Editor's Comment

Use rain forecast wisely

TWO days ago, the Zambia Meteorological Department (ZMD) released the forecast for 2019-2020 rainfall season, which states that generally, much of Zambia is likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall.
The ZMD says, however, there is a likelihood of dry spells around February, especially over the southern half of the country, where there is a high likelihood of receiving normal to above-normal rainfall.
The forecast has come just at the right time when most farmers have began tilling their fields in preparation for planting.
It should help farmers make informed decisions on the kind of crops they should plant as well as the size of the fields to till.
To begin with, the forecast is a planning tool for our farmers.
But very few farmers in the country have access to such forecasts. And when they have, they do not understand their ramifications.
It is therefore incumbent upon the Ministry of Agriculture to relay the message to farmers in a language they will understand.
In fact, given the poor rainfall during the 2018-2019 season, the mandate goes beyond the Ministry of Agriculture and its extension officers.
The Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) should also help in disseminating the ZMD forecast to farmers and citizens at large.
Preventing disasters such as poor yields is one of the responsibilities of the DMMU.
After all, it is cheaper, convenient and less costly to prevent disasters than managing them given the breadth and width of the country.
DMMU should therefore work with the Ministry of Agriculture through the extension services network.
In fact, the task should go beyond merely informing farmers about the forecast.
In some areas of the country, DMMU may even be involved in the distribution of drought resistant as well as early to medium-maturing seeds, especially for the southern part of the country.
For areas expected to receive normal to below-normal rains, it is wise for farmers to think of crops like cotton, sorghum and millet because these tolerate drought and even do better in harsh conditions.
Yet, there are some of the crops that favour more rainfall like rice in the areas where it has been reported to receive normal to above because it gives farmers an opportunity to improve on productivity because the environment will favour such crops.
Beyond the provision of information and seed, people in the southern part of the country should also consider investing in water harvesting.
This is important because they will be able to fall back on the harvested water to continue gardening and availing it to their livestock.
DMMU and the Ministry of Agriculture should urgently utilise mediums of communications such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Youtube and other platforms like radio stations to get this very important message across.
Farmers should be availed with such information to help them make informed decisions on the kind of crops they should plant.
In fact, DMMU and the Ministry of Agriculture should encourage crop diversification. Extension officers have to be on the move and interact with traditional leaders, churches, schools and hospitals to ensure this message reaches the farmers soonest.

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