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Communal farmers shun small grains

By Moses Chibaya
COMMUNAL farmers living in dry Regions IV and V continue to shun growing small grains suitable for their areas, prompting calls for researchers to develop maize varieties that suit those areas.
Speaking at a climate change workshop for the civil society and media in Harare recently, an expert on climate change, Douglas Gumbo, said naturally most farmers in dry Regions iv and v prefer growing maize and he so encouraged researchers to develop varieties that are drought resistant.

“I am challenging researchers to develop maize varieties that can be grown in Region IV and V,” said Gumbo. “Farmers prefer maize instead of the small grains that are being promoted. They have been growing maize before climate change.”

For a long time now, government has been encouraging villagers in the two drought prone regions to grow small grains which are naturally drought-resistant, in addition to adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

Small grains such as millet and sorghum can survive adverse weather conditions and they are more suitable for long-term storage.

However, they remain unpopular with most communal farmers in arid areas because they require a lot of labour and are prone to quelea birds.

Gumbo said the changing climatic patterns have resulted in food insecurity in some areas as the hectarage of land under the staple maize crop declines.

“The challenge to researchers is on which variety they are supposed to develop that suits the current climatic conditions. There is something that can be done in a desert by bringing in appropriate technologies rather than  force people to drop certain things that they are used to,” said Gumbo.

“It’s a matter of improving the product so that it suits the market, the current environment and choices of people.”

People living in Regions iv and v continue to bear the brunt of climate change, with crop yields declining as prolonged droughts and erratic rains take toll.

An estimated 1,6 million people are likely to require food assistance in the coming “hunger season” from January to March in Zimbabwe, according to a new report recently released by the United Nations and its partners.

“The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and our partners are gearing up to respond to this large rise in food needs,” said WFP’s Country Director for the African nation, Felix Bamezon.

“Our field staff are already reporting signs of distress in rural areas, including empty granaries and farmers selling off their livestock to make ends meet.”
In addition, the number of people in need right now is 60% higher than the one million who needed food assistance during the same time last year.

WFP has said it would undertake food distribution of regionally procured cereals as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses to meet the increased food needs.

The report says Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, and parts of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland are the worst-affected areas.

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