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Heatwave Threatens to Slash Harvests in Drought-hit Zimbabwe

FILE: A Zimbabwean subsistence farmer holds a stunted maize cob in his field outside Harare, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo - RTX237F6
FILE: A Zimbabwean subsistence farmer holds a stunted maize cob in his field outside Harare, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo - RTX237F6

Lungelo Ndlovu, Thomson Reuters Foundation

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Despite a dry year, Sazini Moyo’s maize crop had been pushing up tassels and she anticipated a decent harvest - until her farm outside Bulawayo sweltered through a record five-day heatwave in late February and early March.

Now she fears almost her entire parched crop is a write-off.

“I’m very disappointed, I have lost a lot of money buying expensive seed and fertilisers. All my energy used in tilling the land has gone to waste,” the 40-year-old farmer in Matabeleland South province told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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

In low-lying Beitbridge, near the border with South Africa, the high temperature hit 38.7 degrees (101 degrees Fahrenheit), the met office said.

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, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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 may 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.

Gondo said other districts across the country also are struggling with dry conditions.

“Some farmers have already lost their crops while others continue hoping it rains because their crops still have a chance,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Food insecurity in both rural and urban areas has increased across Zimbabwe this year, with Matabeleland North and Matabeleleland South provinces hardest hit, 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.

Reporting by Lungelo Ndlovu @lauriegoering ; editing by Laurie Goering