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Drought teaches farmers tough lesson

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SUCCESSIVE droughts are often viewed as a curse and a phenomen that spells untold suffering to communities.

NQOBILE BHEBHE
CHIEF REPORTER

This forces the government and affected communities to source for donor aid which in most cases does not come cheap.

Presently, humanitarian organisations estimate that close to 2,2 million people require food assistance due to low harvests resulting from erratic rainfall patterns that mostly affect maize cultivation.

However, for the Irrisvale community in Umzingwane district in the drought-prone Matabeleland South, persistent lack of rain has been a blessing in disguise.

The region is fairly dry and receives minimal rainfall throughout the year, a situation that villagers said had deteriorated in recent years owing to climatic changes.

“We are grateful to four consecutive drought spells here. It took less effort to convince villagers to switch to sorghum cultivation which suits this region,” Julliet Bethule, Pro-Africa Development Trust Capacity Building officer told Southern Eye during a field day on Thursday.

“Pride in the face of starvation is not helpful,” she added.

The community which had for decades stuck to maize cultivation put up little resistance to switch to drought resistant small grains when Pro-Africa came knocking. Sorghum fields have now become a hit in Irrisvale’s Ward 13 with Simangaliso Ndlovu the lead grower.

Sorghum is particularly suited to dry areas as it is hardy, resilient and adapted to harsh environments, while other cereal crops such as maize yield poorly in such climates. The government has acknowledged that small grains should be actively pursued as a national policy. Last Thursday, Ndlovu hosted more than 100 villagers for a field day held in conjunction with Pro-Africa Development Trust and Agritex. It is the first season for Ndlovu to growing sorghum.

“Watching our maize whither at various stages due to constant poor rains pained me a lot,” Ndlovu said.

“We have been forced into a lifestyle of surviving on food handouts from non-governmental organisations and the government. However, when Pro-Africa introduced the sorghum concept and explained to us the benefits of growing it over maize, I did not hesitate to enrol,” she explained.

Ndlovu set aside half a hectare to plant sorghum while Pro-Africa provided seeds and training.

“I expect a good harvest. Since it’s my first crop, I would not sell the produce; it would be for domestic consumption for now,” she said.

Southern Eye observed that adjacent to Ndlovu’s field, maize fields were in bad state.

Despite the recent rains, most crops are a write-off as farmers said they lacked fertiliser with the soils prone to leaching.

But sorghum cultivation presents peculiar challenges as Ndlovu said it needs constant and close monitoring. “The (quelea) birds are a menace. My husband is literally stationed here at the fields. He will be busy daily from 4am to about 7pm chasing away the birds from the fields.”

Ndlovu also has one hectare of sorghum under contract farming with Ingwebu Breweries.

Bethule said through their initiative, about 50 villagers were now growing sorghum.

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