Cicada Season

12 10 2010

October is known locally as the “suicide month”. I am not sure that more suicided occur now but it is a reference to the sometimes intolerable heat. September this year was unusually cool and very windy but October is certainly living up to its reputation. At 17h00 the temperature on the kitchen window sill was 30 degrees C. It’s a dry type of heat so is not intolerable but it certainly drains the energy.

The cicadas are out in force in the trees on the way to work. Some trees are so loud that it would be difficult to have a conversation under them. There was one in the kitchen yesterday so I thought it would make a nice photo but although is was playing possum it was not around when I returned with the camera. I came home at lunchtime and there it was (well, I think it was the same one but they DO tend to look alike) but after nearly drowning in a bag of salt it made off through the open window. Well, at least I had the camera and the cicada in the same place so it was progress of a sort.

September was also notable for the fires. Every September the country burns but somehow this one was the worst that I can recall. At one stage Harare disappeared into the haze and it is only 4km away. I am often asked if the fires are set deliberately and I guess that they are. I think most are the result of burning lands to be cleared for crops and the fires are allowed to run out of control. Stewart rather cynically called them “Poor Man’s Fireworks” and I suppose there is an element of truth in that too.

The sweet potato project for the NGO is off to an inauspicious start. The Tobacco Research Board could only manage to micropropagate (i.e. use the few virus free cells at the growing tip of the plant to bulk up the plants we would use for cuttings) about a third of what we’d contracted them to do. Jeremy, a local ex-farmer who works with the NGO has managed to source some others but I am not convinced that they will be virus free as my contract with the NGO requires. They should be arriving tomorrow and we’ll have to get stuck in to plant them as quickly as possible. This heat of course makes it all that much more tricky and because we have a very limited water supply we have had to go for an Israeli made drip system. It is very satisfying to watch all the little drips going exactly where they are supposed to with close to 95% efficiency. Even Tony, my landlord was impressed and he is very much a traditional farmer who likes to see the more conventional sprinklers spraying water everwhere with as little as 65% efficiency.

In my most recent Scientific American a soil science professor at Washington State University (north western USA) was asked to predict the future of agriculture (other experts were asked on other topics too). He very confidently stated that organic farming was the future together with zero till farming and high efficiency irrigation. I have to agree on the irrigation though beg to differ on the zero till and organic farming. Curiously he stated that farmers would have to adopt such practices as crop rotation which have, or rather were, practiced in this part of the world for at least the 30 years I have been involved in agriculture. Some years ago now a booklet was produced by the Commercial Farmers’ Union in Zimbabwe on the practice of conservation tillage i.e. using the minimum amount of tillage necessary to achieve the result required which could mean zero till or just using a chisel plough where required. Unfortunately some crops such as potatoes have to be quite heavily cultivated. I certainly think certain elements of “organic” farming should be incorporated into what I’d call simply “good farming practices” such as mulching, composting and rather not letting fires set to clean land run wild – rather don’t set fires at all! Some very simple good farming practices would go a very long way towards feeding the world’s expanding population. It’s simply a question of education. We have slipped a long way in the last 10 years or so.



2 responses

19 05 2013

I came across your article after searching for “cicada singing zimbabwe”. Interesting read. The October heat, coupled with the scent of wild flowers and fresh tree leaves, the singing from cicadas and other insect noises combine to make October my favourite month of the year. Sadly I have not been able to spend October in Zim for nearly 10 years now.

20 05 2013

April is my favorite month. Cool nights and warm to hot days. The bush is drying out and the colours are pastel and the air is not yet smoky from fires. There is a sense of slowing down after the summer, after the hectic growing and the storms. It’s more relaxed!

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