A DEVASTATING drought, the worst in a decade, has forced Shurugwi District farmers, who are facing a daunting task of keeping their already wilting crops alive, to turn to wetlands for cropping to escape hunger.
The wetlands, dotted around the district, have in the past been so water-logged that farming in them was a waste of time.
But this season the swamps have brought some welcome relief to farmers in Shurugwi’s Chitora area, where the El Nino-induced dry spell has devastated crops in the fields.
Shurugwi, which is in natural region four, is characterised by poor rains and is perennially prone to droughts, but farmers in Chitora village are not taking the issue of food security lightly at a time when the country is already importing grain to save millions from starvation.
The Shurugwi wetlands project is a model that could be used to help fend off drought such as the one currently ravaging the country.
Shurugwi farmers began the projects after being awarded a license by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to farm in wetlands.
Three wetlands in Chitora, Faqar and Simbarevanhu have been leased to groups of farmers who are growing vegetables, maize and other farm produce.
With the help of Shurugwi Partners, a non-governmental organisation that sourced funding from the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environmental Grant, farmers have managed to improve their livelihoods.
Shurugwi Partners’ programmes officer, Pascal Manyakaidze, said the preservation of wetlands had immensely helped farmers through the persistent dry spell.
“Through this project farmers are able to improve their food security since the entire community is faced with hunger,” he said.
Zimbabwe adopted the 1971 Convention on Wetlands (Ransar Convention), which promotes the conservation of wetlands that have been destroyed over the years.
EMA Shurugwi District officer, Severino Kangara, said farming in wetlands has helped farmers who lack fertilisers as it is based on organic agricultural techniques.
“Organic farming is a safe practice for the ecosystem and is cheaper for the farmers as no fertilisers are needed,” said Kangara, who further noted that wetlands needed to be conserved because they can assist farmers during dry spells.
“These wetlands have been beneficial to our livelihood, so we would like to urge the Ministry of Agriculture to take the issue of wetlands seriously as they can bring hope of better yields in dry seasons,” Gladys Maunganidze, a farmer and leader of the Simbarevanhu wetlands project, said.
“We have managed to sell to supermarkets, but our challenge is that the markets have been a bit elusive hence most of our produce remains here,” she added.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development revealed that Midlands Province recorded a 42 percent decline in land utilised for farming due to the El-Nino induced dry spell, with Zvishavane, Mberengwa, and parts of Gweru being the most affected.
Provincial Agritex officer, Peter Chamisa, said replanting was necessary in most affected parts of the region save for Kwekwe and Gokwe North, which received rains in November.
Chamisa said the province needed to revive irrigation systems, which are currently operating at 40 percent capacity utilisation, but also advised adoption of mulching to lengthen the wet season.
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