Water management options based on rainfall analysis for rainfed maize (Zea Mays L.) production in Rushinga district Zimbabwe

I.W. Nyakudya, L. Stroosnijder

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Maize (Zea mays L.), the dominant and staple food crop in Southern and Eastern Africa, is preferred to the drought-tolerant sorghum and pearl millet even in semi-arid areas. In semi-arid areas production of maize is constrained by droughts and poor rainfall distribution. The best way to grow crops in these areas is through irrigation, but limited areal extent, increasing water scarcity, and prohibitive development costs limit the feasibility of irrigation. Therefore, there is need for a policy shift towards other viable options. This paper presents daily rainfall analysis from Rushinga district, a semi-arid location in Northern Zimbabwe. The purpose of the rainfall analysis was to assess opportunities and limitations for rainfed maize production using 25 years of data. Data was analysed using a variety of statistical methods that include trend analysis, t-test for independent samples, rank-based frequency analysis, Spearman's correlation coefficient and Mann–Whitney's U test. The results showed no evidence of change in rainfall pattern. The mean seasonal rainfall was 631 mm with a standard deviation (SD) of 175 mm. December, January and February consistently remained the major rainfall months. The results depicted high inter-annual variability for both annual and seasonal rainfall totals, a high incidence of droughts =3 out of every 10 years and =1 wet year in 10 years. Using the planting criteria recommended in Zimbabwe, most of the plantings would occur from the third decade of November with the mode being the first decade of December. This predisposes the rainfall to high evaporation and runoff losses especially in December when the crop is still in its initial stage of growth. On average 5 to more than 20 days dry spells occupy 56% of the rainy season. Seasonal rainfall exhibited negative correlation (P <0.001; R = -0.746) with cumulative dry spell length, and wet years were free from dry spells exceeding 20 days. The most common dry spells (6–10 days), are in the range in which irrigated crops survive on available soil water. Therefore, they can be mitigated by in situ rainwater harvesting (RWH) and water conservation. The potential evapotranspiration of a 140-day maize crop was estimated to be 540 mm. Consequently, short season maize cultivars that mature in less than 140 days could be grown successfully in this area in all but drought years. However, sustainable maize production can only be achieved with careful management of the soil as a medium for storing water, which is essential for buffering against dry spells. To this end soil restorative farming systems are recommended such as conservation farming, in situ RWH techniques for dry spell mitigation and a cropping system that includes drought-tolerant cereal crops as for example sorghum and pearl millet, and perennial carbohydrate sources as for example cassava to provide stable crop yields
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1649-1659
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • southern africa
  • kenya
  • crop


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