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HomeNewsEl Niño-Induced Drought Gives Govt Sleepless Nights

El Niño-Induced Drought Gives Govt Sleepless Nights

The Zimbabwe government has intensified the implementation of a cocktail of measures to climate-proof the agriculture sector and ensure the country is food-secure in the face of the 2023-2024 El Niño-induced drought.

Most parts of the country are not receiving rains, as is expected during this time of the year.

Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Permanent Secretary Professor Obert Jiri said the Government was alive to the drought and was swiftly making interventions.

“When we knew that the season was going to be drier, we went ahead to announce 17 additional measures to the original summer plan. We are now escalating implementation of these measures,” said Prof Jiri in an interview.

Among the measures is to put more than 70 000 hectares under irrigated maize.

“More than 70 000 hectares will be put under irrigated maize crops, exclusively this season. If we accomplish that, we should be able to produce about 350 000 metric tonnes from that area alone.

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“But we also need production that is done by the smallholder farmers, which are under Pfumvudza/Intwasa.”

According to the ministry, the highest climate-proofing impact at the household level would be through Pfumvudza/Intwasa, while at the national level, irrigation development was the key strategic intervention.

This year — 3,5 million smallholder farmers are under the climate-proofed programme — with emphasis on good agronomic practices by planting crops based on agro-ecological zones to eliminate the risk of losing crops to the effects of drought.

The summer cropping season plan targets cereal production of 3,7 million tonnes (2 800 000 tonnes of maize and 442 658 tonnes of traditional grains).

The authorities are distributing moisture enhancers to all 300 traditional chiefs. Each chief will receive 24kg of hydrogel for three Pfumvudza plots, with each plot expected to produce at least 1 tonne.

Seed houses aligned to crop and variety with the agro-ecological region would be established at all 500 headmen and 35 000 village heads households countrywide.

Post-harvest losses are considered to constitute 10 to 15 percent, and Government is providing grain protectant to preserve 1 million tonnes — which are anticipated to be in farmers’ reserves from last season’s harvest.

“At least 416 irrigation schemes are contributing massively to grain production while we have launched a blitz rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure,” Prof Jiri said.

A total of 17 000ha, he said, has dams, underground water and conveyancing but requires “quick-fix’’ interventions, while 2 945ha have the International Monetary Fund special drawing rights funding of US$24 million.

To utilise these water bodies, borehole drilling has been accelerated, with establishment of village business units being prioritised to ensure food security for local communities.

For the driest regions, like in natural regions 5B, 5 and 4, there is need to go for traditional small grains, Prof Jiri said.

The authorities have mandated the Grain Marketing Board to continue the grain swap scheme to promote traditional grain production, while the increased availability of such seeds has been improved through Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) seeds.

“We urge drier regions to go for traditional grains exclusively because they thrive in those conditions to produce what can last them beyond six months before the Department of Welfare can tell us how much is needed for them to be food-secure year-round.

“If we can ring-fence that to cereal production, we should not be talking about hunger at all,” he said.

Weather-indexed and area/yield insurance for smallholder farmers under the Pfumvudza programme has been provided through AFC Insurance, which ring-fenced at least 650 000ha of maize and traditional grains in case of the worst natural outcomes.

Also, Government ring-fenced seed production for the 2024/2025 agricultural season through financial support from the African Development Bank in the 2023/2024 season to the tune of a total of US$25 million for seed producers.

In an interview, the chief director responsible for agricultural engineering, mechanisation, post-harvest agro-processing, and soil conservation in the Lands ministry, Engineer Edwin Zimunga, said 21 small dams and weirs out of a targeted total of 71 are currently at different stages of completion.

“There is no agriculture to talk about with no water. As a directorate, our aim is to construct small earth dams, water harvesting weirs and sand traps across all eight catchment areas of the country.

“More than 635 smallholder households are set to benefit from the 21 small earth dams and weirs constructed in 2023 only.”

The aim, Eng Zimunga said, was to complete a total of 71 small dams and weirs before the end of the year, but the project was affected by some financial constraints.

However, many suitable sites for the construction of small dams have been identified.

Manicaland is leading in the construction of small dams and weirs, having completed seven of the targeted 27.

Masvingo province has so far constructed six against a target of 12, while Matabeleland South has a 100 percent record after completing their target of four small dams.

Midlands and Mashonaland West have completed only two apiece, while Mashonaland East and Central provinces are yet to construct any.

Everywhere a dam is built, Government makes sure that a community garden is established and turned over to the locals, with ward-based extension officers closely monitoring day-to-day operations.

Within the community gardens, horticultural operations are carried out, while the small dam is also stocked with tilapia fingerlings.

Construction of small dams and weirs is meant to complement the 12 major dams under construction countrywide, with some having already been commissioned. *SundayMail*

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