The Sunday Mail
ZIMBABWE is likely to experience another good harvest in 2018 after the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) predicted a late but favourable season for agriculture in the next rainfall period.
Presenting the National Climate Outlook for the 2017-18 rainfall season in Harare last week, forecaster Mrs Lucy Motsi said while the season may start with erratic rainfall between October and December (OND) this year, good rains are expected from January to March (JFM) in 2018.IMBABWE is likely to experience another good harvest in 2018 after the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) predicted a late but favourable season for agriculture in the next rainfall period.
“For OND 2017 we have Region One, which should expect normal rainfall with a bias towards above normal rainfall,” she said.
“In Region Two and Three we should expect normal rains with a bias towards below normal rains.”
“As we move into the heart of the season during JFM we expect normal to above normal rainfall for the whole country,” Mrs Motsi said.
The outlook dovetails with that of the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) which last week projected drier conditions during the first half of the season and wetter conditions in the final half.
And experts say while the season may not turn out to be as good as its predecessor, the rainfall distribution pattern suggests that with proper planning the country could enjoy yet another good harvest.
This is because Region One, the country’s traditional farming hub, is projected to receive normal to above normal rains throughout the season.
Therefore, if land preparation is done early and inputs are distributed in time in Region One, there could be bumper yields in this area.
Given that much of the country’s strategic grain reserves come from Region One, it is hoped that the country may not face severe food insecurity as was the case in the 2015-16 season.
While peasant farmers in southern districts of the country may receive little rainfall in the first quarter of the season, they could still register decent harvests if they plan their planting careful.
This is because normal to below normal rains are only expected in these regions during OND and are expected to significantly improve by the beginning of the year.
As such, delayed and staggered planting could help farmers in these regions with the adoption of small grains being strongly encouraged.
Experts say the outlook should only be used for planning purposes at the moment as farmers are encouraged to wait for 10-day forecasts for operational guidance.
Asked what the outlook means for the country MSD Director Dr Amos Makarau said the season looks positive for agriculture but hastened that there is need for proper planning and management of the season.
“From an agricultural point of view it’s a good season,” he said.
“All we are simply saying for this coming season, the best thing, for those who are into crop production, is that the most reliable rains are expected in the middle of November. Until that time the rains will be erratic.”
Dr Makarau said the country should not expect the same rains as last season as it was an unusual year.
He added that the country is neither experiencing El Nino nor La Nina, meaning the season will be average.
“Comparing with last season this one will be an average season, last year was unusual and should not be used as a benchmark,” said Dr Makarau.
“The weather for the coming season will still be favourable for a good harvest if the inputs are there in time, if there is irrigation.”
Forecasters have also warned about the possibility of flooding in the second half of the season as the country’s dam levels are still high.
“Due to the state of our dams which are still relatively full we are concerned about flooding, and other disasters that may arise.”
Also, the fact that reliable rains are only expected in November signals the need for cloud seeding especially in the low veld.
Experts say at least two aircraft should be dispatched in southern Zimbabwe to begin cloud seeding in October.
Farmers welcomed the early Climate Outlook saying MSD has been getting their predictions correct in the last couple of years.
“What the outlook means is that we are going to have a late season again,” said Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa.
“Therefore, for those with irrigation we should kick start our maize crop with irrigation and hope that when the good rains come our season will be well on course.
“Communal farmers may have to try early to medium maturity varieties, even ultra-early maturity varieties for those in dry regions.”
Observers say should Command Agriculture and the Presidential Input Scheme be rolled out in the manner they were last season the country would be in for a good harvest.