LIVINGSTONE MARUFU/ NYASHA KUNYISWA
Zimbabwe has given up on hopes of bumper harvest during the 2021/2022 summer cropping season due to the erratic rainfall patterns which made planting difficult.
Most farmers could not plant up to the end of December due to unpredictable rainfall which forced many farmers to sell their inputs.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union secretary general Paul Zakariya told Business Times that various farmers planted in January 2022 due to the improved weather patterns.
“We have to be realistic about ourselves as the hopes of a bumper harvest of above 3m have slowly faded away due to extreme weather patterns during the first half of the season where there was minimum rainfall and the beginning of the second half where extreme rainfall patterns were evident since the start of 2022.
“The country has to accept what is on the ground and work with that so that we can have realistic expectations,” Zakariya said.
He said most farmers who planted from January 1 up to January 8 favoured short seasoned varieties seeds which could salvage the badly affected season.
For those who planted in 2022, extreme feeding is needed to compensate for the lost time but excess rainfall patterns are threatening the late planted crop due to leaching.
According to agriculture experts, crops do well in hot humid conditions but this cold humid weather require excess fertiliser.
With contracted farmers having already sold the inputs, various crops are turning yellow due to the lack of nitrogen which needs top dressing fertiliser.
Such conditions attract excess fertiliser application.
Top dressing fertiliser pricing per 50 kilogrammes bag ranges from US$40 to US$90.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Shadreck Makombe said too much rainfall in January could also affect crop growth.
“Various farmers would have planted short seasoned varieties from New Year up to last week but the excessive rains could inflict serious damage on the crop growth and push up cost of production.
“Farmers now need excess fertiliser and chemicals to control weeds, a situation which is likely to affect production as farmers had already used the fertilisers.
“Having said this, the chances of bettering last year’s output are rapidly fading away as the rains were consistent from the start,” Makombe said.
Makombe said there is a need for the setting up of irrigation infrastructure to mitigate such weather challenges.
Unpredictable rainfall patterns may have dealt a heavy blow to Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube’s 5.5% gross domestic product underpinned by agriculture.
With limited irrigation infrastructure the country may have to look to other sectors.
Zimbabwe requires 2.2m tonnes of cereal yearly and the country is on good standing given strong strategic reserves from last year’s harvest.
Meanwhile, experts this week warned farmers to apply insecticides on crops to combat pests associated with heavy rainfall being experienced in the country.
“Most crops are prone to be affected by locusts that can destroy crops due to heavy rains.
“There is a need for farmers to be on the look out for those that can destroy crops in this season,” Agritex chief agronomist, Rutendo Nhongonhema, said.
Nhongonhema said during the rainy season, various diseases can affect crops resulting in drought in other parts of the country.
Zakariya urged farmers to practice moisture conservation techniques.
“Water harvest techniques must be applied in order to conserve the water due to climate change
“I urge farmers in areas receiving low rainfall to use irrigation schemes rather than expecting the rain season,” Zakariya said.
Another agriculture expert, lrvine Craig said: “The season was late but it might not result in poor harvest so we encourage farmers to continue ploughing.
“There is a need to apply adequate fertilisers on the crops in order to spread nutrients on the crops.”
“I also encourage farmers to engage extension officers in their farms in order to get advice on the pesticides to apply in order to have a good quality crop in the end.”