Drought-threatened Zimbabwe faces a quandary: Grow maize or not?
EZIMNYAMA, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As Zimbabwe’s farmers head to the fields to plant, the country is facing yet another dry growing season, meteorologists predict.
Drought-hardy grains such as sorghum are “unprofitable” and hard work, complains the 56-year-old, who farms two hectares (five acres) of land in Ezimnyama, a village near the Botswana border.
As climate change brings more frequent and harsh droughts, maize is becoming harder to grow in many parts of Zimbabwe – but it is still what people want to eat and many farmers want to plant, which makes shifting away from it a challenge.
Zimbabwe’s government is trying, however.
This year its Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has said it will buy “small grains” such as sorghum or finger millet from farmers at the same price as maize – or let farmers who grow small grains swap them for an equivalent amount of maize to take home.
“You can sell whatever quantity of small grains, such as rapoko, millet, sorghum, to the GMB at the same price as maize,” said Marshall Perrance Shiri, Zimbabwe’s minister of land, agriculture, water, climate and resettlement, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But farmers have balked at switching, he said, because they fear they will have to eat the sorghum and other small grains they grow, and they prefer not to do that.
Babbage said his farmer’s union was working with the meteorological officials, the Ministry of Local Government and government agricultural support organization AGRITEX to find ways to cut drought risks and get small-scale farmers to change their minds about planting small grains.
Seed companies “must avail adequate small grain seed for drought-prone areas so that farmers have no excuses not to plant small grains,” he said.
Shiri, the agriculture minister, said farmers who switch to growing and eating maize alternatives could see health benefits – and that such grains were, until recently, staple foods in Zimbabwe.