Pre­pare early for farm­ing sea­son

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

ZIM­BABWE and the rest of the South­ern Africa Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (Sadc) are com­ing to the end of a dev­as­tat­ing drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon and with fore­cast­ers pre­dict­ing a nor­mal to above nor­mal rain­fall sea­son ahead, farm­ers need to start pre­par­ing now so that they max­imise pro­duc­tion.

The drought has spawned food short­ages and the dec­i­ma­tion of live­stock on a mas­sive scale but the heavy rains ex­pected later this year pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for farm­ers both live­stock and crop to re­coup some of their losses and atone for the dis­ap­point­ment of this sea­son. Sadc mem­ber states have de­clared this year’s drought a re­gional dis­as­ter, paving the way for donor agen­cies to as­sist in mo­bil­is­ing US$2,8 billion re­quired for food aid for mil­lions of peo­ple fac­ing hunger.

The drought has left up to 40 mil­lion peo­ple in need of food as­sis­tance across the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion. Out of this, 23 mil­lion re­quire im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance. Zim­babwe is one of the worst af­fected coun­tries by the dri­est year in decades fac­ing south­ern Africa. The UN’s World Food Pro­gramme said about 16 mil­lion peo­ple in South­ern Africa are fac­ing hunger due to poor har­vests in 2015 and Zim­babwe has de­clared a state of dis­as­ter as a re­sult of the drought.

It has been im­port­ing maize from Zam­bia and other coun­tries to mit­i­gate hunger. The Zim­babwe Vul­ner­a­bil­ity Assess­ment Com­mit­tee Re­port says four mil­lion peo­ple need food aid this year be­cause of the drought. The Govern­ment has, in the wake of fall­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, launched the $500 mil­lion com­mand agri­cul­ture scheme where tar­geted farm­ers will be ca­pac­i­tated with in­puts to se­cure maize self­suf­fi­ciency this year.

The regis­tra­tion of farm­ers will­ing to take part in the pro­gramme has al­ready started with the Govern­ment invit­ing those in­ter­ested in the scheme to reg­is­ter with Agri­tex of­fi­cers in their re­spec­tive ar­eas. The pro­gramme, which aims to pro­duce two mil­lion tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land, will see iden­ti­fied farm­ers be­ing given in­puts, ir­ri­ga­tion and mech­a­nised equip­ment.

The farm­ers, to work un­der strict su­per­vi­sion, will be re­quired to com­mit five tonnes per hectare to the Govern­ment as re­pay­ment for the in­puts and agri­cul­tural equip­ment. They will re­tain sur­plus pro­duce for per­sonal use. At least 2 000 farm­ers are ex­pected to par­tic­i­pate in the scheme and will sign per­for­mance-based con­tracts for three con­sec­u­tive grow­ing sea­sons.

The Govern­ment’s decision to em­bark on com­mand agri­cul­ture was ne­ces­si­tated by the rise in na­tional food in­se­cu­rity from about 12 per­cent in 2011 to 42 per­cent this year. Other Govern­ment pro­grammes such as the Pres­i­den­tial In­puts Sup­port Scheme will re­main in place to com­ple­ment the com­mand agri­cul­ture. Re­gional cli­mate ex­perts have all fore­cast that the ap­proach­ing rainy sea­son, which starts in Oc­to­ber, will be nor­mal to wet­ter than nor­mal in Zim­babwe and most other Sadc coun­tries, a wel­come devel­op­ment for the re­gion.

The 20th South­ern Africa Re­gional Cli­mate Out­look Fo­rum (Sar­cof) an­nounced in Harare last week that from Oc­to­ber 2016 to March 2017, SADC coun­tries are likely to re­ceive nor­mal to above-nor­mal rain­fall bring­ing re­lief to this re­gion which re­lies heav­ily on rain-fed agri­cul­ture. “The bulk of South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) is likely to re­ceive nor­mal to above-nor­mal rain­fall for most of the pe­riod Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber (OND) 2016 and the Jan­uary to March (JFM) 2017,” read part of the state­ment is­sued by the Sadc Cli­mate Ser­vices Cen­tre. “How­ever, north­ern-most Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) north­ern An­gola, south­ern-most of Tan­za­nia, north­ern Mozam­bique, the is­lands states of Sey­chelles and east­ern-most Mada­gas­car are more likely to re­ceive nor­mal to below-nor­mal rain­fall most of the sea­son.”

The Govern­ment has started putting mech­a­nisms in place to sup­port farm­ers with agri­cul­tural in­puts ahead of the 2016/2017 farm­ing sea­son.

It has also urged farm­ers to plough early and to cul­ti­vate drought-tol­er­ant crops like sorghum and mil­let es­pe­cially in drier re­gions.

We call on farm­ers to heed Govern­ment’s ad­vice and start pre­par­ing for the forth­com­ing sea­son now. We also urge them to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mand agri­cul­ture scheme as this will not only ben­e­fit them and their fam­i­lies but will go a long way in boost­ing the coun­try’s strate­gic grain re­serves and im­prove food se­cu­rity. With heavy rains fore­cast later this year, Govern­ment should also en­sure that more dams are built to cap­ture runoff and im­prove ir­ri­ga­tion agri­cul­ture.

Fer­tiliser should also be se­cured to mit­i­gate against leach­ing. The forth­com­ing agri­cul­tural sea­son is a lit­mus test for Zim­bab­wean farm­ers par­tic­u­larly those who have been ben­e­fit­ing from var­i­ous Govern­ment sup­port mech­a­nisms. New farm­ers who have not been util­is­ing their pieces of land should be put on no­tice and told in no un­cer­tain terms that they risk los­ing their prop­er­ties be­cause Govern­ment can­not con­tinue im­port­ing maize when it has ca­pac­i­tated thou­sands of peo­ple.

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