Heatwave could threaten harvest season in Zimbabwe

This United Nations appeal for $234 million in aid. Drought is expected to affect a third of the country’s crop.
Farm workers repair a watering pipeline at Sangill Ventures farm in Arcturus near Harare, Zimbabwe on July 26, 2018. – Two years ago, a black Zimbabwean farmer saw a white farmer thrown off land by a violent mob. Now the two work together in a partnership that they say could be a model to save the country’s ruined agricultural sector. The farm is owned by black Zimbabwean banker and a fourth generation white farmer whose hopes are to be a model to help the country recover from the disastrous land reforms and regain its status as a regional breadbasket. (Photo by ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP)

According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Department, the region this month suffered five consecutive days of temperatures on average 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above the normal March high of 32 degrees.

The heat, which made already dry conditions worse, has hit both crops and livestock, said Obey Chaputsira, the administrator for Matobo District, a drought-prone, low-lying area of Matabeleland South.

“The crop situation currently is very bad,” he said, with grazing areas and water supplies for livestock also affected. Since last year, his area has seen 200 livestock deaths linked to drought.

This month, the United Nations launched an international appeal for $234 million in emergency aid for Zimbabwe, where drought is expected to affect a third of the country’s crop and leave 5.3 million people needing assistance.

Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption is 1.8 million tonnes but farmer groups said this year’s drought-hit harvest might be less than 1 million tonnes.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the country had 500,000 tonnes of the grain in strategic reserves. Joseph Gondo, principal director of the Department of Crop and Livestock, confirmed that the country’s harvests are expected to suffer as a result of the unusual heat. “Crops that are on the tasseling stages are the most affected by the heatwave. We encourage farmers not to apply fertilisers at this moment,” he said.

Food insecurity in both rural and urban areas has increased across Zimbabwe this year, with Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces hit the hardest, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s (ZimVac) lean season monitoring report for 2019.

Agritex agronomist Kennedy Mabehla said crop assessments across Zimbabwe were underway, with a report on expected yields for the year due out after April. The dryer and hotter conditions are in line with predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has said rising emissions could lead to more frequent droughts, hotter conditions and more extreme weather across Southern Africa.

Across the globe, the years 2015-2018 have been the hottest four years ever recorded, meteorologists said.


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