Another disastrous farming season beckons for Zimbabwe
By Tabitha Mutenga
IF Southern Africa, especially Zimbabwe, still doubts that climate change is now the new normal, then the region would forever starve.
Predictions for the 2016/17 agricultural season point to an early start to the rains, which means that farmers should, by now, be ready to swing into action.
And yet very little, in terms of preparations for the early onset of the rains, has been done.
Once again, Zimbabwe could be caught flatfooted.
Last year, the country experienced a late start to the farming season due to a severe El Nino-induced drought that left more than four million people in need of food assistance.
Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department (Met Department) had long predicted the drought spell, but not many farmers took heed.
The 2015/16 season was characterised by prolonged periods of dryness that resulted in a lower than normal hectarage.
A combination of the delayed onset of the rains and a poor mid season rainfall pattern at critical stages of maize development, led to poor maize production in most parts of the country.
Statistics released by government last week show that the country harvested 511 000 tonnes of maize against a national requirement of 2,2 million tonnes.
The 2015/16 agricultural season was the worst ever experienced in Zimbabwe in the past 36 years.
The Met Department has issued another prediction for the next season, but it would appear that its forecast might fall on deaf ears for the umpteenth time.
The department is predicting a normal to above normal rainfall season, with rains expected as early as late this month in the southern parts of the country which were the worst affected by the El-Nino induced drought.
Met Department’s senior forecaster, Vimbayi Mamombe, said farming inputs, including small grains should be distributed to all regions by the end of this month in Matabeleland South, Masvingo, Midlands and southern districts of Manicaland.
By the end of next month, inputs should have reached the rest of the country.
“In view of the moisture availability and suitable temperature thresholds, those with water should not wait for the main rains to fall. They can plant any time now,” said Mamombe.
“It is now extremely rare for the whole country to experience the same weather conditions,” she added.
Despite the high chances of higher than usual rains this season, weather experts reason that Zimbabwe should always expect, and plan for one form of drought or another.
Climate change has become one of the biggest threats to agriculture in Zimbabwe.
The country has over the years been hit by consecutive droughts, impacting negatively on food security.
With less than 21 days before the start of the rainy season, most farmers are ill-prepared because they do not have the funding to fully utilise the land.
To produce the current national average yield of 0,8 tonnes per hectare, a farmer requires at least US$800 per hectare in funding.
In order to finance the 2016/17 maize crop, at least US$1,6 billion is needed.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, said while farmers needed to maximise on every drop of rain released from the skies, there was no funding secured for purposes of financing the agricultural activities.
Ordinarily, farmers would borrow to finance their crop, but this hasn’t been possible for the local farmers.
Zimbabwean farmers have no bankable security to the land on which they were settled under the land reform programme.
The absence of a land market is preventing financial institutions from granting loans to farmers.
Also, the banking sector is largely crippled by a lack of liquidity.
“Everything should have been done during the off season and the farming programme should be in place, ready for implementation; unfortunately there is nothing on the ground,” Chabikwa said.
“We were very excited when government announced the new agricultural programme, command agriculture, but with the exciting news of normal rainfall season in all provinces, the programme is lagging behind. It’s an early season and we need to maximise on the heat units for us to produce a bumper crop, but there is no money to finance the crop,” Chabikwa added.
The next summer cropping season comes at a time when government has embarked on a massive exercise to evict thousands of illegally settled farmers.
Sixteen years ago, government evicted, on a wider scale, former commercial white farmers as part of the controversial land reform programme.
The evictions continue to disrupt farming activities, and hence contributing to the current economic crisis.
Post first appeared in The Financial Gazette on 15/09/2016 under the same headline.