Prepare early for farming season
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.