IT’S confirmed. The 2018/19 farming seasonal forecast points to an El Nino-induced drought in the country.
The Meteorological Services Department, at the National Climate Outlook forum in Harare on Tuesday, concluded that Zimbabwe will receive erratic rains during the 2018/19 season. What it means is the country will experience an El Nino phase.
An El Nino is associated with above average warming of the sea surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean and in most years is usually linked with reduced rainfall activity over the Southern Africa region.
Manicaland will certainly feel the impact of this unwelcome weather pattern, which is a product of the changing climatic conditions in the country.
Those in regions three, four and five of Manicaland will likely to suffer severe effects of the drought as lack of rain and scorching heat will irreversibly damage food crops and pastures for livestock.
It is therefore important that farmers who lack the irrigation power take heed of agronomic advice to minimise losses as warning points to reduced agricultural output in 2019.
They also need to adopt a paradigm shift and embrace new technologies like conservation farming, which if done properly, will more likely yield better harvests than conventional farming. This practice conserves soil and water by using mulch to minimise runoff, erosion and improve the conditions for plant growth. Crops are planted, fertiliser or manure and water applied directly in the holes.
Farmers also need to heed agronomic advice and plant certified seed varieties that mature early and more likely to yield better harvests. They should not grow wrong seed varieties for their areas as they will end up accruing huge losses, fail to meet own food demands, which enhances inability of rural economies to contribute to national gains in economic welfare and lift them out of poverty.
Since most farmers are almost entirely reliant on rain, their crop becomes highly susceptible to the El Nino phenomenon and hence should stagger their plantings as per agronomists’ advice.
The likelihood of a poor season is troublesome as it depletes reserves, tighten supplies and push up local prices.
Government and its partners should assist farmers in addressing both immediate and long term needs through the scaling up crop and livestock interventions to minimise losses.
Focus of immediate interventions should include supporting farmers with drought-tolerant crops, seeds, chemicals to control menacing pests like armyworm, livestock feed and carrying out vaccinations.
There is also need to support long-term resilience-building approaches among vulnerable communities through the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, improving farmers’ access to rural finance and supporting wider use of climate-smart agricultural technologies.
Several countries have already produced national plans that address the impact of El Nino on agriculture, and Zimbabwe cannot afford to lag behind.
Research on climate change and its impact on livestock production needs scaling up so that farmers avoid inappropriate responses to climatic variability induced factors.
Livestock provide farmers with draught power, milk, meat, eggs; serve various cultural and social uses and augment crop production by providing manure, cultivation, transport, cash and food.
Without understanding and appropriate responses, the current and future climate variability can annihilate small-scale livestock keepers and the loss is unrecoverable to the extent of condemning rural farmers into accelerated chronic poverty.
To compound this, rural farmers are marginalised from new research, innovations and technologies in livestock production and management that proffer solutions to climatic fluctuations and extremism.
As per tradition, they prepare fodder banks of either crop residue to feed their cattle at a later stage, but what they lack is the knowledge the mashangas have low nutritional value (about 6 percent protein) if fed as they are, but can be improved in quality and digestibility by treating them with a three-week fermentation period using a urea-water solution.
The crude protein content of stovers and straws increases when treated with urea and there is also increased dry matter intake, live-weight gain and milk production from urea-treated stovers and straw compared to untreated material that our small-scale farmers are accustomed to.
Finally, we are entering the month of September and by now farmers should have acquired the right inputs as the season is already around the corner.
The danger is that the rainfall patterns have drifted, and if farmers miss early rains, chances of making it will be remote.