4 March 2018

Zimbabwe: Wet Spell Brings Relief to Agric Sector

Late rains have breathed a new lease of life for farmers across the country as a prolonged dry spell, which ended in January was threatening output.

The late December to January dry spell had ignited fears of massive losses among farmers.

Federation for Farmers' Union chairman Wonder Chabikwa said there had been a major recovery of crops across the board.

"What happened was the crops had wilted, but as you know there is temporary and permanent wilting.

"Only a small percentage of our maize crop had permanent wilting. We are also witnessing good germination in maize which is being planted now," he said.

He, however, said crops on light soils were being affected by nitrogen deficiency.

Chabikwa said despite the move by government to push for huge output of soyabeans as an import substitute for crude oil used for cooking oil production, the crop was not well planted this season as a result of the prolonged dry spell.

He said the cotton, crop which was replanted in some parts of the country was promising.

In its February bulletin, the Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet) said widespread, rains which were received in February resulted in the recovery of some late-planted crops.

"Unfortunately for most areas in the south and other parts of the country where crops were planted earlier, much of these crops had permanently wilted," Fewsnet said.

"The rains have also improved water and pasture conditions in most areas. National maize production for 2017-18 will most likely be below-average."

Tobacco farmers said their hopes had been renewed by the wet spell hoping for a quality crop and better prices when the auction floors open this month.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Association CEO Rodney Ambrose said the dryland crop that was under some moisture and heat stress in January had recovered well.

"The rains were solely beneficial to the tobacco crop in the field. Dams have started to fill after being used extensively for supplementary irrigation in December and January," he said.

"A tobacco crop of at least 200 million kilogrammes was forecast before the hot and dry spell and a similar crop size estimate remains after the February rains."

"With tobacco growers adopting to acceptable handling standards, a good quality crop will attract lucrative prices this season," Ambrose said.

"Apart from the hot, dry spell in late December to January, growing conditions have been favourable. Assuming farmers adopt good reaping, curing, grading and presentation practices, a higher portion of this season's crop will be of a better quality, which should result in improved average prices," he said.

Tobacco Industry Marketing Boardpublic relations manager Isheunesu Moyo said the rains had resulted in a higher uptake of fertiliser which was idle due to lack of moisture and also caused wilting in wet lands.

"There is proper fertiliser uptake of the basal fertiliser that was lying idle in the soil because of lack of moisture. The crop was showing potassium firing and false ripening," he said.

"To those farmers who grew tobacco in swampy areas there is a tendency of water-logging which causes wilting.

Largely, the rains are a positive development. Chemicals like pesticides if they are rained on within two hours of application are washed away, hence farmers have to be cognisant of the weather.

"Optimum rains will result in good yields. If they are however excessive, they can start causing leaching."

Tobacco is one of the largest foreign currency earners and contributes at least 10% to the gross domestic product.

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