FARMERS in Matabeleland South have started replanting their summer crops with an estimated 14 000 hectares having been so far planted out of a total of 130 000 hectares due to the recent prolonged dry spell.
Mangwe, Bulilima and Beitbridge are the most affected districts in the semi-arid Matabeleland South province, which sits on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, giving it an arid climate.
According to the latest national weekly update, a total of 587 930 hectares have to date been planted across the country as farmers continue planting despite receiving below normal rains for this time of the year.
Agritex statistics show that farmers countrywide have planted 377 517 hectares of maize with 95 136ha planted under Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme, 29 264ha under Command Agriculture and 256 666ha self-financed of financed by private contractors.
Tobacco growers have planted 57 796ha compared to 59 245ha by the same time last year while 1 560ha was put under sunflower.
In an interview yesterday, Matabeleland South acting provincial Agritex officer Mr Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu said the balance of moisture levels and low rainfall in the province affected farmers.
He said given projections that the rains will end early, farmers should intensify planting.
“Currently we are 14 462,15 hectares because farmers were affected by replanting. Sorghum is 1 918,27 hectares and this was grossly affected by serious replanting in Mangwe, Beitbridge and Bulilima,” he said.
According to Agritex, the bulk of Matabeleland North had so far received below normal rains when compared with the long-term average to date.
Midlands, Masvingo and most Matabeleland South provinces are in the normal category of their long-term average rainfall to date.
Since the start of season, the highest cumulative rainfall amounts have been recorded at Gweru with 375 mm, Kwekwe 280mm, West Nicholson 264mm, Harare Kutsaga 261mm and Nkayi 252mm.
“The major challenge is that the balance of moisture levels was not good. Other farmers had done dry planting and instead of receiving enough rainfall there was low rainfall, which subsequently affected the germination percentage,” said Mr Ndlovu.
In terms of pearl millets, farmers planted 1 606, 12 hectares, 139,45 ha for sunflower and 172,64 ha for soya 172,64 hectares, which is mostly grown in Umzingwane.
Farmers have also been advised to grow short season varieties of maize, cotton and sorghum and late season crops such as cowpeas, sugar beans and sunflower to boost their odds of a reasonable harvest
Mr Ndlovu, however, said they were still in the process of verifying the exact areas planted.
“We are still verifying the areas planted because we need to apply scientific approach and physical observation to ascertain the exact area planted,” he said.
According to our general assessment it seems farmers have planted a substantially larger area.
“Some farmers are not recording mechanised Command Agriculture because they are still referring Pfumvudza/Intwasa as basils only yet we are now saying Command Agriculture is also Pfumvudza/Intwasa.”
Mr Ndlovu said chances were high that farmers could be having a larger area planted because of the mechanised aspect which is not fully captured.
“Every year, we usually have 130 000 hectares collectively being planted by farmers for all sectors. As I speak right now, farmers are busy working and by next week the hectarage would have increased,” he said.
“For maize we are looking at having 127 000 hectares of maize planted this summer season and for sorghum both under Intwasa and conventional we are looking at around 40 000 hectares or more because when the season is like this, farmers tend to plant a lot small grain.”
Mr Ndlovu advised farmers to plant early maturing variety such as sorghum, pearl millet.
“We are also encouraging those that can afford to buy inputs to buy certified seed to realise 90 to 100 percent germination and get a good crop establishment. We should also maintain fertility which is very critical,” he said.
“Farmers should apply Compound D fertiliser at planting stage as also well decomposed kraal manure that will make the crop establish fast and then maximise on rainy days.”
Mr Ndlovu said since Matabeleland South is a livestock region, farmers should also grow legume plants, which they can then harvest and feed their animals.
“We are also saying since Matabeleland South is a livestock area, we encourage farmers to grow their crops alongside lablab and other legume plants. They can harvest the stocks to feed their animals,” he said.
“There are inflows on our dams and for supplementary irrigation scheme farmers, they can also capitalise on that especially for winter wheat.