FARMERS have been implored to utilise the current wet spell and plant short season and drought tolerant varieties to ensure harvests at the end of the season.
Agronomists said though the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) is still projecting a season with normal to above normal rains, what is not clear is how long the rains will last.
The delay in the season have also raised doubts on the province’s ability to meet or surpass its revised target of 248 000 hectares for maize.
Over the years smallholder farmers have accounted for the bulky of the maize grown in the province under the conventional, Presidential Inputs Scheme and Climate-Proofed Presidential Inputs Programme (Pfumvudza).
The CBZ Agro-Yield Programme, popularly known as Command Agriculture, which has drastically reduced the number of contracted farmers owing to stringent conditions imposed this year has over the years accounted for 10 percent of the provincial target.
Only farmers that paid at least 80 percent of their previous loans were contracted.
The bank is also demanding collateral to all new farmers showing interest in the programme.
The AFC Leasing Company has also entered the fray contracting farmers up to 30 percent, but those who failed to make it under the CBZ Agro-Yield Programme due to non-payment of loans, should not expect any joy as the bank is using reference from the CBZ.
The Pfumvudza programme has been oversubscribed — with 345 000 households trained, of which at least 60 percent have received inputs and planted their five plots, while some are still receiving their allocations.
Some farmers have used their own resources to avoid legging behind.
Manicaland Provincial Agritex officer, Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa said farmers should use the current wet spell to ameliorate planting.
Mrs Rwambiwa said the current wet spell rejuvenated waning hopes among farmers, the majority of whom dwell in rural areas and depend heavily on rain-fed agriculture for food and income.
“Smallholder farmers who do not have the means to irrigate must plant short season and drought tolerant varieties as long season varieties may suffer miserably in the scorching heat that may likely to characterise the second half of the season.
“Those who fail to plant with the current rains will lag behind and never catch up. So far the planted hectarage is still very low compared to the provincial target of 248 000ha. We should have a better picture next week,” she said.
So far, the rainfall distribution in Manicaland ranges from fair to good in that even low lying areas and those in the rain shadow have started receiving minimal amounts, while the those areas lying in the wind-ward side have received above good rains.
Geographically, a rain shadow is a dry region of land on the side of a mountain range that is protected from the prevailing winds while the windward side is that side of an island subject to the prevailing wind, and is thus the wetter side.
The leeward side is the side protected by the elevation of the island from the prevailing wind, and is typically the drier side of an island.
“The rains have been received throughout the whole province, but in some areas have been erratic. We should be able to assess our chances of beating or surpassing the maize target next week,” said Mrs Rwambiwa, adding that farmers have between now and mid-January, 2022 to plant.
“At least 60 percent of farmers have received their Pfumvudza allocations, while those contracted under the CBZ-Agro Yield Programme are a drop in the ocean when compared to previous seasons. Only those who paid 80 percent of their loans have been contracted, and they are very, very few. The bank is also demanding collateral from new farmers.
“However, this will have very little bearing on our chances to attain the provincial target because over the years it has accounted for only 10 percent of our target. The major drivers in the attainment of the planted target include the conventional, Presidential Inputs Scheme and Pfumvudza,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
The previous agricultural season (2020/21) has been very good with farmers recording a bumper harvest.
However, a significant number of farmers, who benefited under the CBZ Agro Yield Programme, either held on to their maize, sold it in the name of their spouses or side-marketed it to avoid paying the loans.
The farmers have been complaining to the agriculture ministry about low prices offered by GMB.
Rural development expert, Professor Joseph Kamuzhanje said last season taught the nation that vital ingredients like adequate rainfall, input availability and technical support should all come at once to have a good season.
“Like in the previous season, these parameters have not occurred at the same time this time around. A delay by a single day in the preparation for the 2021/22 season has catastrophic results. At the moment, we have a situation where some farmers have no idea how much area they will put under what crops.
“It is not too wrong at the moment to say that the critical components of the 2021/2022 agricultural season have already been lost. There is just too little time for farmers to make the necessary preparations in order to have a successful season,” said Prof Kamuzhanje.