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February 28, 2011

Long dry spell dashes farmers' hopes in Zimbabwe

A long dry spell during the current rain season in Zimbabwe has caused severe moisture stress in crops, dampening farmers' hopes of good harvests in some parts of the country while the Government has urged the Grain Marketing Board to start moving grain to the worst-affected areas.

Weather experts attributed the dry spell to a cyclone in Madagascar that has been draining moisture from the region, but was currently ebbing.

The experts said there was a possibility the mid-season dry spell could have shifted to February.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation De-velopment Minister Joseph Made said the Government saw the dry spell as a "God-given situation".

"We are concerned by this development, but there is not much we can do. Government can only put stringent measures on the handling and marketing of the country's staple crops like maize and wheat. It is a God-given situation," said Minister Made.

The Minister said this also explained why he was against the idea of allowing maize and wheat to be sold at the recently established Commodity Exchange.

He said he had talked to the Meteorological Services Department yesterday who informed him that the dry spell was a result of a cyclone in Madagascar.

"The weather office told me that the retreating cyclone may also push the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone up here and that may bring some rains soon," he said.

Minister Made urged farmers to put on hold the application of top dressing fertiliser until the situation improves.

He challenged GMB to start mobilising grain bags and move them into less-affected areas so that all grain harvested at the end of the season is accounted for.

Crops, especially the maize crop, in most parts of the country are showing signs of severe moisture stress.

In the drought-prone Masvingo Province, for instance, there had been high prospects of a good harvest but most of the late-planted crops, especially the staple maize have begun to show signs of severe moisture stress.

The dry spell is now running into the third week in some areas, causing apprehension and anxiety among farmers.

Their prospects for a bumper farming season now seem to be vanishing into thin air unless the rains return in the next few days.

The most affected areas in Masvingo are Gutu, southern parts of Zaka, Chivi and Mwenezi where the early-planted maize crop, which had reached the tasselling stage is reportedly now showing severe signs of moisture stress.

In the Silobela, Zhombe and Gokwe districts of Midlands Province and in Kadoma and Chegutu in Mashonaland West Province, the maize crop is reportedly badly in need of rains.

An Agritex official from Chegutu district also added that the early crop in his area had matured but the late crop was now being seriously affected by the dry spell.

"Only farmers who planted early crops are at an advantage, the dry spell is causing our crops to wilt and dry," he said.

Two other farmers Stanley Nyamatsanza and Ananias Chari from Rusape and Mt Darwin respectively, also shared the same sentiments with the Agritex official.

Matabeleland has also been severely affected by the dry spell while most parts of Mashonaland provinces have reportedly been receiving moderate rains since the start of the dry spell over two weeks ago.

Mr Isaac Mukoni of Mutovosi Village in Mase-ma Communal Lands in Gutu said his crops were now in dire need of rains.

"The crops now need rains badly. We have not received any meaningful rains for the past three weeks. The maize crop which has already reached the tasselling stage needs urgent rains to save it from wilting. We just hope and pray that the rains fall in the next few days otherwise we are doomed," said Mr Mukoni.

Mr Dickens Jeza of Harry Village in Jerera, Zaka, said they were now pinning their hopes on rains falling in the next few days or the situation would turn into disaster for them.

"The crop situation is not yet very bad generally but the main worry here is on our early planted maize which has reached tasselling stage. We might lose this crop if rains do not fall. The dry spell has been upon us for far too long," said Mr Jeza.

In Chiredzi and some parts of Mwenezi, most farmers said their maize crop was also in urgent need of rains to avert complete crop failure.

"The rains came very late meaning that we also planted in late December and early January this year and suddenly the rains have disappeared again. Our maize crop is now showing signs of severe moisture stress and we are afraid it might begin to wilt," said Mr Solomon Chinaka of Samba Ranch in Chiredzi.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union regional manager for Masvingo, Mr Jeremiah Chimwanda, however, expressed optimism that the situation would soon improve in many areas if rains start falling.

"The situation is not yet very bad, most crops especially the early-planted maize crop is however, showing some signs of moisture stress in some parts. Prospects of a good season are still there and we just hope that the rains will fall in the next few days and save the day for our farmers," he said.

Mr Chimwanda, however, said the condition of other crops was not yet precarious saying the situation would markedly improve if rains fell in the near future.

The ZFU official urged farmers to employ water-harvesting methods that help the soil to retain moisture even during dry spells to mitigate the effects of dry spells and avoid crop failure.

Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces have perennially been plagued by food shortages attributed to erratic rains amid calls for the provinces to put more emphasis on irrigation development and growing of small grains which are drought-resistant.

The Herald

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