Drought stalks Mat’land

Pamela Shumba/Sukulwenkosi Dube/Marvelous Moyo Chronicle Reporters
A drought is looming in Matabeleland North and South following a dry spell that has dashed farmers’ hope for a good harvest for the 2014/15 farming season.

The farmers are worried about the erratic and sparse rains in their respective areas. Matabeleland North provincial agronomist Davison Masendeke yesterday said the province needed rains in the next two weeks if farmers were to harvest anything meaningful.

He said Bubi, Tsholotsho and Umguza districts were the hardest hit by the dry spell.

“Although maize is generally in a fair condition, we need rains in the next two weeks if farmers are to harvest anything from their fields. Farmers in Bubi, Tsholotsho and Umguza are the hardest hit by the dry spell.

“Farmers who planted in December are likely to yield nothing if the rains don’t fall within the next two weeks. The little rains that were received disappeared when the crops were at reproductive stage,” said Masendeke.

There is, however, hope for small grains such as sorghum which were doing well, Masendeke said.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union (ZCFU) Matabeleland North Provincial chairperson, Winston Babbage, said the bulk of crops planted at the beginning of the 2014/2015 farming season have wilted.

Babbage said he was forced to remove a maize crop he had and replaced it with sugar beans on his three-hectare field. “The situation is really bad. The rains have been erratic and nothing seems to be coming out of the fields. My maize crop was a complete write-off. I planted maize on a three-hectare field at my Umguza farm but all the crops wilted. I was forced to plant sugar beans, which I hope will do well,” said Babbage.

“Most farmers are not pleased. The general outlook is that most crops will not yield much because they are already in the permanent wilting stage,” he said.

In Matabeleland South, a recent visit to Ntalale, Gungwe and Pelele areas in Gwanda South showed that some tracts of land had been left unutilised, while most of the areas under crop were in a sorry state.

Farmers said although the province did well last season, the situation was different this farming season. They said they foresee crop failure.

Matabeleland South provincial administrator Midard Khumalo said hopes of a bumper harvest were fading away with each passing day.

Khumalo said although statistics were yet to be compiled, indicators show a gloomy 2014/15 farming season.

“The crop situation is generally bad in the whole province. However, Agritex officers are out assessing the situation and the exact position regarding the state of the province will be known once the officers are through,” said Khumalo.

He said even the small grains that usually do well were not in good state.

In Bulilima and Mangwe Districts, the situation is equally bleak. Farmers are doubtful of a good harvest as the areas were also not spared by scarcity of rains.

The farmers said the maize crop was beginning to wilt while the small grains were likely to be attacked by quelea birds.

Milton Ngwabi from Bulilima said:

“Last year’s farming season was good because we received enough rains. I managed to harvest 11 tonnes of maize last year but this year I think I’ll only realise four tonnes.

“Some of my crops are not yet mature and some are starting to wilt. I was not able to plant my entire fields. The rains this year were just erratic. Farmers from nearby areas recently received rains but we got nothing,” said Ngwabi.

Mkhulunyelwa Nkomo who was named last year’s farmer of the year in Mangwe District said the rains this year were not favourable to farmers.

He said although his crop had not wilted, the situation looks bad compared to last year.

Nkomo said by this time last year the soil was wet but this time around it is dry.

“This time around we tilled the land on time but delayed in planting as the rains disappeared. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will receive rains soon so that I have a decent harvest,” he said.

Last year Nkomo harvested 24 tonnes of maize and other crops.

Nkomo, who also does livestock farming, said the performance of cattle could drop this year as dams were still empty.

Bulilima Farmers’ Association chairperson Obert Sibanda said there were isolated cases of areas which had good crops in the district.

He said people who planted more of the maize crop than small grains were in danger of losing everything.

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