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Crops have wilted due to the prolonged dry spell across most parts of the country, making it likely that harvests will be reduced and more imports required.

The falling yields have cast doubt on whether farmers will be able to harvest the two million tonnes of maize needed to meet internal demand without imports and the target of 216 million kilogrammes of tobacco set for this year.

The south has been so heavily affected that even if it rains now, the bulk of the crops will never recover.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made on Tuesday said an Agritex team was on the ground carrying out a rapid assessment, which would bring out the real needs ward by ward.

“Even though we have not started the crop assessment, I can confirm that the southern parts of the country have been heavily affected by the dry spell.

“Maize and small grains in south of Manicaland, Mashonaland East, southern parts of the Midlands, Masvingo and Matabeleland South have been severely affected,” he said.

Dr Made said it was too early to talk of figures as the teams were still on the ground.

“We do not want to start speculating on figures. We want to do a proper assessment of the situation then we will come up with the correct figures, he said.

Dr Made said the dry spell had not only affected Zimbabwe, but most parts of SADC.

Some of the areas last received rains at the end of January, while others in early February. Every week, the hectarage of crops wilting is increasing.

Weather experts predicted a normal to above normal rainfall season during the 201415 season, but said the rainfall distribution was not good for agriculture activity.

The MSD applied to Government for over $200 000 for cloud seeding during the dry spells, but up to now has not received the money from Treasury.

Finance and Economic Development Minister, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, had set aside $400 000 for cloud seeding this season.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Mr Wonder Chabikwa, said this farming season had not been good as it was associated with extreme weather conditions that were not favourable for farming.

He also raised concerns over the armyworm outbreak that destroyed over 300 hectares of maize.

“Farmers initially expected better yields than last season, but there were doubts that the target would be achieved but our hopes are fading due to the unfavourable rainfall pattern.

“This year we had anticipated an increase in maize production to exceed 1, 4 million tonnes that was produced last year. The rains came late resulting in late planting of crops.

“We experienced flooding in some areas that caused leaching. At the moment some of the crops, especially maize, are showing nutrient deficiency while some have wilted.

“Tobacco in some parts of the country is showing signs of forced ripening and this affects curing and the final quality of the crop,” he said.

Forced ripening is when tobacco prematurely presents a yellow colour as if it is ready for reaping.

Mr Chabikwa said some farmers could not afford fertilisers while others had not been paid by the Grain Marketing Board and could not buy enough fertiliser.

“The maize situation could change if the rains fall now but the yield has already been compromised,” he said.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union president, Mr Abdul Nyathi, said the situation was pathetic especially for the southern region.

“The bulk of the maize in these areas is a write off and will never recover even if it rains. Farmers cannot re-plant as the season is already gone and we are getting into winter,” he said.

Midlands Agritex officer, Mr Innocent Dzuke, said areas such as Zvishavane, Mberengwa and Mvuma had been affected by the dry spell and late planted crops that were at vegetative stage were under threat.

Mashonaland East, Agritex Officer Mr Canisio Gazimbi, said the maize crop in some parts of the province was doing well.

“Areas such as Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe, Mudzi and Mutoko and some parts of Murewa have a good crop as they received better rains, while the crop is wilting in Wedza, Marondera and Chikomba. The crop is at temporary wilting, but if the dry period extends it will reach the permanent wilting point,” he said.

According to Agritex, the early planted tobacco especially the irrigated crop was in good condition but the dry land crop had been affected by the dry spells.

In some areas in Mashonaland East, the crop was affected by hail and heavy rains.

Zimbabwe requires 1 384 000 tonnes of grain for human consumption and 350 000 tonnes for livestock and other uses and has to import if the harvest is below these requirements.

Source : The Herald