New farming methods to counter climate change
MOST farmers in Zimbabwe, both commercial and communal, want to quickly forget the 2015-2016 farming season. It is the year in which a ravaging El-Nino driven drought left lasting scars in their communities as the country faced serious hunger. But the challenge is far from being over. Experts say the country should expect yet another catastrophe as they have predicted the coming of cyclone La Nina this year. The phenomenon, which will be accompanied by excessive rains and floods, is likely to lead to another drought.
As the country approaches the 2016-2017 farming season, farmers are expected to draw from lessons learnt from the previous spell and build sustainability in terms of their activities in preparation for the new season.
A majority of farmers didn’t plant anything in the justended season while some watched helplessly as their crops failed because of “poor timing.”
Agricultural Extension Services officers are encouraging farmers to plan ahead and embrace Information Communication Technologies (ICT), if they are to sail through.
A number of programmes have been started in rural areas especially in Matabeleland North province by Agritex and its non-governmental organisations partners such as Environment Africa, CAFOD, Caritas and the European Union where farmers are challenged to ride on technology to be able to beat the effects of climate change.
Matabeleland North Provincial Agricultural Extension officer, Mr Dumisani Nyoni, says the month of August is the most important period in the farming calendar in terms of planning.
“People should start now to seek information which will guide them on the type of seed to grow in their area based on expected amount of rainfall.
“Usually information about expected rainfall patterns is communicated in August and this is the most critical period for farmers as it will give them an insight into the coming year,” said Mr Nyoni.
“If it’s predicted that there will be below average rainfall then they would be guided to grow short season varieties because the rainy season will be very short. If the prediction says above average rainfall then that means they would need to buy top dressing fertiliser and herbicides.”
Mr Nyoni says if Cyclone La Nina comes as predicted, then farmers would need more of AN fertiliser, hence they must start planning now.
“Usually when we have excessive rains people end up harvesting little because of leaching and weeds,” he said.
Mr Nyoni advised farmers to embrace information technologies from various platforms as that helps them in decision making.
He said service providers now send messages on mobile phones and programmes like Ecofarmer are there to help them. Mr Nyoni urged farmers to start preparing their fields.
“Farmers should start preparing now. Firstly, they have to look at which crops they will grow this season and on which piece of land. This is the time to start planning on buying seed and fertiliser and start mending fences as well as revive storm drains.
“Those practising conservation agriculture should also start preparing holes and apply manure. It is also important to till now and we do all this so that we don’t miss on the planting dates.
“All this ensures that when the rains start farmers will now concentrate on planting and weeding only,” said Mr Nyoni. He said it was important for farmers to monitor their livestock, especially draught power, so that they prepare supplementary feeding if need be.
Farmers risk losing livestock to drought induced by shortage of water and pastures on the backdrop of the 2016 drought.
In Jambezi area in Hwange district, Agritex, in conjunction with Environment Africa, has trained communities on conservation farming and the need to grow small grains which are suitable for most parts of Matabeleland North province because of the soils and limited rainfalls patterns.
Conservation farming involves minimum tillage on the land and is fast proving to be a sustainable climate smart agriculture as it reduces chances of leaching and erosion of nutrients.
Environment Africa has trained 16 wards in Hwange district under the Farmer Field School domiciled in the Food, Nutrition and Income Security programme which has also spread to Binga district following its launch in Dete last year.
Farmers have listened. They are embracing technology as they now communicate with Agritex officers through mobile phones for information, advice and markets.
Extension workers cannot be on the ground every time.
Ms Sizwile Nyamande from Environment Africa recently said they had partnered Lupane State University to train farmers under the Integrated Food Nutrition and Income Security Programme launched last year in line with food security cluster of the economic blueprintZim-Asset.
“The FNI project’s Farmer Field School is whereby farmers group themselves and meet once a week and invite an Agritex officer to coach them.
“As Environment Africa we invite lecturers from Lupane State University to train farmers as we want to encourage them to grow small grain crops,” she said while addressing farmers at a field day at Mr Professor Chipegwa’s homestead, in Zhulandangalilo Village, Jambezi recently.
Ms Nyamande said such programmes will go a long way in enhancing food and nutritional security through diversified food and income sources.
More than 50 farmer schools have been established where about 1 300 farmers have been trained in the 16 wards while in the province there are more than 17 000 who are benefitting from the FNI programme since its launch last year.
Traditional leaders are also embracing the new technology-centred farming methods. Chief Shana of Jambezi and acting Chief Mvuthu of Monde are part of the farming methods and leading their communities in building community livelihood resilience through farmer field school, crop diversification and growing a variety of small grain crops.
Acting Chief Mvuthu was the best farmer in Kachechete Ward while Chief Shana has called for the revival of Isiphala Senkosi. Chief Shana challenged people to put value in access to information.
“We can’t have drought as long as we have Agritex officers who can teach us on how to grow crops sustainably. I managed to get 12 drums of millet and two of maize despite little rains because I embraced what we learnt from Agritex officers.
“We need to take at least a bucket of our produce to the village head to start Isiphala Senkosi so we can feed the vulnerable and take off the burden from the Government.
A majority of people in Matabeleland North had earned themselves an insulting name ongalomhlonywa (beggars) for their dependence on food donors and non-governmental organisations who are, however, now suspending their programmes and leaving.
The traditional leaders say those who don’t embrace conservation agriculture and grow small crops might suffer.
Recommended small grains are millet, sorghum and even rapoko which are resilient and can survive the dry spell. Government is also committed in ensuring food security in the country.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is responsible for food security, recently told captains of industry at the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce congress in Victoria Falls that the Government has also rolled out a number of initiatives for the agricultural sector to ensure national food sufficiency.
One of them, he said, is the Targeted Command Agriculture scheme where about 2,000 farmers would be given support to harvest enough to feed themselves and the nation.
“Through various initiatives in agriculture the country aims to be food self-sufficient in just four seasons. Our agricultural strategy leverages on the vast tracks of agricultural land that Zimbabwe has, abundant water bodies and the country’s favourable climate,” said VP Mnangagwa.
Farmers will have access to at least 200 hectares of arable land each and work under irrigation, said VP Mnangagwa.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa