by Brian Mhango, Commercial Head for Syngenta Zambia
The President, HE Edgar Chagwa Lungu, challenged the Zambian farmers during a recent field day event to produce five million tonnes of maize for the 2019/2020 season!
I say this is no pipe dream – it’s possible and can be done. Roughly 1,4 million hectares of land in Zambia is cultivated for maize production, with over 80% of production under smallholders with an average national yield of two tonnes per hectare. This needs to be scaled up to an average of five tonnes per hectare with the right extension support programmes.
If our small-scale farmers are going to realise the full value from their farming efforts, it is critical that we expose our farmers to good farming practices and technology aimed at improving their farm productivity. At Syngenta we pride ourselves through our many initiatives such as the good growth plan which focuses on enhancing small-scale productivity by empowering farmers with the right tools and knowledge. This is critical for achieving agricultural productivity in a sustainable way, while caring for the environment at the same time.
Maize is the most important crop in Zambia and is produced countrywide under diverse conditions. Farmers plant this vital crop from the low rainfall areas of the south east to the high rainfall areas up north in Copper Belt, Northern, Muchinga, Luapula and North Western provinces. Successful maize production depends on the correct application of production inputs like seed, fertiliser, weed, disease and pest control, and correct planting procedures to obtain the correct plant population. To produce maize, one needs an average of between 450 and 600 mm of water per season. In addition to that, farmers are encouraged to use improved seeds as these potentially offer higher yields, are resistant to pests and usually are tolerant to adverse weather conditions such as drought.
Choice of cultivars plays a critical role in production. At Syngenta we have a robust maize portfolio from early (SY5944, MRI514 and MRI594), medium (SY6444, MRI624, and MRI634) to late maturing hybrids or full season hybrids (MRI744). Potential yields of up to 13 tonnes (260 x 50 kg bags) per hectare are achievable. In order to maximise yields, farmers are encouraged to plant early with the first effective rains. Sufficient ground water and soil temperatures to support germination are crucial. Late planting potentially reduces yields due to decreasing heat units as the season progresses. Farmers should also aim to achieve the right plant population as this has a bearing on yields.
45 000 to 60 000 plants per hectare are recommended in high rainfall areas, and 35 000 to 45 000 plants per hectare in areas with a low rainfall. A seed rate of 25 kg per hectare is recommended with a fertiliser rate of 400 to 500 kg (4 to 5 x 50 kg bags), including a basal dose and top dressing. Basal fertiliser is applied at or before planting and top dressing 4 to 8 weeks after germination or crop emergence. It is important that farmers take soil samples to fully understand the nutrient composition and/or deficiency so that the right fertiliser is applied. Crop rotation with legumes such as beans and soya beans should be practised, to fix nitrogen which supports maize production. Crop rotation also helps to combat pests and diseases by breaking their life cycles.
It is important that lime is incorporated in the farming regime to manage pHlevels, since maize does not do well in a high acidity environment. Lime helps condition the soil for optimum nutrient utilisation and reduces the toxic elements such as aluminium. The optimum pH level for maize production is between 5,5 and 6,5. Weed is another critical negative element farmers need to manage.
This is potentially yield limiting as weeds compete with crops for sunlight, nutrients and water. If not properly managed, weeds can potentially reduce yields up to 90%. It is important that fields are weed free, especially during the first 12 weeks, which is usually a critical period when the bulk of nutrients are utilised by the crops. But it is also crucial that weeds are controlled during the rest of the growing period if one wants to maximise yields.
Syngenta has herbicides such as Lumax, a selective pre-emergence solution for the control of weeds. Applied at the right time, it offers maximum weed control for both broad leaf and annual grasses in maize. Other herbicides that will get the job done are Gramoxone, Touchdown, Gardomil Gold and Dual Magnum. Farmers are advised to read product labels and carefully follow instructions for safe use of our products.
Fall army worm can have a devastating impact on crop yields as the worms ravage the crops. Syngenta has a seed treatment solution in the bag – Fortenza Duo, that protects the crop during the first four weeks after germination. It also helps farmers to reduce the number of sprays to control the pests.
Look out for Syngenta’s Fortenza Duo treated maize seed at the agro dealer near you. For follow-up treatment use Syngenta’s Ampligo or Denim Fit applied at 150 to 200 ml/ha and 100 to 200 g/ha respectively.
To get behind Syngenta-magic, send an e-mail to Brian.Mhango@syngenta.com.