A COMBINATION of erratic rains from the onset, the current severe mid-season dry spell and overworked infertile soils are threatening to deal a lethal blow to the communal farming communities in the provinces' traditional dry regions where the crop is wilting due to moisture stress.
The Manicaland Agritex head, Mr Godfrey Mamhare, on Wednesday, confirmed that the situation in traditional drought-prone parts of the province, which initially had promised better harvest prospects, was all of a sudden fast deteriorating with crop wilting due to severe moist stress.
The revelations have heightened fears of severe hunger being experienced in areas lying under the natural regions four and five that failed to harvest last season.
The 2010/11 crop wilted in the scorching heat and never reached maturity.
Mr Mamhare said the crop situation was reasonable in Region Two and good in regions one and two.
Communal farmers in areas that fall under geological Region Five, had largely grown drought-resistant crops such as round and groundnuts, rapoko, millet, cow-peas and sorghum, but all are precariously on the verge of being written-off as a result of the current prolonged dry spell.
Mr Mamhare identified some of the most stressed areas as Wengezi, Marange, Nyanyadzi, Buhera, Chisumbanje and Nzvimbe, among others.
"As we go down the province, the situation is fast deteriorating owing to serious moisture stress. However, the top parts of the province in areas like Headlands, Nyazura, Odzi, Nyanga, Mutasa, Ruwangwe and Honde Valley we still have very healthy tobacco and maize crops," said Mr Mamhare.
Mr Mamhare, however, said it was too early to predict a drought in the province.
"The situation will likely be very serious if we fail to receive some rains by mid next week. We are hoping it will rain by then, failure of which will paint a gloomy picture."
He added that the mid-season drought and rising temperatures had thrown many farmers in Manicaland into confusion.
He said the season was now unpredictable, making it difficult for farmers to plan properly.
"We are also urging our farmers to stop applying top-dressing fertiliser at this point because it will worsen the crop situation. Top dressing must only be applied when the rains resume. There are severe temperatures throughout the province which are not ideal for any kind of fertilisation," said Mr Mamhare.
The Agritex official also revealed that his department had begun a crop assessment exercise to gauge food requirements, amid reports that the country might have to write off some of the maize crop after a prolonged dry period.
The food assessment exercise is often carried out in conjunction with the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation. The assessment due to be completed in about two weeks time will establish the potential food deficit and help the government and relief agencies determine how much food aid is required.
"We have embarked on the first crop assessment throughout the province (starting Wednesday) to verify the actual state of the crop, hectarage, state of grazing pastures, condition of the livestock in Manicaland and water in both rivers and dams," he said.
Zimbabwe has faced food shortages for the past decade owing to recurrent droughts, poor assistance to farmers and incompetence by some farmers.
Last season, communal areas in regions four and five recorded a zero harvest and are getting food assistance from the Government and charitable organisations.
Climate change experts are blaming the changing weather patterns on the increasing amount of gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide and other gases such as methane and nitrogen - commonly referred to as greenhouse gases - are causing the earth to heat up. -Manica Post