By Fidelis Manyange

THE current drought we are facing has been a huge wake-up call for Zimbabweans to be innovative in terms of food production. For instance, smallholder farmers in the traditionally dry agro-ecological regions have been urged to embrace drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, rapoko, cowpeas (nyemba) and millet as opposed to the staple maize.

The Patriot news crew recently visited several provinces across the country and found that those who had planted small grains were expecting better yields than those who stuck to maize, in the wake of erratic rainfall.

In Matabeleland South and North small grains were thriving despite the scorching temperatures. For example, in Bulilima Mr Obert Ndlovu planted 2 hectares of millet which was doing reasonably well at the time of The Patriot crew’s visit, a clear testimony that small grains are the way to go.

The Ndlovu family planted their crop in November but despite the searing hot temperatures, it is on the verge of maturity and a good harvest is beckoning. Another smallholder farmer, Mrs Catherine Nkomo, said she did not regret planting finger millet as the crop was also doing very well. Although she had lost all her maize crop, she has at least something to smile about as far as her food supply is concerned.

For Mrs Mavis Ndlovu from Emthonjeni village in Tjefunye, Tsholotsho District, there is also some glimmer of hope. In areas like Nyele, Tjehanga, Tokwana and Madlambudzi, among others, in Bulilima Constituency, millet (mhunga or inyawuthi) is thriving.

According to the Acting Provincial Director in the Department of  Agricultural, Rural Development and Advisory Services for Matabeleland South, Mr Mkhunjulellwa Ndlovu,  Bulilima District is a millet-growing district and therefore urged farmers to embrace the crop.

“If households had planted millet, they could have harvested between 50 and 100 kg because Bulilima is a millet-growing area. The farmers would have managed to get some food for two months as well as feed for their livestock,” said Ndlovu.

“With millet, if it receives good rains three times it matures. This is a lesson for everyone and farmers should understand the effects of climate change. The quality of yield may not be the same compared to a good rainy season, but those who planted millet will be getting something,” he said

There was also considerable joy in Mashonaland East where drought-resistant crops such as rapoko, millet and cowpeas planted in December were thriving.

 Mr Fanuel Zunzanyika from Chitowa Village 8, Nyahunguru, in Murehwa, is expecting a good harvest from the 2 hectares of millet he planted this year. “This drought has taught us to plant small grains every year even in a good year so that we don’t have to rely entirely on maize as our staple food,” he said.

The Patriot survey found that farmers were to a large extent utilising the available water bodies that they have tended to ignore over the years to boost their food production.

Last farming season alone, Zimbabwe harvested 280 966 tonnes of traditional grains, up from 194 100 tonnes in the 2021-2922 season. 

Mbare Musika is currently experiencing a glut of vegetables from peri-urban areas such as Domboshava, who have resorted to horticulture in the wake of a failing maize crop.

In the high-density areas families whose homes are situated near wetlands are turning open spaces traditionally devoted to maize into vegetable gardens in a bid to beat the drought. 

Elsewhere, those who previously did not take Pfumvudza/Intwasa seriously have since realised their folly as those who embraced it are expecting a reasonable maize harvest maize this year the adverse effects of El Nino  notwithstanding.

In a bid to cushion families against future droughts, the Government has stepped up efforts to sink a solar-powered borehole in each of the country’s 35 000 villages.


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