Rains fore­cast en­tails farm­ers plant early

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

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.

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