The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Dry Spell Takes Toll On Crops

FARMERS in some parts of Zimbabwe have started counting their losses with their crops wilting due to the current dry spell. Some areas in Zimbabwe have gone for three weeks without receiving rains.

Farmers have, however, expressed concern that they can lose their crops due to the dry weather.

Farmers in Domboshava said they were failing to weed their crops or apply fertilisers as they were afraid of further exposing the crops to the hot weather conditions.

Ms Precious Ngehama of Denda Village said although the surrounding areas had received some showers their area had not been getting any rain.

"We had applied poultry manure and compound D fertiliser and the crops are wilting because of the hot weather conditions," she said.

Miss Ngehama said she could not apply top dressing due to the hot conditions.

"We can not top dress. There is nothing we can do and we are just praying that God brings back the rains," she said.

Mrs Shorai Ndeke of Chakuronda Village said her area last received rain on January 22.

"Normally our maize crop should be at tasselling stage this time but since we planted late it is still at knee level. I am afraid that when the rains return the maize will flower and abort," she said.

Mrs Ndeke said she was no longer expecting meaningful yields as her crop was severely damaged by the dry spell.

"We are just watching helplessly, we cannot weed as this will expose the crops to the sun," she said.

Farmers in Mhondoro-Ngezi and Mubaira are also worried the prevailing dry spell would destroy their crops if it persists for another two weeks.

The Herald last week established that most crops in Mhondoro-Ngezi were showing signs of severe moisture stress during the day with most of the farmers slowly resigning to fate.

A farmer in Ward 11 of Mhondoro Ngezi, Mr Davison Mandizha, said he was no longer going to the fields during the day.

"If the rains do not come in the next two weeks we are finished. My maize crop looks good in the morning but is a sorry sight in the afternoon. We are likely to face food shortages if the rains do not return soon," he said.

Most farmers in Mhondoro communal lands have replanted after the first crop wilted under the dry spell that hit Zimbabwe at the beginning of the season.

Most of their crop is at vegetative stage.

"My maize is still at the vegetative stage and not under immediate threat from the dry spell but if it persists into the next two weeks there will be a disaster.

"We are, however, better than those whose maize is at the tasselling stage because the crop is taking the brunt of the harsh weather at very alarming rates," another farmer from Mamina area said.

An Agritex official in Mubaira said areas such as Rwizi, Watyoka and some parts of Mashayamombe would not feel the effect of the dry spell as they had wetlands.

"If people in those areas can produce crops during the dry season when there is no rain, then there is no reason for their current crop to die from the dry spell especially when the spell is coming in the wake of relentless rains.

"Some crops in the areas I have mentioned have even died from waterlogging and serious weed infestation inspired by extremely wet conditions. On the one hand some crops grown in wetlands have since matured and no longer need the rains," she said.

She said farmers who did not weed their fields were at risk of losing most of the crops to the dry weather.

The Agritex officer said plants find it hard to compete with weeds for moisture.

The dry spell started at the end of January and the Meteorological Department had forecast rains starting this week giving farmers renewed hope.

Agritex has warned farmers to be careful when carrying out agronomic practices to reduce losses.

According to Agritex, farmers should apply fertilizers correctly to reduce losses during dry spells.

"Farmers should never apply urea during dry spells. Ammonium nitrate should not be applied on the plant as this will burn the crops.

"The maize that was grown under conservation agriculture is not badly hit by the dry spell because it is now at the late vegetative stage.

"Farmers should apply ammonium nitrate in small holes which are 7 cm to 10 cm away from the plant and cover the hole so that even if it does not rain, it will not be wasted," said Agritex in a statement.

Agritex encouraged farmers to weed their fields cautiously to avoid exposing the plant roots to the hot weather.

"Weeding may expose plant roots to the hot weather while on the other hand farmers should not delay weeding as this will also affect the plant growth. The farmer should always consult extension officers when not sure of what to do," said Agritex.

The Meteorological Services Department recently said the dry spell would last until yesterday.

From today, Mashonaland Provinces and Harare, according to the Met office, are likely to experience an increase in rainfall activity with sporadic thunder showers expected in other areas.

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