Buhera revels in bumper harvest

10 Mar, 2017 - 00:03 0 Views
Buhera revels in bumper harvest A thriving sorghum crop in Buhera

The ManicaPost

Samuel Kadungure Senior Reporter
BENEFICIAL rains fell in portions ensuring a wet and favourable 2016-17 growing season across Zimbabwe, but the brightest smiles are on inhabitants of abnormally dry regions where successive seasons of failed rains led to food, water shortages and massive livestock deaths which undermined their livelihoods.

A case in point is Buhera District in Manicaland, where in the past seasons, El Nino – a weather phenomenon that causes the warming of the weather in several parts of the world, wreaked havoc leading to drastically reduced, delayed or no rains at all.

Climatologically, Buhera is characterised by low and highly variable rainfall that makes it unsuitable for crop production.

The effects are to a much higher degree than in the past.

As a result, crops and pastures wilt beyond recovery and water sources, essential to both people and their livestock dried up completely.

The El Niño weather phenomenon decimated the district, leaving thousands of cattle dead, reservoirs depleted and crops destroyed.

The 2016 drought, probably the worst in decades, was the sixth disaster in a row, after truant rains in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 decimated crops and livestock, while reservoirs that supply the barren district with the precious liquid dried up entirely.

Sights of scrawny cows, with protruding ribs and flaccid udders, grazing on what little vegetation could be found on the sere ground were a common sight.

At the height of the equally infamous 2011 drought, the then Buhera District Administrator, Mr Rolland Madondo, did the unthinkable and effectively unmasked the predicament in the district by calling for evacuation of all the people and conversion of the entire dryland into a zoo.

“Government should move all people out of this dry district to other arable areas and turn Buhera District into a game park because only animals do well under the obtaining extremely high temperatures. Why not take these people to areas where (crop) agriculture is possible and turn this area into a ranging zone?” said Mr Madondo.

The 2016-17 sharply contrasts preceding successive seasons.

Bountiful and soaking rains beginning mid-November 2016 brought relief and hope among disillusioned and resource poor peasants Buhera farmers.

The district falls in under natural regions five, and the average annual rainfall was least expected to exceed 450mm, but highly erratic.

Acting Agritex head for Manicaland, Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa, said since November 2016, and unlike in the past, Buhera received evenly distributed rains that saturated the topsoil and seeped deep into the subsoil and nurtured a lush new growth of pasture grasses, refilled long-dried rivers, inland dams, cattle ponds and brought new hope for crops, especially the staple maize and small grains.

As at February 15, Buhera had received an average rainfall of 551.1mm.

The abundant rainfall, well-distributed in time if not in space, triggered severe leaching of nutrients from the soil, and high poverty level in the district meant families could not afford even a bag of fertiliser to nourish their yellowing crops, until the First Lady, Dr Amai Grace Mugabe recently came to their rescue with 5x30t truckloads of Ammonium Nitrate to nourish the crops.

Apart from the short season maize, other planted crops are sorghum, groundnuts, round nuts, pearl millet, short-cycle beans, rapoko, pumpkins and sweet potato, among others.

The farmers will glean not just something, but a good potential yield.

The yield could even have been far more pronounced and victorious had it not been for the delayed application of fertilisers.

“All the crops are good to fair. Maize was at one point heavily affected by leaching and fall armyworm, but we have various corrective interventions and the problems are a thing of the past,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.

Buhera assistant District Administrator, Mr Elisha Mushayavanhu, said the rains had rejuvenated long lost expectations of average to above-average crop yields.

“The crop is good, and some first crop has reached maturity. The harvest this season is good, the livestock is in good condition and water bodies’ levels are up. The rains have improved pastures and water levels in reservoirs, and there are robust wild vegetables, livestock, wild fruits and deciduous fruits which are an important sources of income helping to strengthen the food security of poor households,” said Mr Mushayavanhu.

So have these rains virtually eliminated the long-term drought? Can the wet system certainly be a blessing and a drought breaker?

Is this a fulfillment of discoveries by scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading who noted that increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have caused climate change, have triggered a return of crucial seasonal rains to Africa?

The researchers used a supercomputer climate simulator to study the increases in rainfall since the 1980s, found around three-quarters of the additional rain was caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations. Despite the envisaged beneficial impact of global warming on Africa, the scientists have warned that the long term impacts will be very different as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

Professor Rowan Sutton, who led the research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said: ‘Scientists often study how greenhouse gas levels in the future will influence the climate. These findings show how climate change can hit specific countries and regions in a much more complicated way than the simple idea of “global warming” might suggest.

In particular, we are beginning to discover how climate change is influencing rainfall patterns. These positive short-term impacts were accidental. No-one was trying to bring them about.”

That aside, the onset of a drought is usually a gradual process and it usually takes more than one good rain to break a drought which is certainly is the case this time around.

While there has been heavy rain this season, it remains to be seen if it would be enough to compensate for years of drier-than-usual weather.

Grain Marketing Board’s Buhera depot’s maize intake has been zero for over a decade as cumulative occurrence of these droughts culminated in the stagnation of rural livelihoods which have enormously been agro-based.

This has not only entrenched rural poverty, but, has seen the introduction of new strategies such as conservation farming and food handouts, all of which have failed to usher into a comprehensive remedy primarily because of the palliative nature of the solutions.

Hectares of land cultivated are gradually declining each season as farmers opting to leave their fields untilled fearing a repeat of drought.

The following practices – conservation agriculture, climate change adaptation projects (bee keeping, livestock), promotion of small grain drought tolerant crops, promotion of short season varieties, water harvesting techniques and irrigation, are encouraged.

Professor Joseph Kamuzhanje, who over the past years has been championing inclusion of livestock as key component of food security in Buhera, said income from livestock and their many products can allow poor families to put food on the table, improve their nutrition, send their children to school and purchase medicine for themselves and their animals.

They are also a source of income, provide draught power and they also fulfill banking and insurance functions.

Agricultural development based on water conservation and irrigation remains is the surest avenue for poverty alleviation in rural areas.

In this age of global warming, it is myopic and unsustainable to hinge the district’s agriculture fortunes on rainfall alone. There is need to harness water across the district to enable communities to engage in self-sustaining irrigation projects.

Irrigated agriculture provides a powerful management tool against the vagaries of rainfall and makes it economically attractive to grow high-yielding crops and to apply the adequate plant nutrition and pest control required in order to obtain the full potential of seed varieties.

“For the poorest, an increase in domestic agricultural production is key to improving food security. Since the cessation of Marovanyati, the people continue to suffer yet the solution lies with water harvesting,” said Mr Edison Magadza, of Marindire Village under Chief Makumbe.

Buhera has two perennial rivers – Sabi and Mwerihari – cutting through it, and the completion of Marovanyati Dam must be prioritised. Marovanyati, which can irrigate at least 4000 hectares, among other critical irrigation infrastructure, would cater for the eventuality of drought periods in the district.

On completion, more generous rains will be required to fill it up.

So the emergency is expected to last until its completion, and that is beyond 2017.

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