Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Office
Much of the Beitbridge district in the lowveld struggles to farm under natural rainfall due to the semi-arid conditions associated with agro-ecological region five. The area is ideal for farming. Only a few have success stories to tell that are based on small grain crops.
The situation has been aggravated by climate change which has seen the country experience three successive droughts in the past five years.
Communal and resettled farmers have been hardest hit, with some watching in despair as their crops wither or be washed away by the floods.
Essentially, the seasons have been changed resulting in low rainfall, especially in the southern region, and this has crippled agricultural production.
Human activity such as greenhouse gas emissions is one of the factors causing climate change.
As a result, the government has encouraged the use of climate-smart methods to increase production and improve food and nutrition security nationwide.
Commercial farmers and most A2 farmers who are highly mechanized have done well in adapting to the effects of climate change.
Since around 2018, A1 farmers and communal farmers have gradually responded positively to the government’s call.
According to Beitbridge East legislator, Cde Albert Nguluvhe, more than 50 communal farmers have changed the agricultural landscape through the use of solar power and drip irrigation to grow cash crops.
“As local leaders, we have been encouraging people since 2018 to use the groundwater and solar energy that are in abundance here to grow cash crops,” he said.
“If you look across the Limpopo River in South Africa, there is good agricultural production all year round. So the thinking is if we have the same weather, how can we not grow crops like them.
“We told our people to adopt smart farming methods and increase production since we have good soils and the water table is very close. So people are now seeing the value of adopting climate-smart farming techniques to increase production.
Cde Nguluvhe said it was essential that every farm in the rural area of Beitbridge had a small horticultural plot to ensure food security and create alternative sources of income at the household level.
He said the use of solar powered drip irrigation is expected to be a game changer in terms of climate change adaptation in agricultural sectors.
Mr. Joseph Ndou from Tshapfuche area in Ward 5 said the market for agricultural products, mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, butternuts, green leaves, beets, carrots and onions, is growing locally. .
“I have three fields where I use electricity to pump water to irrigate the crops. The long-term plan is to set up a solar power plant to power the project,” Mr. Ndou said.
“I have 13 permanent employees and I hire 26 women as seasonal workers at harvest time and I hope this number will increase as we introduce more cash crops and increase agricultural land.
“Through the use of drip irrigation, crops can be grown throughout the year, practicing the correct rotation methods with the help of agricultural extension workers.”
He said more and more people in his area have started to see the value of using small plots of land to produce for themselves and for commercial markets.
“Drip irrigation has also helped me increase yields and control weeds compared to other irrigation methods,” Mr. Ndou added.
“Setting up a drip irrigation system is a seamless process, all you need is the right expertise and the right water source.”
Mr. Suta Sibanda from Khololombe in Ward 3, said the use of solar power and drip irrigation system has helped to reduce labor and increase his yields.
The communal farmer said he started using the system on a one-hectare plot on a maize crop and harvested five tons.
He added that he plans to put another 2 hectares under drip irrigation in August this year.
“At the moment I have a crop of sugar beans under drip on one hectare, while sunflower covering one and a half hectares has been planted dry. The target market for the sugar grains are NGOs, schools and the community of Beitbridge. Corn and sunflower are raw materials for making pen meal for my feedlot. »
An Operations Manager of the 60 hectare Royal Cooper Estate (in Ward 14), Mr Samuel Karonga recently said that they started using drip irrigation in 2016 and since then their market share had increased throughout the country.
Mr. Energy Muzamani from Goda area in Ward 15 said he is using water from a communal borehole to change the lives of many people in Beitbridge East who get fresh vegetables to resell in the area.
He has been growing tomatoes, green peppers and cabbage on his three-hectare plot since 2016 using drip irrigation.
A climate expert at the Ministry of Lands, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement (Climate Change Department), Mr. Lawrence Mashungu, said that water efficiency is an element key that farmers must employ in the agricultural sector. “That means we have to move to precision agriculture where the water goes directly to the plant through the drip irrigation that is scheduled, usually at night,” he said.
“We may need to be efficient with water harvesting techniques to harness the water that comes to us for present and future use. It is also important for farmers to grow plants with shorter maturity times to preserve what little water is available.
Mr. Mashungu continued: “Adaptation means that we are now able to live in the current conditions where we have little rainfall. We must also consider recycling water for agricultural purposes.
Beitbridge District Agritex Officer Mr Masauso Mawocha said it was important for farmers to adopt the use of drip irrigation method which often produces better yields.
“Other methods used include Pfumvudza/Intwasa, which encourages the use of planting stations and mulch to conserve moisture. Here the ground disturbance is very minimal,” he said.
“Some employ water harvesting techniques, where farmers use seepage pits, potholes and tied ridges. All of these are meant to harvest water and conserve soil moisture. We are also encouraging them to grow traditional drought tolerant cereals and cowpeas and in some cases farmers are growing labs, velvet bean, forage sorghum, bana, alfalfa, Katambora Rhodes grass and star grass, among other crops.
Mr. Mawocha added that the communal farmers also produce their own seeds of open pollinated crop varieties such as babadla, red rooster, which can perform well in the current climatic conditions in the region.
Regarding livestock, he said people are now trading small livestock (goats, sheep and chickens), which can survive even in severe drought.
He added that the use of agro-ecological practices such as organic fertilizers rather than inorganic fertilizers was user-friendly and helped to protect the environment.
“Farmers have adopted these resilience strategies to do business and now they are selling fodder bales to other farmers,” Mr. Mawocha said.
“When the drip irrigation method is used, farmers should expect to harvest at least tomatoes (50 t/ha), Irish potatoes (25 t/ha), butternut (20 t/ha), green pepper (15 t/ha), watermelons (70 t/ha) and cabbage 80t/ha.
It is understood that some of the challenges facing emerging farmers in the region include low livestock prices, inadequate water supply for human and animal consumption and long periods of drought for crops. – @tupeyo .