New farm­ing meth­ods to counter cli­mate change

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/analysis - Se­nior Re­porter Leonard Ncube

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.

@ncubeleon

Vice Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa

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