The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo/ Sinokuthaba Dube, Sunday News Reporters
FARMERS have been urged to take advantage of the isolated and erratic rainfall being received in various parts of the country to continue cropping activities so as to attain a meaningful yield in a season which has been hampered by prolonged dry spells.
Matabeleland North Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services provincial principal agronomist Mr Davison Masendeke said there was a need for farmers to make use of the erratic precipitation received in their areas by continuously planting cereals, especially small grains.
“Farmers should take advantage of the rains being received in their areas and continue to plant, especially small grains such as sunflower, sugar beans and cow peas. These are short duration crops.
“They should also weed in time to avoid their crop from competing with weeds for moisture. In the event they continue to be receiving sufficient rains frequently they should also top dress their maize crop,” he said.
The uptake of small grains has been very low among smallholder farmers in climate change affected districts in Zimbabwe despite expert advice. Farmers in the drought-prone areas such as Matabeleland region have for a long time been advised to grow small grains such as millet and sorghum as they are suitable for their areas and can resist drought.
However, most farmers continue to plant more maize despite repeated incidents of failure as the crop requires more rains.
Higher labour costs in both cultivation, processing and poor technology, are some of the reasons for the non-adoption of small grains.
“Small grains are drought tolerant, most of them are early maturing and most importantly they are far much nutritious than your maize. Farmers should organise themselves into groups and invest in the purchasing of small threshing machines to avoid the laborious process of threshing the small grains manually,” said Mr Masendeke.
He said there has been a marked improvement in the hectares cropped over the last two weeks.
“There has been a considerable increase in the area planted in various parts of the province since we started receiving rains in some parts of the province two weeks ago,” said Mr Masendeke.
Matabeleland South Agritex provincial crops and livestock officer Ms Simangaliphi Ngwabi reiterated Mr Masendeke’s sentiments stating that:
“Farmers that are receiving rains in their area should continue planting especially small grains like cow peas, which are multi-purpose. Cow peas’ leaves can be dried and consumed as relish while its residue is used to feed livestock”.
Mrs Ngwabi said the department had targeted 35 000 hectares to be cropped under small grains in her area of jurisdiction but due to the prolonged dry spell only over 4 000 hectares has been worked on.
“We are encouraging farmers to crop small grains especially short season varieties. Initially we had targeted cropping 35 000 hectares throughout the province but unfortunately slightly over 4 000 has been planted due to the prolonged dry spell,” she said.
Mrs Ngwabi further encouraged farmers to cut the grass which has begun to grow in most areas for the production of hay.
“It is also time for livestock farmers to plant fodder crops or legumes. They should also cut grass and store it under sheds for making hay. It is, however, important not to expose the grass to the direct heat of the sun as it might lose all its nutrients,” she said.
Meanwhile, Insiza South Member of Parliament Cde Spare Sithole, has said most areas in his constituency have also received considerable amounts of rains giving hope to the villagers.
“Villagers are optimistic they will harvest something as they have started re-planting although most of their first crops had dried due to the heat,” he said.
Cde Sithole said if the rains continue to fall, water especially for livestock will be available.
“I can safely say the rains we received these past two weeks were a relief to most farmers who lost a number of livestock.
“We are now looking forward to a better 2020. Pastures have started to come to life and that is good for livestock.”
Matabeleland South Zimbabwe Farmers Union provincial manager Mr Thandekile Moyo also said most areas in the province have received notable rainfall bringing smiles to livestock farmers.
According to statistics from the Meteorological Services Department (MSD), last week, significant rainfall was recorded in Plumtree and West Nicholson which received 68mm and 19mm respectively.
Meanwhile, statistics of cattle poverty deaths obtained by Sunday News from Matabeleland South’s Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) revealed that as of last year December, 15 596 have so far succumbed to drought though the figure might far outstrip that as other cases are going unreported.
Matabeleland South has an estimated cattle population of slightly above 600 000 while Matabeleland North has over 500 000 with the national herd estimated to be more than five million of which most of the animals are owned by communal farmers.
The biggest number of deaths have been recorded in Beitbridge District with 4 403 while Bulilima has lost 2 697, Gwanda (2 569), Mangwe (1 434), Insiza (2 367), Matobo (1 736) and Umzingwane (390).