that it was failing to conduct cloud seeding as the conditions were not permitting.
“Government released money for cloud seeding and this will be carried out whenever conditions are conducive.
“The major challenge is that if the conditions are not conducive, there is nothing that the department can do. For cloud seeding to be carried out, there are certain conditions and thresholds that need to be satisfied,” the department said.
The department said it was too early to declare a drought as this was only possible after the rainfall season.
“It is important to note that there are three types of droughts: meteorological, hydrological and agricultural droughts. The Meteorological Services Department is mandated to talk about meteorological drought.
“Meteorological drought is when an area receives below average rainfall for the season for example October, November, December (OND) or January, February and March (JFM). Hydrological drought is when there is insufficient water in dams, rivers and for consumption which is influenced by several other factors,” said the MSD.
An agricultural drought is when crops fail completely, several factors also contribute to agricultural drought. Thus too much or too little rainfall can cause crop failure. On the other hand rainfall might be below normal.
The MSD said if well distributed, in time and space, this may not translate into a drought as crops may thrive.
According to weather experts, a meteorological drought cannot be declared until the season is over.
However, some areas have received below normal rainfall from October to December and these are said to have experienced meteorological drought for that sub-season.
A number of people were still wondering if the country was still on course to receive normal to above normal rains that were predicted the MSD for region 1 and 2 during the first half of the rainfall season October to November.
The MSD said the country was still on course and only a few areas had missed the target.
“The department gave a forecast for normal to above normal rainfall and normal to below normal rainfall for OND (2019) and JFM (2020) respectively for meteorological region 1 and 2 (mostly the northern half of the country).
“On the other hand, region 3 was forecast to have normal rainfall with a bias towards below normal rainfall for both OND and JFM. Because of the rains that the country received in November and December some areas in region 1 and 2 have recorded normal to above normal rainfall (a hit on the forecast issued in September 2019), though there are other areas which have normal with a bias towards below normal rainfall (which is a miss on the forecast issued in September 2019),” said the department.
“For meteorological region 3, most areas have received normal rainfall with a bias towards below normal rainfall as per the issued forecast (a hit on the forecast issued in September 2019). The forecast is on track given that which the department had issued. The issue of the rainfall distribution throughout the season remains a big challenge due to the limitation of the science.”
Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri recently said farmers could also use smart agriculture technologies to save the crops under the dry conditions.
“Not everything has been lost,” he said. “Farmers should use smart agriculture which means they have to do pot-holing.
“Digging small dams in between crops will trap whatever run-off we get. They should also practice tie ridging, mulching, especially for smallholder farmers, and wet ripping.”