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Agronomist's notebook: How to make cash during the dry spell

Saturday April 20 2019

Amos Tata grazes his livestock in Kajiado.

Amos Tata grazes his livestock in Kajiado. Domestic animals are affected directly by the prevailing dry-spell through heat stress and indirectly from reduced quality of feeds supplied due to inadequate pasture. PHOTO | ISAIAH ESIPISU | NMG 

ANN MACHARIA
By ANN MACHARIA
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Rainfall has become unreliable and unpredictable in recent years worldwide.

The prolonged dry spell in most parts of the country has affected planting seasons. Most crops planted in February, March and April have already dried up.

The delayed March to April rains have disrupted food availability. The situation has also contributed to reduced access to quality food since crops are vital in the food supply chain.

Most parts of the country are experiencing water shortages, with rivers, wells, water pans and even boreholes drying up. Disputes over these resources, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, have been reported.

Domestic animals are affected directly through heat stress and indirectly from reduced quality of feeds supplied due to inadequate pasture.

Early maturing varieties

Global warming has led to erratic rainfall patterns, temperature fluctuations and high relative humidity.

Geographically, Tropical Cyclone Idai in the Mozambique channel has played a key role in delaying the northward movement of the rain-bearing Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone.

Thus, with the expected short rainy season in many regions of the country, farmers should consider planting early maturing crop varieties such KDV4 maize, which is ready for harvesting at only three months.

Farmers should also practise timely planting to make maximum use of the scarce rainfall.

Planting drought-resistant crops in areas expected to receive below average rainfall will help address hunger. Farmers should also diversify and utilise the natural resources effectively.

Doing so means they would not be at a complete loss should one of the many crops they have planted fail.

Mulching using readily available material like dry seedless grass should be encouraged to control moisture loss, regulate soil temperature and smother weeds.

This encourages minimum disturbance of the soil, thus conserving moisture as weeding would be minimal.

Farmers should consider drilling boreholes to provide water for irrigation throughout the year.

It makes crop production more effective. It also minimises dependency on rainfall. Doing so makes farming efficient as one takes advantage of all seasons.

FIELD SANITATION

Water harvesting should be done during the rainy seasons. The water can be stored in dams, tanks or reservoirs.

It can then be used for irrigation during the dry seasons. The effect of increased temperatures depends on a specific crop and stage of growth.

For example, temperature increase favours the growth of tomatoes under drip irrigation since there are no long periods of leaf wetness, usually blamed for diseases.

The high temperatures also encourage the ripening of fruits.

With the dry spell, off season farmers are have more advantage than the rest since demand for their produce is high. It means they fetch high prices for their produce.

Drip irrigation also minimises water usage. Water is used effectively as it is provided at the root zone.

Irrigation in large-scale farming should be encouraged as a means of fighting hunger, especially during dry seasons.

Providing plants with water early in the morning helps them to absorb it before evaporation begins, hence regulating soil temperature.

Off-season farmers face many physiological challenges such as sunscald. The farmers should thus encourage the vegetative growth of the crop by adding nitrogenous fertilisers.

Plant experts say covering fruits like watermelons and pumpkins with dry grass may reduce sunscald.

Blossom end rot, which affects watermelon and capsicum, is also common because of temperature fluctuations.
During dry seasons, pest infestation is also high.

Brassicas like cabbage and sukuma wiki are attacked by aphids, which suck the cell sap, resulting in the curling and yellowing of the leaves. The aphids are highly prolific during the season.

Because of this, they are difficult to control. Field sanitation can help in controlling the pest.

Increase in salinity leads to a change in soil pH, especially when one uses salty water.

Farmers need to adjust the pH accordingly by analysing the soil and water. The use of gypsum can lower high pH.
Farmers should also plant trees in their land to create micro-catchment zones, which will enable them mitigate the effects of climate change and other vagaries of the unpredictable weather. The trees also act as windbreakers and control soil erosion.
Even with the ongoing drought, success is still in the farmer’s hands.