16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Wet Spell Triggers Widespread Leaching

THE current wet spell has triggered widespread leaching of nutrients leaving most crops yellowing and in need of more fertiliser. The Herald has established that in Mashonaland West province, crops in light soils have been the worst affected.

Mashonaland West provincial agricultural extension officer Mrs Edinah Shambare yesterday said leaching was forcing farmers to increase top dressing fertiliser quantities for most crops.

"We have urged farmers to split application of the top dressing fertilisers to make up for the quantities lost to leaching," she said.

She said mechanical and manual weed management had become equally difficult so most farmers had turned to herbicides.

"Low-lying areas are now so waterlogged that crops such as maize and cotton are suffering from stunted growth," she added.

In Mashonaland Central province Agritex officials have also advised farmers to either apply more ammonium nitrate or use Urea for top dressing.

"We have instructed farmers to switch to Urea in place of AN. Urea has 46 percent nitrogen while AN has 34,5 percent nitrogen, which gives the former an advantage if used under water-logging conditions," Mashonaland Central provincial agricultural extension officer Mr Stancilae Tapererwa explained.

He said the rains had left many farmers unable to use tractors or planters for weeding or planting purposes.

"The crops have been affected by heavy leaching, which may drastically cut yields," Mr Tapererwa added.

The situation in Matabeleland South province, however, was different, as significant rains only started falling a few days ago.

"The province has been dry and the only rains that fell were sporadically distributed. The early October crop has since wilted while some farmers did not even plant anything," provincial agronomist Mr Innocent Nyathi said.

He said hectarage had fallen from the usual 80 000ha to 18 500ha, raising prospects of low yields.

Masvingo province, that has been generally dry, has also received rains but has less fears of leaching as most of the water is still seeping into the ground, an official with Agritex, who declined to be named, said.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made acknowledged that the rains were heavy but declined to comment on the crop situation, saying teams doing crop assessment were still in the field.

Zimbabwe Farmers' Union second vice-president Mr Berean Mukwende said the rains were not different from what fell in any other normal season but had just been concentrated within a short space of time.

"This means farmers need more top dressing fertilisers and must use split application methods. The challenge is the high prices of fertilisers. A bag of AN is selling for between US$38 and US$50 depending on the source.

"Fertilisers are available, but farmers have no money. That is the challenge here and not the rains. In normal circumstances there would be a surge in the demand for AN, but the current slow uptake is due to liquidity challenges," he said.

Spokesperson for the fertiliser industry Mr Misheck Kachere said the industry had the capacity to meet demand, as most farmers had not been buying the product due to liquidity challenges.

"Local demand is manageable at the moment. We are importing 60 percent of our fertiliser requirements and producing the other 40 percent. We have between 15 000 and 20 000 tonnes of AN and the same quantities for compound D," he said.

Mr Kachere said Sables was producing about 8 000 tonnes of ammonia per month with the bulk coming from South Africa.

"There are probably 30 trucks coming from Beira at the moment so we can meet demand. Zimbabwe needs about 280 000t of fertiliser this year, which is way below what we can produce all conditions being equal. In 1999 we produced 560 000t and last year 320 000t," he added.

He added that the industry's poor showing was due to liquidity challenges owing to poor debt repayment by customers, Government included.

Meanwhile, the Department of Plant Protection Research Institute has urged farmers to get more information on how to contain the devastating armyworm from Agritex offices.

Agritex Plant Protection Research Institute head Dr Godfrey Chikwenhere said they were working closely with regional farmers, a move meant to contain the spread of armyworm across the country.

Mr Chikwenhere said the agricultural research team was active in the field and laboratory to help stop the spread of the pests.

"My team is still out in the field gathering and giving out information to farmers about the dangerous pest and how to stop it from spreading."

He added that usage of the chemical called carbaryl by farmers would help to eliminate and contain the crop-eating caterpillar.

Recently, Mr Chikwenhere said farmers must quickly report to officials from the Plant Protection Unit if they see any signs of the pests as they could wipe away all crops and cause food insecurity.

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