FARMERS have sprung into action as some parts of the country started receiving rains over the weekend with agronomists advising the planting of early maturing varieties and traditional grains, particularly in drier regions of Matabeleland and Masvingo provinces.
Improved rains are expected countrywide up to Christmas period, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Dr Anxious Masuka confirmed citing the latest projections by the Meteorological Services Department.
The El Nino weather conditions characterised by the dry spell and high temperatures had dashed hopes for most farmers in the last two months, with some who had planted early succumbing to moisture distress.
Livestock was also dying as a result of water shortages and pastures, prompting the Government to start drilling boreholes in more affected communities.
Rains started pouring in some parts of the country over the weekend and yesterday farmers, with renewed hopes, were already busy in their fields — planting. Urban farmers in Bulawayo were back to the ground and reports suggested that more farmers in rural communities and commercial farmers were also busy.
Bubi Rural District Council chief executive officer, Dr Patson Mlilo, who is a farmer in Umguza District, Matabeleland North said he has started planting.
“I have started planting now. Yes, the rains are unpredictable but we have been advised by Agritex officers that we should start planting now. They send us audios and videos on what we need to do,” said Dr Mlilo.
A farmer in Gwatemba in Insiza District, Matabeleland South, Mr Zibusiso Sibanda, said he had planted during the first rains and was getting worried that further delays in rains could result in crops suffering from moisture distress.
“However, I’m happy that we received the rains now, the crop remains in good condition. We had done half our plots and we now are looking forward to completing our planting as we had stopped due to the dry spell,” said Mr Sibanda.
Another farmer, Mr Leonard Dube from Mancott in Bubi, said they received rains in the past two days and today he expects to start planting.
“All along it has been very dry making it impossible to plant. But with the rains that we received in the past two days, tomorrow I’m getting into the field. There is no longer time to waste, the soil moisture is good enough,” said Mr Dube.
The Agricultural and Rural Development Advisory Services (ARDAS) yesterday said farmers should conduct their agricultural production bearing in mind that they are staring at a shorter cropping season.
“This season has started rather slowly with some areas still to receive their first effective rains. However, all hope is not yet lost as we are still within the planting window for most crops but with good agronomic practices and rethinking varieties. Farmers must plant now,” said the agency in a latest advisory statement.
Those with irrigation have been urged to continue planting including those with Pfumvudza/Intwasa plots and have a source of water, should consider watering their crop.
The agency said it was business unusual for farmers as they should swiftly plant as the window for cropping is too short and where necessary they have to hire manpower to assist them in planting as opposed to relying on few people.
ARDAS said the short-season varieties were best suited for the summer cropping season and those in the Matabeleland region should go for traditional grains while also diversifying crops.
“Farmers in regions 4 and 5 are still encouraged to go for traditional grains and short-season varieties as they withstand drought much more than other cereals.
“Farmers are also encouraged to diversify into other crops such as groundnuts, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and round nuts so that irrespective of the weather, we get something,” read the advisory.
It encouraged livestock farmers to buy feed to save their animals as some of them were dying from January disease.
“Livestock farmers are encouraged to ensure that they have at least a plot for fodder and also clean water for livestock.
“Dosing is a must if they have not yet done so and dipping preparation must by now be in place if they have not yet done so,” said ARDAS.
Matabeleland North acting ARDA director Mr Dumisani Nyoni said farmers were looking at replanting as crops that were planted earlier succumbed to moisture distress.
He said while agronomists can offer advisories to farmers, communities understand better the environments hence they can make decisions based on their past experiences.
“Some of the farmers will have to replant as their crops succumbed to moisture distress. At the moment, we need to intensify land preparations, especially in those areas that have not received rains that justify planting,” said Mr Nyoni.
“Farmers can only plant informed by their experience and when there is adequate soil moisture to grow the crop.”
Mr Nyoni said Pfumvudza/Intwasa remains one of the measures to ensure farmers attain better yields this season. He said areas such as Lupane have received good rains of cumulative 40mm within two days making it an appropriate environment for planting.
“We have started receiving rain in most parts of the country but so far it doesn’t cover all areas. The quantities being received vary as some areas are receiving light showers, around 15 to 20 millimeters,” he said.
“In some areas, it has rained more than once and places like Lupane have received a cumulative rainfall of 40mm,” said Mr Nyoni.
“We encourage farmers to continue doing land preparation especially those who would have received less than 30mm of rain and those who have received more than 30mm within a space of two or three days can plant.”