Many maize fields have dried up in Zambia’s Central Province as the dry spell continues in the southern half of the country.
In a related development, the dry spell has triggered intensified calls for investment in irrigation to alleviate the adverse impacts of climate change among smallholder farmers.
A preliminary assessment of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) shows that Central Province had experienced significant premature drying up of maize.
“About 36% of the nearly 200 000 hectares of maize planted in the province has been damaged beyond redemption due to the prolonged dry spell,” reads part of the initial assessment of crop forecast being conducted by DMMU and Zambia Meteorological Department (ZMD).
The Policy for Monitoring and Research Centre (PRMRC) says the current erratic rainfall pattern should motivate significant investment in irrigation.
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“The overdependence on rain-fed crop farming makes smallholder farmers highly susceptible to fluctuations in rainfall, hence the need to invest in small-scale irrigation is now,” said PMRC Executive Director, Bernadette Deka.
Deka said small-scale irrigation schemes are financially viable and must be prioritised in light of unpredictable rainfall.
“While initial cost for irrigation is high, the long-run benefit of significant increase in production for maize and other crops justifies the investment. It costs US$50 more to farm a hectare of maize using irrigation, the gross return is more than US$370 per hectare,” Deka said.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and International Financing Company (IFC) Zambia Irrigation Diagnostic report says the country’s potential of irrigable land was more than 500 000 hectares, twice the size under irrigation now. The market for irrigation equipment was estimated at US$320 million.