Last winter, the Government partnered sugar manufacturing giant, Tongaat Hulett, to produce 1 186 tonnes of irrigated winter maize in the Lowveld.
The maize produced under the initiative was meant to enhance food security in Masvingo, which faces perennial food deficits owing to droughts typical of the agro-ecological region the province is situated in.
Now, there are even possibilities of expanding the programme to cover other crops, thanks to the huge success of the winter maize programme, which will obviously feed into Government’s Vision 2030 in which the country is expected to transform into an upper middle income economy in which food deficits are expected to be a thing of the past.
The winter maize project was introduced by former Masvingo governor, Josaya Hungwe, after the 1992 drought.
The success of the project essentially challenged the rest of the country to introspect and see if there are no areas where similar projects can be established to boost food security, which is usually the first casualty when there is a drought.
Apparently, Masvingo Province is not alone in the quest to eradicate food deficits and neither is it the only region with the right climatic conditions for the production of maize or any other food crop in winter.
The high temperatures of the Lowveld always ensure that conditions resembling summer are created, while farmers will only be expected to provide water for irrigation.
Mashonaland West can also produce winter maize in districts such as Sanyati and Kariba, which have relatively high temperatures during the winter season.
It’s refreshing to note that Government has since contracted Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) Sanyati, which falls under natural 3 and 4 to produce maize under the Winter Wheat Maize Programme.
ARDA Sanyati will be planting 240 hectares of maize this winter and will draw water to irrigate the crop from Munyati River.
Kariba district has favourable temperatures for maize production during winter and water can be sourced from the Zambezi River.
The only worry may be in the form of wild animals that roam the district most of the time.
There is also Charara Estates located some 20km from the resort town of Kariba that has been producing and supplying the Kariba market with green mealies twice a year using both natural rains and irrigation.
Apart from Sanyati, areas located along the Zambezi Valley from Mashonaland West to Mashonaland Central naturally have great potential for winter maize, although they need to be developed, especially in irrigation and power supply.
Matabeleland South province has great potential to produce winter maize, although that will only be possible after irrigation facilities are refurbished, as most of them are in bad shape.
Beitbridge and Gwanda districts have the ideal climate to grow the maize, especially for harvesting as green mealies and selling.
But this can also be done with food security in mind to avoid over-harvesting.
Temperatures in the two districts are conducive for maize production from 15 July to October when there is no frost.
This means all irrigation schemes under Gwanda and Beitbridge districts have the potential to produce winter maize and take care of the province’s perennial food shortages, as well as avail residue for feeding of livestock.
In Manicaland province, a total of 424.95ha have been put under winter maize in a move that demonstrates that everyone is now aware of the need to boost food security by converting disadvantages into advantages.
Chipinge has 325ha at the early reproductive stage, while Mutare has 54.95ha and Makoni has 45ha, also at the early vegetative stage.
For Mashonaland East, districts such as Goromonzi, Mudzi, Mutoko, Murehwa and Marondera have some places where it is possible to produce maize in winter, but the problem lies with the unavailability of natural sources of water to be used for irrigation.
In Mashonaland Central, areas situated along the Zambezi escarpment where there are high temperatures have the needed climatic conditions for winter maize production.
Districts like Muzarabani and Mbire in most cases record poor maize harvests from the summer season, hence the need to tap into the perennial high temperatures to produce the cereal in winter under irrigation.
Water can always be drawn from the Zambezi River and other rivers that feed into it.
Government recently revealed its intentions to green all arid areas along the Zambezi Valley after noticing that there are good climatic conditions for the production of maize all year round.
The move will leave the country food secure and without need to import food, which will slash the import bill, which has been nagging the economy in recent years.
Some areas along the Zambezi Valley receive rainfall amounts in the region of 727mm annually, with temperatures of around 25 degrees Celsius or higher throughout the year.
When Vice President Constantino Chiwenga visited Siakobvu in 2018, he stressed that there should be farming projects in the Zambezi Valley to ensure food security.
Among the projects, which he said could be undertaken, was the setting up of citrus plantations and maize production that he astutely said could capitalise on the availability of vast waters in the Zambezi River, as well as the Kariba Dam.
Already, Charara Estates in Kariba is doing it and has even gone the extra mile to establish a banana plantation from which they supply local markets, as well as in neighbouring Zambia.
The positive thing is that some seed houses have also been undertaking research into resilient seeds that can thrive under harsh climatic conditions like those being singled out for winter maize production across the country.
They are usually arid areas with very little or no rain during summer, which makes it critical to grow crops all year round, but with irrigation, especially during winter.
Results from winter maize projects show that producing maize under irrigation in semi-arid regions such as Masvingo’s Lowveld, Kariba and the Zambezi Valley is viable, especially during winter.