‘Better rains not likely’: Glimmer of hope however, for Matabeleland A man uses a span of oxen to cultivate a maize field in Courtleigh Village, Bubi District, Matabeleland North yesterday. (Picture by Nkosizile Ndlovu)

Chronicle Writers

THE recent rains recorded in most parts of the country have raised hope for farmers whose crops planted between November and December, were starting to show signs of moisture stress due to a prolonged dry spell.

Zimbabwe is reeling under El Nino effects, which effectively means normal to below rainfalls are expected in most parts of the country.

Due to El Nino weather conditions, most farmers delayed planting hence many of them planted between December and January when moderate rains were received.

As the Meteorological Service Department (MSD) predicted, the country has been experiencing a dry spell since mid-January and some crops were showing signs of moisture stress. 

MSD head of forecasting Mr James Ngoma said the dry spell is a reflection of the El Nino season.

He said the country is unlikely to receive better rains than those received between December and January.

“You’ll note that our peak of the season is between December and January and as you get into February, March and April the rains decrease significantly as we reach the tail end of the season. Our prediction for February, March and April is that we will record below-normal rainfall,” said Mr Ngoma.

He, however, noted that there was a glimpse of hope as some parts of the country received rains with more rains expected, particularly in the Matabeleland region. 

“We received significant falls over the south-eastern part of the country which is Beitbridge and part of Buffalo Range as well as in Chipinge. We also had isolated showers in Mt Darwin, Mashonaland Central,” said Mr Ngoma.

“We had light showers over Bulilima and Mangwe districts as of Monday last week. We are expecting another system to cover much of the country and the western parts of the country.”

Agricultural Rural Development and Advisory Service (Ardas) Matabeleland North provincial director, Mr Dumisani Nyoni said he was still engaging extension officers for them to provide a                          consolidated update on the situation on the ground.

He said most parts of Matabeleland North are in ecological regions four and five characterised by a low rainfall pattern and high temperatures.

Lusulu in Binga, Matetsi in Hwange and Nyamandlovu areas in Umguza are viable crop-growing areas while most parts of the province are rocky or sandy.

Parts of Binga received light showers last Thursday while the rest of the province endured very high temperatures that have seen some crops wilting.

Traditional leaders and farmers said if it does not rain within a week most crops will be a write-off.

“The temperatures are unbearable and both crops and pastures are wilting. If we can get rains this week we might salvage something but if it does not rain we should forget about harvest this year especially for maize,” said Chief Mvuthu.

Chief Shana of Hwange district said it is a tale of mixed fortunes in his area of jurisdiction as some villages have thriving crops while others are facing a drought.

“There is no rain and we are beginning to fear for another drought. Some areas especially the black soils like Matetsi have good crops and farmers are weeding while for others hope is almost lost,” he said.

Chief Siabuwa of Binga district said: “The situation is terrible as crops are in bad shape since they were already flowering. I was irrigating from the system we got from the Government but there is no more water because temperatures are high as we are recording 32 degrees Celsius every day.”

He said for those in high-lying areas, crops are almost a write-off.

Along the Cross Dete-Binga road, a Chronicle news crew observed that maize, wheat and sorghum crops were almost wilting and some farmers had abandoned weeding due to high temperatures.

Mrs Sinikiwe Sibanda from Mavimileni Line under Chief Siphoso in Tsholotsho said she is optimistic that her maize crop might survive the heat wave as it is at tasselling stage. 

 

Matabeleland South provincial agronomist, Mr Innocent Nyathi said most of the crops in the province are in a fair condition. He however, said it should rain soon before the crops wilt. 

Mr Nyathi said both maize and traditional grains were at early vegetative stage.

“We are in the process of doing a comprehensive crop assessment across the province but generally the crop in the province is in a fair state for both traditional grains and maize. The rains came late which delayed the planting,” he said.

Mr Nyathi said farmers are generally hopeful that they will receive rains soon.

Matabeleland South has recorded an increase in the uptake of traditional grains this cropping season as farmers now understand that they are drought-tolerant. 

Midlands provincial agronomist Mr Innocent Dzuke said the crop situation in the province is mixed as some crops are fair while others are in dire need of moisture. 

Some of the areas in the province last received rains at the end of January.

“The dry spell is affecting crops that are at the vegetative stage and these are under threat. Every week that passes without the rains, the hectarage of crops wilting is increasing,” said Mr Dzuke.

“We are still in the process of assessing the crop situation district-by-district but the reports we have on the ground are that some crops are fair to good while others are in dire need of moisture.”

Mr Dzuke said farmers at irrigation schemes like Hamamavhaire and Mhende in Chirumanzu district were already harvesting their maize.

Chief Gwesela from Zhombe said the situation was dire.

“If we don’t receive rains in the coming few days we are doomed. The maize crop urgently needs rains,” he said. 

Chief Njelele in Gokwe South said: “The first crop was a writeoff following prolonged dry spell which was experienced last year and farmers re-planted.

Chief Ngungumbane from Mberengwa District said most crops are wilting due to the prolonged dry spell across most parts of the district. 

Gokwe North district development co-ordinator Mr Martin Musakanda said the crop situation is generally bad in the district.

“We are waiting for the crop and livestock assessment official results but the situation is generally bad. However, if we receive rains now, there are chances of some farmers  salvaging something,” he said.

Masvingo provincial agriculture specialist, Mr Jonas Chinyavada said the 2023/24 provincial overview as of February 1, reflects a season of normal to below-normal rainfall while crop production is fair to good.

He said the province has recorded a high rate of traditional small grain production.

“We had planted 155 262 ha out of the targeted 200 000 ha of maize, giving 78 percent while also surpassing a targeted 74 000 ha of sorghum when we planted 74 268 ha. For pearl millet, we are at 74 percent,” said Mr Chinyavada.

 

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