Promising harvest ahead

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ZIMBABWE is expected to receive normal to above normal rainfall for the 2020-21 cropping season, with a global climate agency predicting greater chances of a La Nina, a weather pattern normally associated with wetter conditions.

According to the latest Global Agricultural Geo-monitoring Initiative (GEOGLAM) global outlook report, Southern Africa may receive more rainfall compared to the 2019-2020 farming season.

The GEOGLAM forecast, a Geneva-based satellite monitoring observation system, forecasted that: “El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral conditions are likely to continue through summer 2020 ENSO and Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) conditions are currently neutral and are expected to remain neutral through the northern hemisphere summer.”  

“However, there is an elevated chance of La Nina or La Nina-like climate arising by October. 

“Such conditions are associated with the combined influence of abnormally cool equatorial East Pacific sea surface waters and abnormally warm sea surface waters in the western Pacific. 

La Nina or La Nina-like conditions during October-December typically reduce rainfall in East Africa, Central Southwest Asia, southern Brazil and central Argentina and increase rainfall in Southern Africa, Australia, and eastern Brazil.” 

The World Meteorological Organisation is forecasting a 60 percent chance of a La Nina developing during September to November 2020.

The wind is on our side

The Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department confirmed the La Nina pattern when it presented the 2020-21 seasonal forecast for Zimbabwe.

“The climate scientists took into account oceanic (sea surface temperatures) and atmosphere factors that influence our climate over SADC region,” reads the forecast.

According to the Met Department, Region One, which comprises the bulk of Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, north eastern parts of the Midlands and parts of Manicaland, will receive normal-to-above normal rains from October 2020 to March 2021.

Region Two, which consists the bulk of Matabeleland North, parts of Midlands, and parts of Mashonaland West will receive normal-to-below normal rainfall during the period October to December 2020 and receive normal to above normal rainfall for the period January to March 2021.

Region Three, which consists Masvingo, most parts of Midlands, extreme southern parts of Manicaland and the bulk of Matabeleland South will have normal-to-above normal rains from January to March 2021.

Going back to the basics

The forecast comes at a time Government is intensifying efforts to boost agricultural production through conservation agriculture methods (also known as Pfumvudza) to guarantee food self-sufficiency and commercialise smallholder agriculture.

The Pfumvudza concept is an initiative, where farmers prepare in advance thoroughly for the rain-fed farming technique.

Farmers, months before the farming starts, hole and mulch before manure application on three plots and a plot is 39m by 16m (0,06ha) each. 

All plots have same spacing of 75cm interow and 60cm inrow.

If each plot is properly pegged it should have 52 rows and 28 planting stations in a row with two plants in each planting station, hence 2 912 plant population per plot.

The concept is based on three main 

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principles of conservation agriculture that is minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation and use of mulch.

Under the Pfumvudza concept, communal farmers will now be required to practise conservation agriculture for them to benefit under the Presidential Inputs Scheme as Government moves in to boost agriculture productivity and ensure food self-sufficiency and surplus.

The concept, which will be applied to maize, traditional grains, and soyabean will also commercialise smallholder agriculture.

The approach can be used in marginal areas and still give high yields.

The programme targets to support at least 1,8 million vulnerable households.

Each household is expected to produce at least one tonne of cereal crops; maize and traditional grains from the two plots and at least 200kg of oil seeds from the third plot.

By supporting over 1,8 million households, Government is expecting about 1,8 million tonnes of grain towards the Strategic Grain Reserve.

This is almost 90 percent of the national food requirements.

The programme is also expected to produce between 90 000 and 100 000 tonnes of soya as well as 365 000 tonnes of oil seed against a national requirement of 220 000 tonnes of oil seeds.

Over the last few years, El Niño-induced drought conditions have led to a sharp deterioration in food security in many parts of the country.

The effects of the droughts have been devastating and debilitating to food production systems.

Prolonged lack of rain has also caused long-term environmental damage. 

Below-average harvests and crop failure have also diminished incomes of many households

According to a report by the SADC secretariat, close to 44,8 million people in urban and rural areas across 13 member states are food-insecure.

The 2020 Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in southern Africa also reveals that the number of food-insecure people, lacking reliable access to sufficient quantity of nutritious food, has increased by almost 10 percent in 2020, compared with the data provided at the same time last year.

Pfumvudza has been adopted by Government as a measure to address the problem of low production and productivity, which continues to negatively affect the food and security situation in Zimbabwe.

The Pfumvudza programme is one of the key touch points in the Agriculture Recovery Plan, a blueprint aimed at reversing declining production and productivity trends in the agricultural sector.

The programme will put agriculture on a firm foundation to contribute significantly to a pro-poor and inclusive economic growth trajectory which is a requisite ingredient to the attainment of Vision 2030.

Pfumvudza is easily applicable in areas such as Mudzi, Matabeleland North, Masvingo, south of Manicaland and Rushinga in Mashonaland Central province, among others.

Accompanying this is procurement of inputs for the programme.

More support schemes

Under the Command programme, the 2020/2021 summer cropping season targets productive farmers on irrigated and dry lands for production of maize, wheat, soyabean, traditional grains and sunflowers.

Command Agriculture in this case specifically seeks to boost maize production because it is the country’s staple food. 

Its success will translate to savings in foreign currency that would normally be required for food imports.

In the case of wheat, Command Agriculture is targeting 400 000 tonnes of the crop this year. 

If achieved, this will exceed national demand by 15 000 tonnes.  

The programme is administered under a financial services sector-led commercial contract farming model.

In recent weeks, John Deere tractors scheme was launched, where farmers who can demonstrate capacity to repay for the machinery through banks can access the agricultural equipment, enabling them to ramp up agricultural production, to the extent the country is not only self-sufficient, but is capable of exporting the excess production.

The scheme involves 1 300 tractors and 80 combine harvesters, 600 planters, 200 disc harrows, 100 boom sprayers and 100 trailers.

It will be used by 5 000 farmers under the National Agriculture Recovery Plan.

One of the challenges that hampered wheat production was insufficient combine harvesters. 

The result has seen late harvesting of winter wheat, leading to losses that affect overall production.

The country requires 40 000 tractors, but has 12 000, of which 9 000 are functional, while 3 000 require repairs.

A windfall to ensure farmers have ready in-puts is the facility for the importation of fertiliser duty-free ahead of the 2020/2021 agricultural season.

In the mid-term budget review, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube announced that approved manufacturing companies will be allowed to import 120 000 metric tonnes of fertiliser free of duty for the 2020/2021 summer cropping season.

If these measures are properly pursued, and if they are guided by previous attempts at addressing the challenges faced by farmers in responding to calls to increase agricultural productivity, Zimbabwe will certainly be on the path to transforming its agricultural sector.

It is time Zimbabwe reclaims its status as the breadbasket of southern Africa.

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