By Albert Makendenge
. “Prolonged dryness and above-average temperatures from early November to mid-December resulted in a false and delayed start to the 2021-2022 agricultural season and below-normal cropped areas across the country. In mid-December, some communities had yet to plant due to lack of rainfall. “- Fews Net
Over the last decade, the rainfall season in Zimbabwe has been anything but predictable and the current current 2021/2022 rainfall season is no exception it seems. In light of these unpredictable rainfall patterns, at vaMudhumeni we think that it is very important that farmers understand the science of drought enough to be able to take proactive steps to try and manage the effects of water scarcity. A number of these tips and steps are listed and briefly explained below
Managing soils for maximum water retention capacity is one way that farmers can protect their crops from water stress in times of low or no rainfall. There are quite a number of agronomic practices that feed into maximizing the ability of the soil to retain moisture that can be available to the plants, more prominent among which include mulching (organic matter application), working or tilling the soil to leave with adequate pore spaces to allow for water infiltration and plant spacing that provides cover for the soil.
Farmers can also make use of contour ridges to conserve rain water. When the soil has had its fill the rest of the rainfall will simply be lost through runoff. Contour ploughing that forms rows or ridges that run across the slope of the field will ensure that moisture is retained and reserved in the field for a little longer, longer into the periods of no rainfall.
A clean and weed-free field also goes a long way in trying to mitigate the effects of drought or dry spells. Weeds compete with the plants for water amongst several other things such as nutrients, sunlight and space. Higher weed infestation can only mean that all of these elements are quickly used up and hence weed management is very important to ensure that the water is only for the plant.
As the climate changes and the rainfalls are falling from their past above-normal standards to average and unreliable levels, farmers should resort to those drought resistant varieties that can withstand these unfavorable changes better. When and if the resources allow, farmers should invest more of these into building and maximizing their irrigation facilities for when hard and dry times hit.
To learn more tips like this, check out this and other articles on our blog.