March 19, 2019

Heavy, prolonged rains starting today: Met Department

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THE Meteorological Services Department (MSD) announced that the country will experience heavy rainfall starting today.

MSD official James Ngoma said precipitation is moving from South Africa and Botswana entering the country via Masvingo and Matabeleland where the rains are expected to start falling today before spreading to Mashonaland Provinces.

Localized heavier rainfall in access of 50 mm in 24 hours cannot be ruled out, so we advise the people to keep indoors when the rains start to fall, he stated.

Ngoma added that more rainfall is expected from the Zambian side entering the country through the southern parts of the side starting from next week.

More rainfall is expected to start next week, this will prolong a bit especially in Mashonaland Provinces and this should be good for farmers.

As climate change brings more frequent and harsh droughts, maize is becoming harder to grow in many parts of Zimbabwe – but it is still what people want to eat and many farmers want to plant, which makes shifting away from it a challenge.

Zimbabwe’s government is trying, however. Last year (2018) the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) said it will buy “small grains” such as sorghum or finger millet from farmers at the same price as maize – or let farmers who grow small grains swap them for an equivalent amount of maize to take home.

“You can sell whatever quantity of small grains, such as rapoko, millet, sorghum, to the GMB at the same price as maize,” said Marshall Perrance Shiri, Zimbabwe’s minister of land, agriculture, water, climate and resettlement.

Such grains grow much better in particularly drought-prone areas, and planting them there is a way to shore up the country’s food security, he said.

But farmers have balked at switching, he said, because they fear they will have to eat the sorghum and other small grains they grow, and they prefer not to do that.

“So farmers continue trying to grow maize, though in most cases the success rate has been very low,” he said.

RETHINKING THE SYSTEM

Switching Zimbabwe to more drought-hardy staples will take a wholesale rethink of the country’s systems, from seed sales to grain purchasing systems, officials say.

Winston Babbage, commodities vice president for the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, said the country’s large-scale farmers, for instance, who have better access to irrigation, might be able to grow enough maize to support the Grain Marketing Board’s offer let small-scale farmers swap their sorghum harvests for maize.

Inconsistent rainfall has forced Zimbabwe’s government to import maize from Malawi, South Africa and Zambia in previous drought years – though region-wide drought has hit production there as well.

Babbage said his farmer’s union was working with the meteorological officials, the Ministry of Local Government and government agricultural support organization AGRITEX to find ways to cut drought risks and get small-scale farmers to change their minds about planting small grains.

Part of the battle, he said, was simply making sure seed for the alternative grains is available everywhere.

Seed companies “must avail adequate small grain seed for drought-prone areas so that farmers have no excuses not to plant small grains,” he said.

Shiri, the agriculture minister, said farmers who switch to growing and eating maize alternatives could see health benefits – and that such grains were, until recently, staple foods in Zimbabwe.

“In the olden days, we grew up eating rapoko and sorghum,” he said.

Joseph Katete, a spokesman for the Grain Marketing Board, said the offer to farmers to swap small grains harvested for maize would not seriously impact the board’s bottom line, even if small grains were harder to sell.

“GMB has a processing plant for small grains to produce mealie-meal and baking flour for those who need such, especially for health reasons in Zimbabwe. We can turn sorghum, millet and rapoko into three brands of refined mealie-meal,” he said.

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