A nation waits for the rains

Oppah Muchinguri

Zimbabwe is expected to start receiving normal rainfall this week, bringing relief to farmers who planted maize in December/January.

Dry conditions hit Zimbabwe early in the summer season, resulting in crops suffering moisture stress.

Experts attribute this to dynamic atmospheric systems that suppress moisture while buoying hot and dry coastal winds.

University of Zimbabwe meteorology, agro-meteorology and climate change consultant Mrs Juliet Gwenzi told The Sunday Mail that rainfall will be consistent from this week.

This tallies with the 21st Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum Mid-season Review which has most countries in Sadc receiving more rainfall from January to May 2018.

However, Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department foresees continued erratic rainfall and high temperatures.

MSD head of forecasting (Public Weather Service) Mr Tich Zinyemba said, “As Met, we do not forecast long-term temperature ranges, but chances of getting some isolated rains which are spread across the country are high as we are not expecting anything substantial.”

But Mrs Gwenzi, whose institution uses a top-of-the-range supercomputer, said their 10-day forecast indicated increased and consistent rainfall.

“We have seen isolated thunderstorms within the past few days and expect this to continue for the next few days. As of this week, we might see an increase in rainfall.

“Our normal rainfall season is usually from October and because many farmers had already planted, the expected rains may be insignificant. After a dry month, we are seeing some crops actually having reached permanent wilting point and being written off.”

Mrs Gwenzi continued, “The systems that normally influence rainfall patterns this time of the year have been rather weak. Therefore, there has been dominance of a dry south-westerly airflow drawing heat from Botswana and Namibia, resulting in excessive heating across the country and most of the Sadc region.

“Normally, from October to December, we have a westerly flow bringing rainfall into the country.

‘‘Then there will be a mid-season dry spell, which allows those systems to give way to the Inter-Tropical Convergency Zone, which is normally linked to airflow that occurs over Congo, the Caprivi Strip and the Mozambican channel.

“So, the one over the Mozambican channel has a tendency of linking with these systems, therefore drawing moisture downwards and allowing the ITCZ to also move downwards.

“Instead, we have seen tropical cyclones occurring mostly to the east of Madagascar. As a result, they have been drawing moisture out of the whole sub-region and because we have Botswana and Namibia – which are rather dry – to our west, winds are being driven all the way from Namibia over us.”

Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said authorities were prioritising water-harvesting.

“We have already started harvesting water countrywide … With the dry spell persisting, we are ensuring every district has at least 200 hectares of irrigable land.

“The Zimbabwe National Water Authority has other ongoing projects, and these include Mtshabezi, Gwayi-Shangaani and Bubi dams in the Matabeleland provinces, Tokwe-Murkosi in Masvingo and Matezva in Bikita.

“The current weather forecast shows that heavy rains are expected to start from February 1 up to end of March. We believe that the smaller crop will still have much hope going forward … We are in a very bad situation as a country as we watch most of our good crop deteriorate each day and we can’t do anything meaningful about it as the available clouds are too weak for us to do cloud-seeding.”

Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union executive director Mr Paul Zakariya chipped in, “The rain season has a window period that you cannot extend. Therefore, we have already lost out on this season.

“As it stands, many farmers have stated that their crops were almost write-offs. Therefore, saying that normal rains are expected is raising the hopes of farmers too much.

“Farmers who planted late into the season, particularly late December and January, might be fortunate enough to record better yields.” – Sunday Mail