by Violet Nakamba
The dry spell experienced in the last few days explains it all! It is a rare occurrence for Zambia, worse off for the farmers that by December 15, a number of them would have not planted. It is however common that by this time around, crops have already germinated depending on the amount of rainfall received. However, the opposite is the case. Many farmers have not yet planted but have their fields are ready just in case the rains come.
Gilbert Habaalo, a peasant farmer in Lusaka West is well aware of what is happening to the weather pattern and follows the guide by the Meteorological department to the later.
“I grow maize, soya bean and sunflower during the rainy season using conservation farming- an approach in which soil management practices are reduced to a minimum, thus preserving the soil properties and nature biodiversity,” Mr Habaalo said.
Additionally, Mr Habaalo’s method of farming involves minimum soil disturbance, crop residue management where he leaves the previous crop residue in the field or planting a cover crop and crop rotation practices.
His fields are therefore ready for planting and once the rains start, he will be able to plant and depending on how the rain would be, he may plant early maturing seed variety.
He says when the meteorological department projected a dry spell for 10 days, I knew this is what climate change has brought with it- changes in the weather patterns over a long period of time.
Mr Habaalo says the weather pattern in Zambia has over the years changed drastically and is mostly characterised by drought or flood.
“We may be experiencing drought this farming season but not all hope is lost yet because there is still time to grow crops and mature. It is important for farmers therefore to be aware of what is happening so that informed decisions can be made in good time,” he says.
Apart from Mr Habaalo, Kelvin Malama, a small holder farmer of Chongwe district promptly cultivated his two hectares piece of land when the area received the first rains.
When the area received the second rains, he was certain that the rainy season had come and planted maize but alas, the dry spell creeped and the maize crops are nearly dead.
“I misjudged the rain pattern because of inadequate information. I was not aware there was a circular from the meteorological department warning of no rains for more than two weeks. I however, still have the chance to replant,” Mr Malama said.
While some farmers are advantaged than the other in the manner the access information of weather patterns, It is not the first time that Zambia is experiencing a dry spell that eventually affects the farming season as a whole.
The country experienced dry spell in January 2018, mostly in the southern parts of the country and generated anxiety in the country and raising fears that Zambia might be food insecure in 2018.
According to a release by IAPRI, the concerns were largely directed towards the southern regions of the country, which are Western, Southern, Lusaka and some parts of Eastern and Central Provinces.
During that time, IAPRI reported that some stakeholders contended that there would significant reductions in maize availability in the 2018 marketing season, and argued in this regard, that Zambia was headed for a disaster.
However, there was a high likelihood that the northern parts of Zambia were poised for a good harvest.
The Zambia Meteorological Department recently projected a dry spell to continue for ten days in most parts of the Country.
The Department further urged farmers not to plant any crop until there is adequate moisture and further advised farmers who are not practicing conservation farming to continue preparing land and to apply basal dressing fertiliser at planting time.
“Farmers who are not practicing conservation agriculture (Minimum Tillage) should continue with land preparation and take advantage of the little moisture in the soil from the rains received so far. It is strongly advisable to apply basal dressing fertilizers at planting time to ensure vigorous crop emergency and good root development” read the bulletin.
The department disclosed that the dry spell experienced in the last days could have led to reduced soil moisture, which is likely to affect germination and have therefore advised farmers not to plant any crops, apart from Cassava until the rainfall improves in the Country.
The Zambia Metrological bulletin released to ZANIS, stated that most rainfall activities were confined to the northern and Western parts of the country and that the rest of the country recorded less rainfall with high temperatures due to atmospheric wind circulation that suppressed cloud development and rainfall.
“Most of the country experienced less rainfall due to atmospheric wind circulation patterns that have suppressed cloud development and rainfall activities over the country” read part of the bulletin.
The department has also urged farmers to look out for any pests and disease outbreaks, especially the fall armyworms which are likely to increase as a result of the dry spells being experienced.
The information from the meteorological department only reached a handful of farmers in the country like Mr Habaalo while others are still wondering what is happening to the skies.
Climate change is here and farmers need to have access to information for them to plan well.