As we slowly approach the start of our rainy season, farmers all over the country are in good spirits to receive the much-anticipated showers. Rainfall provides a favourable scenario as it has many positive effects on agricultural activities.
Firstly, rainfall replenishes our water resources (including rivers, boreholes and underground water aquifers). Secondly, rainfall encourages the regrowth of grass on our grazing lands, and is the main source of irrigation for most crop farmers.
Namibia aims to be a food-secure country by producing most of its staple grains locally. This has required farmers who practice dryland crop production to be prepared each year to ensure a successful cropping season. Dryland crop production is commonly practised in Namibia’s Omaheke, Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena, Kavango West, Kavango East and Zambezi regions.
This form of agriculture focuses on producing major staple grains, and relies solely on rainfall as the only source of water supply to crop fields. Conventionally, the operations of dryland crop production respond to the first rainfall that is received, and usually about 25 mm of rainfall is needed for soil to support seed germination.
Consequently, preparedness is a key factor that farmers must bear in mind when intending to successfully grow rain-fed crops. As the month of November is fast approaching, farmers are urged to start procuring all the necessary inputs they need to grow cereal crops such as maize, pearl millet (mahangu) and sorghum.
Firstly, farmers must start buying the right cultivars of maize, mahangu and sorghum to be produced. Secondly, once the seeds are available, it is of great importance for farmers to start clearing bushes and all unwanted vegetation that may hinder the easy cultivation of their fields.
Another crucial aspect is for farmers to start registering for ploughing services at all Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Development Centres (ADCs) in their respective constituencies to ensure that their fields are ploughed on time. On the government’s side, it is ideal for them as service providers to ensure that tractors and inputs such as fertilisers are made available before the commencement of the ploughing season.
Farmers are further urged to acquire information on rainfall forecast trends for the upcoming season. This information should specifically focus on the average amount of rainfall expected in each region that participates in dryland crop production. This will aid farmers to have an understanding of how much water will be required for them to grow crops successfully. For maize producers, an average amount of above 500mm is required to successfully grow white maize. On the other hand, crops such as pearl millet (mahangu) require about 350mm when one grows cultivars such as Okashana number two.
Sorghum may require about 400mm of water per growing season. Additionally, farmers must ensure that they understand the forecasted rainfall distribution as it may have an effect on the production of crops. Dry spells during the growing season and crucial stages such as flowering may hinder the yield potential of each crop.
Furthermore, farmers must study the forecasted intensity of rainfall as it has a direct effect on crop growth. Light intensity rainfall that is prolonged is ideal for maximum soil absorption and ensuring that crop roots are supplied with adequate water. High intensity rainfall may cause soil erosion and damage to crops on open fields.
Finally, successful dryland crop production requires input suppliers to ensure that seeds, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides are readily available for farmers.
On the other hand, farmers are encouraged to ensure that they procure the right seeds that have a short growing period as rainfall patterns are unpredictable. Overall, preparedness may ensure that farmers achieve their objective of a successful harvest.
-Hanks Saisai is AgriBank Technical Advisor: Crops and Poultry