Zimbabwe: Take-Home Lessons From 2021/22 Cropping Season

Agri — Insight

IT was widely expected to replicate or even overtake its 2020/21 predecessor on the production scale.

The forecast of normal to above normal rains in the 2021/22 cropping season had effortlessly ignited high levels of expectations among all stakeholders.

And the predicted possibility of the occurrence of the La Nina weather phenomenon known to bring heavy rains, flooding or even cyclones had naturally bolstered the feeling among all and sundry that the season would simply be a clone of the previous one with plenteous rains and yields.

The beginning of the rainfall season was slow and dry, which created this unique resemblance with the previous one. But this was nothing to worry about for the farmers and other stakeholders, as they expected the situation to improve with the second half of the season (January to March) like what happened last time around. What followed was a very trying time with the rains not anywhere in sight, which saw the planted crops wilting and in some cases being scorched to death by the blistering sun.

Of course the farmers did not immediately lose hope with each talk of an approaching cyclone re-igniting their optimism but the weather only managed to confirm its unpredictable nature.

Some of the cyclones that were expected to bring rain to our shores would either change course or weaken somewhere off the coast of Madagascar or proceed to Mozambique and only reach the eastern parts of Zimbabwe as light rains leaving the rest of the country as dry as ever .

However, the good thing is that not all was obliterated under the scorching sun, as many farmers, especially those who produced crops using the Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept still managed to score very good yields.

Although laborious in nature, the holes dug out as planting stations under the concept easily came to the rescue of farmers, as they trapped the moisture that nurtured crops through the dry spell to maturity.

Essentially, this eventuality confirmed the potency of this farming method that thrives on a very simple concept of manipulating organic manure to both improve the soil structure and its water holding capacity.

The crux of the matter is that farmers must just change their approach to farming in response to the climatic changes the world is facing.

They should either adopt irrigation or switch to methods that mitigate against the harsh effects of climate change.

It is common knowledge that the Pfumvudza concept requires the farmer to have adequate labor resources, which at most times is not the case.

The important fact is that it does not need to be done on vast tracts of land for effective results.

Pfumvudza can still see a farmer reaping enough for both domestic consumption and the market even when done on small pieces of land but under strict management practices.

Those farmers plying their trade on dry land and did not use the Pfumvudza method were the hardest-hit by the dry spell that characterised the better part of the last half of the season.

Those who had adopted the Pfumvudza concept managed to put the little rains that came their way to good use after trapping it in holes they used for planting stations.

The other advantage with using this conservation farming method holes is that fertiliser is utilised effectively as it is applied directly into the hole where the plant’s roots will be.

The season may have left a trail of sad memories for many but the good thing is that there are also a lot of positives coming out of it other than the use of farming methods.

One of the biggest lessons farmers have taken from this experience is that they should always stagger planting dates as a way of spreading risk.

For the dry land farmer, success is not always guaranteed by what will be happening at the start of the season, as changes can just happen hence the need to plant crops at different times of the season.

Some farmers got decent yields from the earliest planted crops while others are now banking on their late planted crop that was fortunate to receive the rains that fell recently.

It is also critical to grow a variety of crops that range from early, middle to late maturing depending on what weather experts would have predicted. The inclusion of drought tolerant crop varieties in one’s plans may also not be a bad idea, as they will be the fallback crop to carry the day should anything unfortunate happen.

The famous “do not put all your eggs in one basket” cliché clearly demonstrates its meaning and relevance in this situation.

One other thing is that farmers need to act like the businesspeople that they are and be flexible enough to accept that some crops do not do well under certain weather conditions and therefore switch to those that suit the occasion.