Farmers should continue planting their summer crops as the 2019/20 planting window is still open, Government and experts advise, but stress the need for planting short season varieties or traditional small grains and conserving moisture.
Irrigation is becoming increasingly important, but farmers need to use irrigation carefully to conserve limited water supplies. Advice from agricultural extension officers on when to plant is vital and farmers should be ready to reduce plant populations and ridging to make full use of any available rains.
There had been concerns over the dry conditions across the country with some farmers who had not planted panicking and no longer certain if it was still viable to continue preparations for planting. Others with crops that had already germinated were worried that their crops would wilt under the hot and dry conditions.
Some isolated rains were received in some parts of the country yesterday bringing relief to farmers in those areas.
According to the State media, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri yesterday said farmers should continue planting. “Climate change is adversely affecting agriculture. Irrigation becomes very important as it ensures household food security. If the dry conditions continue we will have challenges with those who do not have irrigation,” he said.
He urged farmers to use irrigation responsibly. “Our rivers are drying up and we should use our water responsibly.”
From the onset of the rainy season, Minister Shiri, encouraged farmers to grow traditional grains, also known as small grains, which are more tolerant to dry conditions than maize. “Those planting should continue planting traditional grains. This is the way of smart agriculture. We should promote smart agriculture; using what is available and look for better ways of boosting yields, “ he said.
The traditional grains are indigenous to Africa and over very long periods of time have adapted to the complex weather patterns experienced on the continent.
Government was also in the process of rehabilitating dysfunctional irrigation facilities to boost irrigation activities. “We are also trying very hard to bring in irrigation equipment such as centre pivots. The other option is looking at other crops such as potatoes to fill the gap,” he said.
Agriculture expert and Agriseeds director (sales and marketing), Mr Ivan Craig said farmers could continue planting but devise moisture retention techniques such as mulching and ridging. “Farmers still have the chance to plant their summer crops. Farmers can also prepare land and if they have done so they should come back and harness as much moisture as possible through ridging.
“If the crops have emerged, they can grow using dew. Those who have not yet planted can establish a medium population of between 36 000 plants and 46 000 plants per hectare and they will not compete for moisture and nutrients,” he said.
Mr Craig said in this case yields were down and farmers should reduce fertiliser application to match the reduced plant population. “Farmers can now only apply between 250kg – 300kg of fertiliser per hectare. Weeds should also be removed as they compete with crops for nutrients,” he said.
Climate change expert Professor Desmond Manatsa said there were no prospects of meaningful rain until the second week of January. He said the current situation resulted in dry weather conditions for Southern Africa.
“We are currently experiencing the positive Indian Ocean Dipole. This is when the West Indian Ocean is warmer than the south easterly surface temperatures which form the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone which is responsible for producing rain in Southern Africa.”
He said normally, the mid-season dry spell was experienced mid-December.
African research scientist and University of Zimbabwe professorial chair of the Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki, said the current droughts that had been affecting agricultural production called for concerted efforts if the country was to continue with production.
He said while climate change was real, there was need to explore other avenues to find solutions to the problem.
Climate change effects could be reduced if there was intensive research on possible and suitable irrigation facilities that could be availed to all categories of farmers. “Zimbabwe is the country with the highest number of waterbodies in Sub-Saharan Africa and we should make full use of the water to produce food.”