Time to improve yields

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DEPRESSED yields were recorded in the agricultural sector over the past decades resulting in Government putting in place programmes promoting adherence to proper methods of farming for maximum production.

Issues of inadequate funding, high costs of production and failure by farmers to access advanced machinery have been cited as the major drawbacks in the sector.

The change in rainfall patterns has also resulted in poor yields since some farmers do not have access to irrigation facilities.

During the 2015/2016 summer cropping farmers were hard-hit by the effects of El-Nino that not only affected Zimbabwe, but other countries in southern Africa.

To counter the effects of climate change, Government introduced Command Agriculture programme under which farmers with access to irrigation facilities, were supported with inputs.

Under the programme, Government assisted in the rehabilitation of irrigation facilities.

The programme targeted mainly commercial and A2 farmers.

Recently, Government launched the Climate Proofed Presidential Inputs Programme commonly referred to as Pfumvudza.

Through Pfumvudza, projected increased food production is not only expected to impact at household level but go even further and contribute to the national efforts of promoting food security.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is optimistic the programme will help boost agriculture production considering the country expects normal-to-above normal rains this season.

The programme, which is targeting smallholder farmers is promoting the use of conservation farming techniques.

Conservation farming is a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels, while concurrently conserving the environment.

This type of farming helps in soil and water conservation by reducing

erosion, runoff and overall improvement of conditions for plant growth.

Conservation farming includes a number of components and practices such as zero tillage, contour and stubble farming, alley cropping, crop rotation and trap cropping, among many others.

Zero tillage involves planting crops directly into land, which is protected by mulch using minimum or no tillage techniques.

Some farmers have, in the past, cleared off mulch, which helps prevent the rate of soil erosion and water run-off as well as improving the soil’s fertility.

Agriculture expert Mutandwa Mutasa said the programme came at a time when a majority of small-holder farmers using conventional farming methods were getting low yields.

“There is need to push for all farmers to practise conservation farming as it had many benefits not only in food production but also in preserving the environment,” he said.

“Conservation farming addresses the problem of low erratic rainfall through the use of technologies that reduce water losses and increase infiltration and low soil nutrient status by reducing top soil loss and increasing soil carbon and nitrogen through the use of organic soil cover and legume in rotations and interactions.

“Conservation farming is an African initiative, which presents great opportunities for attracting investment and resources for adaptation in the agricultural sector.”

Mutasa said from experience, farmers who practised conservation farming generally got better yields and through it the country could reach food sustainability.

Meanwhile, distribution of inputs under Pfumvudza has begun with farmers benefiting expected to have completed land preparation and will undergo training.

Farmers in Masvingo and Matabeleland South provinces have received inputs under the scheme with nearly 250 000 households expected to benefit in Masvingo.

Agriculture is the bedrock of the economy and its revival is crucial to sustainable economic growth.

The country requires 1 800 000 metric tonnes of grain and 450 000 tonnes of wheat per annum.

The sector used to supply about 60 percent of industry raw materials. However, over the past decades, the sector has failed to meet these targets resulting in the country, which was once a surplus crop producer becoming a net food importer.

Therefore reviving agriculture must remain Government’s number one priority if Zimbabwe is to reclaim its status as the breadbasket of southern Africa.

The adoption of convenient farming methods, which counter the effects of climate change, as pundits predict, will result in the country being able to produce sufficient grain.

With the country working towards regaining its status as a grain exporter, it is hoped farmers will embrace new technologies and skills to ensure they improve yields.

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