Zimbabwe: Erratic rains and long dry spell worry farmers (by Zenzele Ndebele for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

| February 27, 2012

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Farmers in the Mangwe district of southern Zimbabwe are expecting low yields this farming season because of erratic rains and long dry spell.

Mrs. Sipho Ndlovu is a farmer in Mangwe district. She explains that the district last received good rains in December 2011. She says, “Since then we have been praying and looking up in the sky hoping that God will smile at us and bless us with the much needed downpours.” She worries that she and other farmers in Matabeleland, west of Bulawayo, will experience hunger this year.

Last year, many farmers in the district faced starvation. They survived on food aid from NGOs. Recently, the Mangwe chapter of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union concluded that over 60 per cent of farmers’ crops were in urgent need of rain. They warned that continued delay in the rains might spell doom for farmers. Mrs. Ndlovu agreed, saying, “The situation in our fields is not good at all and some crops are not going to recover even if it rains today.”

It is estimated that Zimbabweans consume about two million tonnes of maize every year. The country has been facing serious food shortages since 2000 when the government’s fast track land reform disrupted the agricultural sector. In recent years, the country has relied on imports and food agencies.

Bishop Clement Malaba is chairman of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union for Mangwe district. He says, “Our main worry is farmers who prioritized maize, especially those who used long-season varieties.”

Bishop Malaba advised farmers who were still planting to sow drought-resistant small grain crops. He says, “Some of our members … concentrated on small grains such rapoko, millet and sorghum, and their situation is promising.”

Agricultural extension officers have been advising farmers on water management methods. Some farmers have dug drains in their fields, which have helped to retain moisture.

Robert Tapela has been a small-scale farmer in this area for twenty years. He thinks the long-term solution for Mangwe district is to establish irrigation schemes. He explains, “This area is very dry and prone to drought. It is very difficult to even invest in livestock because it’s very risky. One can lose all the animals in one year because of drought.” He urged the government to consider irrigation schemes for farmers so they are not dependent on food handouts every year.

Meanwhile, farmers now have a ray of hope. There were significant rainfalls in most parts of Matebeleland South in mid-February. Farmers are expecting the rains to continue. Farmer Angelina Ndlovu says that the crops she planted in November are not going to recover because the rains came a bit too late. But, she says, “I have about two acres of maize that I planted in January. I am expecting to get a good harvest from that.”