Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Experts warn farmers on late planting due to delayed rains

By Esther Nakkazi 

Agriculture experts from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) request the scale up of climate resilient seeds and smart innovations, including drought-tolerant seeds and soil and water conservation practices to mitigate the impact of the current drought affecting millions of farmers living in areas of eastern and southern Africa.

The U.S. National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has just warned that abnormally dry conditions are affecting areas of eastern and southern Africa as well this year's El Niño, the second in a period of 3 years, has led to large pockets of drought across eastern and southern Africa.  

Although farmers have put off planting grains waiting for the long rains anticipated to start late April, experts from CIMMYT warn that the very late onset of the rainy season could lead to a poor cropping season and significantly reduce maize yields in farmers’ fields. 

Late planting may also expose maize crops to stronger attacks of pests like the fall armyworm, they say. Long rains usually arrive by mid- March but are late this time round.

Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT Africa regional representative, recommends that farmers shift to planting stress-resilient varieties, like early maturing maize varieties that just need 90 to 95 days to mature, instead of over four months for late maturing varieties. 

Seeds of such early maturing varieties are available from seed companies and agrodealers operating in maize growing areas.

"If more small farmers in Africa's drought-prone regions grow drought-tolerant varieties of maize and other staple crops, the farming communities will be better prepared for prolonged dry spells and inadequate rainfall,” says Mugo.

Crop diversification and more sustainable soil and water conservation practices are also recommended to improve soil fertility and structure and avoid soil compaction. When the rains finally come, run-off will be less, and soils will have more capacity to retain moisture, CIMMYT experts advise.

Moreover, research by CIMMYT shows that conservation agriculture, combined with a package of good agronomic practices, offers several benefits that contribute to yield increases of up to 38 percent.
CIMMYT works with the African seed sector and national partners to develop and deploy stress resilient maize and wheat varieties through initiatives like Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa and the Wheat rust resistant seed scaling in Ethiopia.

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