Samuel Kadungure Senior Farming Reporter
The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement is carrying out a second crop and livestock assessment, The Manica Post has established.
Although the first assessment had given the impression that maize tonnage would be reduced by about five percent, the harvest could be much less than anticipated due to the erratic rainfall received.
The farming season was also affected by the fall army worm which affected most parts of the country.
To make matters worse, most farmers were forced to reduce their hectarage due to the high inputs costs.
Government has tried to cushion farmers by providing inputs through the Presidential inputs scheme.
But despite that, this year’s hectrage was subdued.
The 274 583 farming households in Manicaland planted 227 216 hectares of maize, 42 779ha of sorghum, 47 041ha of pearl millet and 11 114ha of finger millet, and the cumulative hectarage was way below that of the previous season. During the 2017/18 season, the area planted under maize had been reduced by 13 percent.
During the 2018/19 season, it was reduced by seven percent. In the 2019/20 season, it was reduced by five percent. This agricultural season, there were two dry spells in which most crops suffered severe moisture stress. By February, when the whole country received some rains, over 50 percent of the cereals, especially in the southern part of the country, had already been declared a write-off, and although the wet spell helped, it was not able to sustain the crops to full maturity.
Agritex head for Manicaland, Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa, said the situation in most communal areas in the province is not encouraging. “We experienced a late on-set of the season and long dry spells. Then there was the fall armyworm as well as the high cost of inputs. All this will have a negative impact on the yields of the maize, sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet, cotton, soya beans and sugar beans,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
A survey carried out by The Manica Post across Manicaland revealed that the bulk of the crops suffered severe moisture stress. As a result, the quality of the remnant crop is not of the best quality.
Cereal crops in some parts of Chimanimani, Chipinge, Buhera, Mutare, Mutasa and Makoni wilted before maturity. Some of the drought-prone areas received rainfall of 500m and exceptionally high summer day temperatures which caused most of the rainfall to be lost through evaporation. Rural development expert, Professor Joseph Kamuzhanje, said the cropping season is becoming shorter, adding that farmers now need to take advantage of a 76-day window, which has been reduced from 120 days, to bring their crops to maturity.
He stressed that a delay in planting, even by a day, could have catastrophic consequences on the yield.
“The situation is the same with the livestock sector. According to the first assessment report, Zimbabwe lost 285 000 cattle, with over 84 percent of the deaths linked to drought and diseases.
“Using an arbitrary figure of US$500 per animal, this translates to US$143 million, and this loss is just for one year. By the way, these are the reported cases only,” said Prof Kamuzhanje.
He added that the low rainfall received has seen most water reservoirs going low on stored water, thereby threatening irrigation projects.
Prof Kamuzhanje also spoke about how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the agricultural sector.
“With restrictions on movement, harvests could be negatively impacted. For livestock, especially cattle, the lack of dipping could exacerbate an already difficult situation with the outbreak of the January disease in some of the key livestock producing areas in the country,” he said.
Prof Kamuzhanje also called for more reliable agricultural information system so that farmers have access to weather patterns.
“Agriculture is the backbone of the economy, if it suffers, all the other sectors are also affected. Considering the changing weather patterns, there is need to invest more in irrigation development,” he said.