Farming season in full swing
FARMERS in most parts of the country have begun planting crops in earnest following the good rains that started last week, marking the onset of the summer agriculture season.
In the southern African region, the summer rainfall season generally starts in October ending in March of the following year. During this period, farmers intensify agricultural activities, with the growing of maize- the staple food in most countries in the region, dominating.
Proper planning and preparedness for the summer cropping season is crucial in a region where food production is largely rain-fed. The region has in the recent years suffered prolonged dry spells, with a devastating El-Nino -induced drought experienced during the 2015/16 cropping season.
A seasonal forecast by the Lesotho Meteorological Services projected a delayed onset of rains.
For the first part of the summer rains, October to December 2017, the Met Services projected average (normal) rains in most parts of the country with a likelihood of above normal falls in the northern and eastern parts and below normal rainfall in the southern and western areas of the country.
The entire country is expected to receive average rainfall, with a possibility of above average or above normal rains between January and March 2018.
This projection follows a consensus on what weather conditions the region should expect by the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) held in Botswana in August 2017. This forum brings together scientific evidence by the regional Met Services on conditions to be expected during this crucial agriculture season. In some cases, the regional Met Services collaborate with organisations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to strengthen their projection.
Senior Meteorologist at the Lesotho Meteorological Services, Charles Tšeole told the Sunday Express that the current precipitation being experienced in Lesotho was caused by a combination of a warm westerly air from the Congo Basin and a cold front.
“Whenever we are transitioning into another season, as is the case from spring into summer, we do experience different weather conditions. The wet weather and strong winds experienced in most parts of the country in the first week of October were caused by that transition and the combination of conditions I have just mentioned,” Mr Tšeole said.
He explained the transition triggered an interaction of both the Congo Airmass and a cold front in the sub-continent, which saw countries including South Africa and Lesotho receiving some good rains.
The southern districts of Lesotho, which normally receive low rainfall and are projected to receive less rains between October and December 2017, had the most rain from 3 to 4 October.
Farmers in districts including Quthing, Qacha’s Nek, Mohale’s Hoek and Mafeteng had reason to celebrate after a largely dry winter season.
Following the rains that fell in most parts of the country, Quthing received the highest rainfall at 55mm, followed by Mohale’s Hoek (49mm) and Mafeteng (35mm).
Other areas that recorded good rains are Oxbow (32mm), Moshoeshoe Airport area (31mm), Botha Bothe (30mm) and Berea (25mm).
On whether these rains can be scientifically analysed to point to a start of the summer rainfall season, earlier than was projected, Mr Tšeole explained that although climatologically the summer rainfall season starts in October, weather models have shown a shift in the trend, indicating a delayed onset of the rains from the year 2000.
“Research findings attribute this to climatic changes. Based on these changes, the rains we are seeing can be concluded as signifying the start of the rainfall season only if we are not going to experience a prolonged dry spell of more than 21 days. If such a dry spell occurs then we would explain the rains received so far as a false start of the summer agriculture season,” he said.
To ensure farmers make an informed plan of activities, Mr Tšeole said the Met Services will work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
“We will continue to provide regular weather updates to support food production efforts.”
Other specialised weather forecasts will also be developed to cater for other sectors such as aviation, water, energy and construction.