Farmers have predicted poor harvests in the 2021/2022 farming season, with two of the country’s farmer organizations saying more than half of the planted crops in the country are a write- off, as a result of the intermittent rains.
The country received erratic rains this season despite forecasts of normal to above normal rainfall for all areas by the Meteorological Services Department during the start of the season.
Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) President, Shadreck Makombe said most farmers had been deceived by the weather and the forecasts from the MSD.
“There is likely to be hunger. This is a bad season compared to last year, it might be worse. It’s not promising. Generally the whole of the country where we have traversed the situation is bad,” he said.
He said most farmers who had done dry planting lost most of their seed following the dry spell experienced at the beginning of the season as the seed failed to germinate.
This, he said, meant that the seed, fertilizer and other inputs the farmers used had gone to waste.
“When the rains came, those farmers who had not done dry planting went on to prepare their land but unfortunately the rains were incessant , and when the rains subsided farmers began working but there were lots of weeds, pests and insects and nothing could be done because the pesticides were washed off, which was quite a challenging,” he said.
Makombe said those that had resorted to short varieties hoping rains would continue into March also had their crops affected as a serious dry spell was experienced during the month of February.
He said there were pockets in areas in the Northern region where farmers might salvage something if the rains continue, noting however, that crops in areas such as Chiredzi, Mwenezi and others, were a write-off.
“For now we may put it at 50-50 but we will put it at 60-40 to say in terms of poor harvest; in terms of write off it can be on 60 percent but we are yet to get imperial evidence which we will get after assessment has been done, but for now we are in big trouble,” he said.
Zimbabwe Integrated Commercial Farmers Union (ZICFU) President Mwaiwepi Jiti noted that most of the farmers who relied on rain-fed farming had experienced serious losses owing to late planting which led to crops being damaged by hailstorms, flash floods, and strong winds experienced due to cyclones and climate change.
“These caused leaching which affects farmers economically in their cash flows by uptake of more inputs and inflation. It also affects the environment through soil erosion and damage to crops hence loss of most crops. There was also an increase in diseases and wilting of crops resulting in reduced yield and low quality.
“The long dry spell which came in January first week up to end of March caused more damage to crops and most are beyond recovery. The tobacco crop survived due to its dry spell resistance but yield and quality have been compromised. Maize in more than half of the planted hectarage has been severely affected,” she said.
Jiti said the current rains have come a little too late and are good for animals and winter crops as well as summer land preparation.
She, however, noted that the irrigated crop survived and was in good condition as it benefited from frequent supply of water.
“This shows that we need to invest more in water harvesting and rehabilitation of irrigation systems already existing as well as increasing investment in irrigation systems,” she said.
Jiti said late or non-payment of farmers for some crops had seriously affected them since they could not buy inputs on time when they were still affordable or in time to catch up with the rains even though the rains came late.
A reduction in rainfall in the second half of December in northern parts of the country, where the bulk of the national maize crop is produced, combined with abnormally high temperatures seriously affected crop growth.
While the Food Agriculture Organization forecast an above‑average level in food production, farmers now anticipate a substantially low output compared to the 2020/2021 farming season.
Last year, the country suspended the importation of maize after harvesting a record 2.8 million tonnes of maize against national consumption of 1.8 million tonnes annually.
This saw the country saving more than US$300 million in maize imports, which had reached 100 000 tonnes per month.
Maize is the staple food of Zimbabwe and is a strategic economic commodity that ensures food security and serves as raw material for agro-industrial processes, with the country consuming an average 2.1 million metric tons (MT) per year.