The onset of the 2018-19 rainfall season was delayed with first effective rains being received in late November. So far, the rainfall pattern has been erratic in both space and time especially in the southern parts of the country.
The highest accumulated rainfall since the start of the season were recorded in parts of Harare, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, parts of Mashonaland West and Manicaland provinces. The southern provinces of Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South have been the most affected by the poor rainfall distribution.
The rainfall received to date is below the long-term mean with exceptions of a stretch in the north-eastern part of the country and around Beitbridge in Matabeleland South. So far, the 2018-19 cropping season has been mediocre in terms of rainfall performance across most of the country.
Rainfall accumulations from mid-October to late December are below the long-term average.
It is also important to note that the country has already seen rainfall deficits, and the current forecast also indicates that there is 35 percent chance of below normal rains, a 40 percent chance of normal rains and 25 percent chance of having above normal rains during the January to March 2019 period.
The performance of the season, thus far, has adversely affected on farm activities such as land preparation, planting and casual labour opportunities which are below typical levels for this time of the year. The grazing has not been spared as well.
In light of the obtaining scenario, my ministry has come up with a basket of recommendations which can help farmers alleviate the effects of the poor performing season.
Farmers should look more into cultivation of more than one type of grain staple from sorghum, millet and maize and diversification into other early maturing crops, adoption of irrigated agriculture where opportunities permit, moisture conservation, efficient utilisation of water, supplementary feeding of livestock during the dry season, judicious management of grazing areas, improved rangeland management, planting of forage legumes for dry season supplementation, animal health interventions and vector control focusing primarily on dosing and dipping of animals among other strategic interventions.
Farmers should now look broadly at diversifying into small grains especially in the marginal dry areas of the country. Small grains have the inherent drought tolerance which can assist the farmers to get some harvest.
In some regions the focus now should primarily be on growing short-season maize varieties. These short-season varieties offer a better opportunity of harvest, given that the season has progressed and is forecast to be short.
We are also encouraging farmers to diversify into other short-season crops, such as edible beans, roundnuts, cowpeas, groundnuts and sweet potatoes.
In light of the likelihood of dry conditions persisting, disease outbreak of pests such as the fall armyworm and African armyworm tend to increase, therefore we are encouraging farmers to undertake regular scouting so that pest control can be done during the early stages.
Farmers should take stock of chemicals to control the pest and also report such outbreaks as they occur to extension agents.
In areas where farmers have irrigation facilities, we are strongly urging judicious water management through maintenance of the irrigation equipment to avoid water loss and unnecessary breakdowns.
Those with irrigation facilities are also encouraged to diversify into horticultural crop production to widen the income base.
Other efficient water utilisation techniques such as drip irrigation are also being encouraged.
Farmers should focus broadly into moisture conservation activities such as potholing, tied ridges and opening of furrows.
In the predominant livestock areas, farmers should focus on the judicious management of rangeland to avoid overgrazing.
Farmers should also look into growing forage legumes to supplement livestock feed during the dry season as shortage of grazing will be imminent if there is no improvement in the rainfall situation.
Other measures should include dry season irrigation of pastures for those with the facilities; restricted grazing of pastures during wet season, so that feed will remain for the dry season; harvest and storage of wet feed as silage;
Increasing amount of dry season feed from crop residues; harvest and storage of dry feed as hay.
Focus should also be on strategic herd management with respect to feeding productive stock and those at risk.
Above all, we are encouraging farmers and other stakeholder to look for weather bulletins which are being disseminated in three- and 10-day bulletins. These bulletins assist farmers in making informed decisions. Farmers should work closely with their local extension agents to get more strategic advice on what could be done in these challenging times.