Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
Zimbabwe is likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall during the 2015-16 farming season, with farmers being advised to plant small grains, short-season varieties and stagger planting to spread the risk, the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) has warned.
To avert potentially devastating food insecurity for the country, the MSD implored Government to prioritise cloud seeding, farmers with irrigation facilities to utilise them than focusing on dry land farming and to practice conservation farming.
MSD forecaster Mrs Lucy Motsi yesterday said there was a high likelihood of a late start to the rainy season across the country.
“A short rainfall season (December to February) is expected across the country, hence an option for small grains, short-season varieties and staggering plantings would be encouraged,” she said.
“There is need to enhance rainfall this season and as such, the national cloud seeding programme is highly recommended.
“For those with livestock, water points should be preserved and protected. Livestock de-stocking should be given more consideration and done timeously to avoid heavy losses,” she said.
Mrs Motsi said Region 1, which comprises Harare, most parts of Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, north-eastern parts of the Midlands and parts of Manicaland, would receive below normal rainfall from October to December 2015 and normal to below normal rainfall from November to January 2016.
The region is expected to receive normal to above normal rains from December to March 2016.
“For the bulk of Matabeleland North, parts of Midlands and parts of Mashonaland West (region 2) will receive normal to below normal rainfall from October to December.
“Most parts of Matabeleland North, northwest Matabeleland South and Bulawayo will receive normal to below normal rains from December to February,” she said.
From November to January 2016, the bulk of Matabeleland North, parts of Midlands and parts of Mashonaland West are expected to receive normal to below normal rainfall.
From January to March 2016 Matabeleland North, northwest Matabeleland South and Bulawayo are likely to receive normal to below rains.
Under normal rainy seasons, these areas receive normal to above normal rains.
Region 3, which covers Masvingo, the bulk of Midlands, extreme southern parts of Manicaland and the bulk of Matabeleland South, will have normal to below normal rainfall between October and December, normal to above normal rains between November and January and normal to below normal rainfall between January and March.
The country needs at least two million tonnes of maize for livestock and human consumption and Government has to facilitate importation of about 800 000 tonnes with assistance from the private sector this year.
Another MSD forecaster, Mr John Mupuro, said there were high chances of an El Nino effect this year associated with flash floods.
El Nino is a quasi-periodic climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean every five years.
In Zimbabwe, out of the 21 years of El Nino recorded, the country received below normal rainfall for 13 years and the remaining eight years were of above normal rains.
Agritex director, Mr Bernard Mache, said the rainfall forecast was not favourable in terms of agriculture and advised farmers to plant short season varieties, diversify and consider small grains.
“Farmers should also stagger their planting. The season is likely to start late and we may have better rains at the end of the season. In some areas farmers will have to plant late. It is sad that it will be a bit late but farmers should practise conservation farming.
“Irrigation is also important. Farmers with irrigation schemes should concentrate more on irrigation than dryland farming. Water harvesting is also advisable. Farmers should harvest much rain and make use of small dams,” he said.
MSD director, Dr Amos Makarau, said it was important to focus on how communities could be assisted under such conditions.
“Starting in October, we will be giving 10-day forecasts as this is critical to inform people on the likely onset of the season. The weather patterns are becoming too erratic and more unpredictable. Early warning advice will also be distributed to vulnerable communities for free,” he said.
Agriculture, Mechanization Irrigation Development Minister, Dr Joseph Made, recently said development of irrigation was critical to crop production.
He said the ministry was speeding up the More Food for Africa Programme to install irrigation equipment.
“On livestock, the major focus relates to harvesting of grass, drilling of boreholes and the District Development Fund is the leading institution. DDF will play a critical role in re-doing small dams.
“The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development is also supporting cloud seeding,” he said.
Presenting the Mid-Term Fiscal Policy, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Cde Patrick Chinamasa said boosting agricultural production required Government to limit the exposure of farmers to dependence on erratic rainfall patterns.
“Central to this is investment in irrigation development, taking advantage of the prevalent abundant water bodies in the midst of our farming districts.
“However, some of our completed dams are lying idle as the requisite irrigation infrastructure has broken down or is non-existent. Government is, therefore, prioritising rehabilitation and expansion of irrigation schemes, focusing on idle water in dams across the country.”
Last season, Zimbabwe received normal to above normal rainfall, but could achieve optimum crop production because of poor distribution.
This affected crop production and the country had to import 700 000 tonnes of maize to meet the deficit.
Climate change has resulted in weather extremes, constant droughts, floods and strong winds destroying people’s lives and property worldwide.