INDICATIONS from Zimbabwe’s countryside show that the bulk of the country’s 2015/16 summer maize crop is now a write-off following months of poor rainfall.
Although government is yet to release its crop assessment report, it is now clear that the country would face a food crisis of major proportion this year.
In any case, the unfolding dire situation has already been declared a national disaster by President Robert Mugabe, and the food deficit would affect some three million people.
With the rainfall season now nearing its tail-end, the prevailing heavy rains across much of the country have been described as a case of “too little, too late”, to save most of the staple maize crop that had already succumbed to moisture stress.
The crop situation in the southern provinces of Masvingo and Matabeleland is depressing, with much of the crop in these dry areas being declared a total write-off.
In Masvingo, 75 percent of the crop has been declared a write-off, while 65 percent of the crop in Matabeleland South is now beyond redemption according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
While significant rains were received in the country’s drought-stricken southern areas in January and brought renewed hope to farmers, the overall benefit was diminished by very high temperatures which increased evapo-transpiration.
The Meteorological Services Department has since declared 2016 as the hottest year since the 1980s.
Seriously high heat levels, which surpassed records set in 1992, 1987 and 1983, were registered last month.
The high temperatures affected the late planted crop and reduced its chances of reaching maturity.
“The January rains also allowed very late planting of crops in some parts of Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. These late-planted crops have a limited chance of successfully reaching maturity due to the reduced period of rainfall available until the cessation of rains,” the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) said, in its food security and weather hazards bulletin of February 17 to February 25.
In some areas, the January rainfall was too late to save the early planted crops, which had already wilted beyond recovery.
In Mashonaland West, there was some hope that the green belt, from Lions’ Den to Mhangura, would save the country from total hunger, but as the temperatures continue to increase; hope of salvaging anything from the crop in that area is diminishing, despite the heavy rains this week.
Zimbabwe National Farmers Union vice president, Garikai Msika, indicated that high temperatures had resulted in the bulk of the country’s crop being declared a write-off, leaving the country with a huge deficit.
“The situation on the ground indicates that 70 percent of the crop is a write off, as most areas were affected by the reduced rainfall,” Msika said.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, said most crops in Masvingo were a total write-off.
“Reports from the provinces show that in Manicaland — the whole Sabi Valley is a write-off; in Mashonaland Central, Rushinga and the Zambezi valley — the crops have been written off, including crops in the Mhondoro and Mhondoro-Ngezi area of Mashonaland West.
“In the Midlands, crops in Mberengwa and Zvishavane have wilted permanently, including the early maize crop in Matabeleland provinces, although farmers in the province, who planted the late January crop, are hoping to salvage something,” Chabikwa said.
Assessments by farmer organisations indicate that over 50 percent of the 2015/2016 crop is a total write-off.
Short-term forecasts and seasonal forecasts all point to a poor cropping season in most parts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region with five countries having declared a state of emergence.
“Regional cereal stocks in surplus countries are limited. Zambia, which was the highest exporting country in the region last year, is left with exportable stocks of approximately 200 000 tonnes and further decrease in exportable stocks in the region will likely result in significant price increases during the peak of the lean season in March, especially in Malawi and Zimbabwe, both deficit countries,” Fewsnet said
Key among its findings, the early warning network said there would be significant reductions in crop harvests this year in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Zambia, Swaziland and Mozambique due to the erratic rainfall.
Short-term forecasts through to late-February suggest the continuation of below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures.
In contrast to the poor rainfall performance in the south, northern parts of SADC have received above normal rains, leading to good crop conditions in parts of northern Malawi, northern Mozambique, Tanzania, and northern Zambia.
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