Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
A MORE detailed forecast has confirmed findings by the SADC forecast that all three Zimbabwean rainfall regions will have normal to above normal rainfall for the whole of the coming rainy season.
But these are forecasts of total rainfall and farmers will need to follow later forecasts to see when there are to be wet and dry spells during the season.
Presenting the more detailed national seasonal forecast yesterday, Environment, Climate and Hospitality Acting Minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri said all the three rainfall regions will experience normal to above normal rains from October this year to March next year but stressed that those planning farming operations had to look at the long-term averages for each district to find out what the normal was for that area.
The three regions are: Region 1 encompassing Harare Metropolitan, much of Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, north-eastern Midlands and most of Manicaland; Region 2 encompassing the greater part of Matabeleland North, parts of Bulawayo Metropolitan, parts of Midlands and parts of Mashonaland West; and Region 3 that includes Masvingo Province, the bulk of Midlands, the bulk of Bulawayo Metropolitan, the extreme southern parts of Manicaland and the bulk of Matabeleland South.
“It is important to note that the forecast is for total cumulative seasonal rainfall amounts, and is expressed relative to the long-term averages particular to specific locations.
“It should be used together with the periodic updates which will be issued daily, as well as the three-day and 10-day forecasts, issued by the Meteorological Services Department to account for the distribution of rainfall during the season,” she said.
Minister Muchinguri Kashiri said the outlook contributed significantly to the socio-economic development of the nation and attainment of Vision 2030.
“Increased use of the weather and climate information in the various sectors will thereby assist in better planning to reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, expected to be more frequent as a result of climate change,” she said.
The Meteorological Services Department added to her warnings about what could happen within the general forecast of a good season. It said violent storms and flash floods were more likely to occur during the coming season.
“Heavy downpours in a short space of time may occur during the season. There is still possibility of prolonged dry spells occurring during the season.
“The occurrence of tropical cyclones is a possibility during the season, prolonged periods with high temperatures are highly likely while the prevalence of malaria and water-borne diseases is more likely.
“Soil conservation techniques such as construction of contours and storm drains has to be done. High rainfall may mean increase in livestock disease therefore farmers should stock up on dipping chemicals and ensure consistent dipping,” said the MSD.
The department encouraged water harvesting programmes and conservation agriculture practices. The current high-water security in Zimbabwe is set to be further boosted in the upcoming rainfall season in light of the forecasted good rains.
“More dams are expected to spill in the upcoming season. Risk of riverine flooding is anticipated to be high,” said the MSD.
Meteorological Services Department agriculture meteorologist Mr Benjamin Kwenda, speaking at the seminar in Harare, urged farmers to prepare adequately for fertilisers as heavy rains caused leaching and could also affect other agronomic practices such as weeding, and suggested that farmers might need to consider herbicides to control weeds.
He also warned of extreme conditions and noted that there could be dry spells during the season and, like the last season, an early end to the major rains.
“Climate and weather extremes are continually increasing and last season we had three cyclones. We may also experience dry spells or have early cessation of the rainfall season. This is when Pfumvudza/Intwasa interventions come in. We are expecting farmers to increase their plot sizes,” he said.
Agriculture expert, Mr Ivan Craig said it was good that the country, which had not been receiving normal rains for the past decade, was now about to experience two consecutive seasons of above normal season. But he warned of the risks and urged farmers to think carefully when choosing crops and varieties.
“Farmers should be prepared for anything to spread the risk. Farmers should select correct crops and varieties for their regions. They should not only consider medium and late maturity varieties but also plant short and ultra-short varieties to spread the risk,” he said.
Agriculture systems and innovation leader at Practical Action, Dr Maria Goss, said the application of organic matter on Pfumvudza plots and adding manure, compost and other organic soil amendments could help slow the release of plant nutrients thus reducing overall impact on crop health and growth. He also wanted more ecologically friendly farming to maintain soils.
“This reduces further loss of the top soil layer via erosion, helping to restore plant nutrients. Promoting crop diversity within a particular cropping area through inter-cropping could help improve soil cover, reducing excessive runoff plus soil erosion,” she said.
Civil Protection Unit director Mr Nathan Nkomo, who has to co-ordinate the response to adverse weather, said his units were preparing for flooding and cyclones and wanted local authorities to be prepared. Urban authorities need to repair and clear storm drains to reduce the risk of flash flooding and ensure garbage was collected promptly to avoid pollution and the spread of disease.
He also warned of the effects of bad and illegal planning.
“We still have thousands of people on wetlands and waterways and we need to come up with evacuation strategies.
“We will engage traditional leadership for education communication and early warning to communities. We have 36 000 village heads and we may go through local leadership to educate our people,” he said.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union director Mr Paul Zakariya said: “This prediction is quite encouraging. Preparations for the season must step up and we encourage farmers to be in close contact with agricultural extension workers for location-specific advice. Land preparation should also ensure proper drainage in order to mitigate water-logging problems,” he said.
As with the coming season the last season was also associated with the La Niña phase in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. But while the cumulative totals were good, the bulk of the rainfall was received in a fairly short period of three months from December into February.
While there were tropical cyclones the effects were minimal, with the authorities making contingency plans as each cyclone moved inland.