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Zimbabwe turns to drought-resistant crops

Scientists are developing faster-maturing and drought-tolerant varieties of corn and cotton, holding out the hope of much-needed relief for thousands of farmers across Zimbabwe.

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The research comes against the backdrop of announcements by the agriculture ministry that farmers will not meet the country’s grain needs again this year. Zimbabwe’s Vulnerability Assessment Committee Survey for 2012 estimates that close to 2 million people currently need food assistance.

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Dexter Savadye, director of BRI, describes Sirdamaize 113 as a response to threats to the country’s food security.

“Zimbabwe has been experiencing a cycle of droughts and this has spurred the need for research in new maize varieties,” Savadye said.

Gugulethu Ndlovu of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union welcomed the possibility of improved crop yields.

“We have always said that the country needs fresh approaches to respond to low rainfall and food insecurity,” he said.

“If the country does not invest in research and development, we are likely to complain about the same things each planting season,” added Ndlovu (who is not related to farmer Thomas Ndlovu).

“What must be done now is to make this [new maize seed variety] available to the most remote parts of the country, not [only to] benefit famers who already can afford expensive irrigation schemes.”

SIRDC is also carrying out research into mushroom farming as Zimbabwe ups its efforts to restore its position as one of southern Africa’s major food producers.

According to SIRDC, the mushroom project aims to develop high-quality oyster mushroom spawn for sale to growers, as well as spawn from indigenous edible mushrooms.

Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry’s Cotton Research Institute (CRI) is testing a new cotton seed which it says is expected to boost farmers’ yields.

Cotton, Zimbabwe’s second-largest cash crop after tobacco, has also taken a knock in the past few years due to low rainfall, hurting farmers who abandoned maize production for it as cotton became the favored cash crop.

• Madalitso Mwando is a journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

This article originally appeared at AlertNet, a humanitarian news site operated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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