HARARE – Zimbabwe faces prospects of food insecurity due to a prolonged dry spell, with crops in some parts of the country showing signs of severe moisture stress.
The parchedness could leave millions of Zimbabweans in need of food assistance at a time when the country is in the throes of a foreign currency crisis.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president Wonder Chabikwa described the situation as “dire”.
He said indications were that the country could go without rains for much longer, amid reports that most crops, particularly in the southern half of Zimbabwe, were now a write-off.
“When the season started, hopes were very high especially when the weather department predicted that rains will be normal but what we have since discovered is that we are heading for a serious drought. The crop situation nationally is desperately terrible,” he said.
“The rains have been erratic. What we thought was going to be a normal season was only normal in terms of the quantum of rains received per day not necessarily its distribution, which is the most important thing.
“Rainfall distribution in the first half of the season has been very poor and most crops are either at the stage of permanent wilting and will be a write-off if the rains don’t fall this week or they could recover but with depleted yields,” added the ZCFU boss.
The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) reports that the bulk of the crop in Manicaland, especially maize, has capitulated to stress owing to low moisture content in the soil.
In areas such as Nyanga and Buhera, the maize crop has reached a critical stage and may not be salvaged if the rains do not fall this week.
“The maize crops were affected at the tasselling stage, which is a critical stage that requires adequate moisture. So those areas’ yields have already been affected,” said ZFU Manicaland provincial manager, Daniel Mungazi.
Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement minister Perrance Shiri could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print.
An aide who responded to calls to his mobile yesterday said the former Air Force of Zimbabwe commander was unable to take questions as he was attending a series of meetings.
President Emerson Mnangagwa has assured the nation of food security.
Addressing traditional leaders at a Chiefs Indaba held in Gweru recently, Mnangagwa said the country produced in excess of its staple maize requirements last year.
At the turn of the century, Zimbabwe’s consumption of the staple maize grain was close to two million tonnes annually.
In the face of the erratic rains, government has urged the nation not to panic.
Deputy Agriculture minister Davis Marapira recently said Zimbabwe has 500 000 tonnes of maize in its strategic grain reserve, enough to sustain the country up to next year.
“While we acknowledge that we had below average rainfall so far this summer cropping season, people should not panic because we have more than 500 000 tonnes of maize in our strategic grain reserve. This can sustain us for close to a year. Last year, we had good rains and people had a bumper harvest. In terms of maize, most communal farmers still have food.
“Also our crop is not a complete write-off. There are other areas where crops are still in a better condition. We also have crop which is under irrigation, so people should not panic at all,” he said.
The country recorded a bumper harvest in the 2016/17 farming season on the back of good rains and improved funding through Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Scheme.
With the Command Agriculture programme having entered its second year running, it had been hoped that this season will even be much better with government increasing the quantum of inputs availed to farmers under the scheme.
The optimism was derived from predictions by the Meteorological Services Department (MSD), which predicted normal rainfall in the first half of the season with the second half receiving normal to above normal rains.
The MSD is now advising farmers to irrigate their crops to guarantee good harvests but not many of the farms have water bodies from which they can irrigate their crops.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing a dry spell since the beginning of the year, sending the nation into panic mode.
Chabikwa said farmers under Command Agriculture were the worst affected because they have targets to meet.
“They have targets of five tonnes per hectare but with the prevailing weather conditions, that is no longer feasible because at the end of the day they still have to feed their families and make profit on top of paying back the inputs they got.
“January has particularly been a dry month so the moisture content in the soil is not pleasant at the moment,” said Chabikwa.