Samuel Kadungure Senior Farming Reporter —
THE 2015-16 agriculture season experienced the worst drought in decades as lack of rainfall and absolutely dry spell forced some farmers to leave their swathe of land untilled.
Most crops were a write-off. Pastures dried up as well as water bodies – leaving the Manicaland population and livestock suffering acutely.
So brutal were the weather vagaries that livelihoods – crop and livestock – were annihilated, leaving those who had planted in the same quandary as those who had not tilled their land because it was not worthwhile.
The majority of farmers in Manicaland depend primarily on rain-fed agriculture for their grain food, but environmental conditions emerging due to global warming and climate change condemned them into acute poverty, water scarcity, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
By February, nearly 40 percent of the 199 000 hectares put under maize was a complete write-off as the impact of the dry spell continued into March.
These areas lie in the semi-arid and dry sub humid hydro-climates where rain-fed agriculture is the dominating source of food and where (lack of) water constitutes a key limiting factor to crop growth.
Even some small grain crops admired and revered for their resistance, died in the scorching heat and Government had to import grain to feed starving masses.
Communal households in the province have broadened their livelihoods by incorporating animal husbandry as an ideal alternative in arid and semi-arid regions. Livestock had become a reliable source of income in dry regions – whose challenge to crop cultivation has been the scarcity of water.
However, the worsening climatic metamorphosis comprising of low and highly variable rainfall had a telling effect on the livestock sector as at least 25 000 cattle died across the country due to drought, with the bulky of mortalities occurring in Manicaland.
Cattle have been dying at an alarming rate in Manicaland due to a combination of feed and water shortages as well as exposure to diseases like foot and mouth and anthrax. Veld fires worsened an already desperate situation leading to more livestock deaths in the province.
The other prominent constraint in small-scale livestock farming includes disease and pest control and the quantity and quality of feed offered to the animals.
Farmers need to ensure that their animals are in the best health condition, especially during drought period because if an unhealthy animal is attacked by a disease, it ultimately results in a loss.
The current rains have came as a huge relief for livestock farmers since pastures have turned green again and streams started flowing and dams filling up. One would hope the wet spell continues as people and animals were stampeding for the same sources of the precious liquid. The clever ones can now start preparing fodder banks of either crop residue or green grass to feed their cattle at a later stage.
Last season, Zimbabwe produced 202.3 million kilogrammes of tobacco worth $595.9 million.
The auction floors opened towards the end of March 2016, owing to late rains. The tobacco selling season’s major highlight zeroed on the directive by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) that all tobacco payments be processed through the banks.
The directive drew ire among small-scale farmers who had to grapple with opening bank accounts for the first time. The directive, though noble, was done without consultations such that authorities failed to put in place relevant technologies allowing farmers to transact in their respective communities.
Farmers were further short-changed by banks that do not have efficient Straight Through Processing (STP), resulting in amounts credited through the Real Time Gross System (RTGS) taking long to reflect in farmers’ accounts.
Payment of tobacco proceeds through bank accounts was meant to beat liquidity crunch characterising the economy, enable farmers to access cash through bank Automated Teller Machine (ATM), creation of track record for farmers which will assist in accessing loans, convenience of transacting through other payment platforms such as mobile banking and point of sale (POS); guarantee security of the hard earned income, as over the years farmers have fallen prey to thieves and unscrupulous dealers and traders and allow farmers to plan before spending.
Farmers were also short-changed by depressed prices offered at the auction floors. The prices were relatively subdued, at an average of $3, leaving farmers in a high-quality-leaf-poor-price dilemma.
More Food for Africa Phase 2
This year, Government rolled out the second phase of the US$98 million Brazil More Food for Africa Programme, which saw various individual, cluster and irrigation farmers receiving an assortment of farming implements.
Zimbabwe received agricultural equipment worth $38,6 million, which includes tractors, fertiliser spreaders and irrigation kits, and was the first of three tranches coming under a $98 million loan facility secured from Brazil under the South American country’s More Food For Africa Programme.
Smallholder farmers, who benefited from the land reform programme and irrigation schemes received equipment that included tractors, ploughs, disc harrows, planters, boom sprayers and centre pivots, among others.
The equipment was not for free as beneficiaries are paying back.
Government, in partnership with the European Union and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) embarked on an ambitious programme to assist poor smallholder farmers to boost production, productivity and engage in commercial agriculture through integrated farming approaches.
The four-year programme, funded to the tune of US$19 million (13.78 Million Euro) focused on smallholder irrigation and livestock production support activities.
In Manicaland, 10 dysfunctional irrigation schemes were successfully rehabilitated under the Small Holder Irrigation Support Programme (PAO-SIP). The project was split into five schemes with work on the second batch expected to start next year.
The first batch comprises of Gudyanga, Tonhorai, Maunganidze, Musikavanhu A4 and Musikavanhu B2. Batch two comprises of Mutema, Gwerudza Block B and A, Chiduku-Ngove and Chiduku-Tikwiri. The schemes generally performed poorly as a result of technical and financial problems.
In Manicaland and Matabeleland South provinces the programmed impacted on a population of 36,000 in and around the targeted schemes.