Rains forecast entails farmers plant early
AFTER about two successive poor agricultural seasons caused by far below normal rainfall, the country is heading towards a wetter and, hopefully, a bountiful 2016/17 harvest.
Weeks after the 20th Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-20) gave an encouraging forecast for the Sadc region, the Meteorological Services Department has issued a national weather projection for the October 2016March 2017 period that indicates that most parts of the country are likely to receive normal to above normal rainfall.
Regions 1, 2 and 3, are expected to receive normal to above normal rains during the period October to December 2016.
Region 1 comprises the bulk of Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, North Eastern parts of Midlands and parts of Manicaland, while Region 2 consists of the bulk of Matabeleland North, parts of Midlands and parts of Mashonaland West.
Region 3 is made up of Masvingo, the bulk of Midlands, extreme southern parts of Manicaland and the bulk of Matabeleland South.
Region 1 is expected to receive rains averaging 307mm; region 2, 248mm and Region 3, 261 mm from October to December 2016.
From November to January 2017, Regions 1 and 2 are expected to receive normal to below normal rains while Region 3 is expected to receive normal to above normal rains.
Regions 1 and 3 are expected to receive normal to above normal rainfall from December to February 2017 while Region 2 is expected to receive normal to below normal rainfall. From January to March 2017, Region 1 and 2 are expected to receive normal to above normal rains while Region 3 is expected to receive normal to below normal rainfall.
This positive prognosis is the biggest tonic our hardworking farmers need for them to excel and be able to feed the nation and contribute to the recovery of our agro-based economy.
Farmers always have the drive to do well in their farms but their efforts have, in recent years, been hampered by poor rainfall. As a result their crops wilted in the scorching sun, rivers dried up and their livestock got famished and died.
For example, last season the sector harvested only 511 816 tonnes of maize. Although the harvest was higher than the initial projection of 450 000 tonnes, it was far below the 1,8 million tonnes needed for national consumption per year. Tobacco did well, yes, as did sugarcane, but as long as maize performs poorly as it did last season, the country suffers.
This year, about 4, 1 million people are food insecure. The Government had to declare a stateof-disaster in February, and appealed for $1, 5 billion from development partners to help with food for the needy. This year’s food insecurity has been more intense and widespread, coming as it did amid continuing economic challenges, forcing the Government to expand food aid distribution to towns and cities.
Now that the forthcoming season is likely to be wetter, our hopes for a better harvest cannot be judged as misplaced.
We have the $500 million targeted agriculture programme that will run for the next three seasons starting next month. We understand that part of the challenge the sector has been facing in recent years is not just lack of rain. It was also lack of critical inputs, at the right times and in the right amounts. Among the inputs many farmers lacked is finance to mechanise and so on.
Happily, the command system will plug that gap and more importantly provide more dedicated Government leadership for our farmers to succeed. Under the targeted approach, the Government will provide inputs, skills, more focused leadership and boost farmers’ irrigation capacity.
About $1,5 billion would be invested in the land this season, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa said last week while presenting the mid-term fiscal policy review.
A facility to the tune of $85 million was already in place by Thursday last week for the targeted scheme, expected to gobble $516 million over the next three seasons, he said.
“Preparations for the forthcoming summer cropping season are already underway and Government, in consultation with the private sector, is working on the respective financing arrangements,” he said. “The forthcoming programme targets to put 2.25 million hectares under crop production at an estimated cost of over US$1.5 billion.”
We are indeed looking forward to a fruitful 2016/17 agricultural season, not only because of the projected sufficient rainfall, but also the investment that the Government is putting on the land this time.
But as Meteorological Services Department senior forecaster Ms Vimbayi Mamombe points out, the Government and farmers need to bear in mind that even during rainy seasons, the wetness often tapers off later on, which suggests that producers must plant early while ensuring that they prepare for the likely dryness.
Hardier crops — rapoko, millet and sorghum — must not be overlooked as well as they often do well in drier regions. Water harvesting activities should continue, as should best practices in moisture preservation like conservation farming and contouring.