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Photo by Deep Malik: https://www.pexels.com/photo/pearl-millet-field-10738421/

Grains to choose

In arid Southern Africa, there are several drought-tolerant grains that can be grown with little water or solely relying on rainfed conditions. These grains have adapted to the region’s dry climate and can be valuable crops for small-scale farmers. Here are some typical grains and how to plant them:

1. Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum):

  • Planting: Pearl millet is usually planted at the onset of the rainy season. Prepare the soil by loosening it with a hoe or plowing. Create rows about 50 cm apart and sow the seeds at a depth of around 2-3 cm. Space the seeds 5-10 cm apart within the rows. Cover the seeds with soil and lightly pack it down. Germination occurs within a few days to a week.

2. Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor):

  • Planting: Sorghum is planted in a similar manner to pearl millet. Prepare the soil and create rows about 50-75 cm apart, depending on the variety and available space. Sow the seeds at a depth of around 2-4 cm, spacing them 10-15 cm apart within the rows. Cover the seeds with soil and water them well to aid germination.

3. Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana):

  • Planting: Finger millet is planted in the same way as pearl millet and sorghum. It prefers well-draining soil and is usually sown at the beginning of the rainy season. Create rows about 30-50 cm apart and sow the seeds at a depth of around 2-3 cm. Space the seeds 5-10 cm apart within the rows. Cover the seeds with soil and water them gently.

4. Teff (Eragrostis tef):

  • Planting: Teff is a fine-grained cereal, and its seeds are very small. Prepare the soil and create rows about 20-30 cm apart. Sow the seeds at a shallow depth of around 1 cm and space them very thinly within the rows. Teff is sensitive to competition, so it’s essential to remove weeds promptly.

5. Barley (Hordeum vulgare):

  • Planting: Barley is planted towards the end of the rainy season when temperatures are cooler. Prepare the soil and create rows about 15-20 cm apart. Sow the seeds at a depth of around 2-3 cm, spacing them 5-10 cm apart within the rows. Water the seeds well after planting.

These grains are known for their resilience in arid conditions and are suitable for rainfed agriculture. However, even though they require less water than some other crops, they still need adequate rainfall to grow successfully. Proper soil preparation, timely planting, and weed management are essential for a successful harvest. Additionally, choosing the right grain varieties that are well-suited to your specific region’s climate can increase the chances of a productive crop.

Growing grains in arid conditions

Growing grains in the arid summer rainfall areas of Namibia requires careful planning and appropriate agricultural practices. Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide to cultivate grains successfully:

1. Crop Selection: Choose drought-tolerant grain crops suitable for the region, such as pearl millet, sorghum, finger millet, teff, and barley. Selecting crop varieties with short growing periods can be beneficial in areas with limited rainfall.

2. Soil Preparation:

  • Clear the land of any debris and weeds.
  • Loosen the soil with a hoe or plow to improve water infiltration and root penetration.
  • Incorporate well-rotted compost or organic matter to enhance soil fertility and moisture retention.

3. Planting Time:

  • Plant grains at the beginning of the rainy season when the soil has enough moisture to support germination.
  • Timing is critical as late planting might result in reduced yields due to early-season drought or frost risk during harvest.

4. Planting Method:

  • Create rows for planting, spaced according to the grain variety’s requirements (e.g., 50 cm for pearl millet and sorghum, 20-30 cm for teff).
  • Sow the seeds at the recommended depth (e.g., 2-3 cm for pearl millet and sorghum, 1 cm for teff).
  • Pay attention to seed spacing within the rows to ensure adequate plant growth and airflow.

5. Water Management:

  • Rely on rainfed conditions for irrigation. Pay attention to the weather forecast and local rainfall patterns.
  • Water conservation techniques, like mulching and organic matter incorporation, can help retain moisture in the soil during dry spells.
  • Add olla pipes to your fields so you can irrigate your grains with a little amount of water if the rains don’t come as hoped.

6. Weed Control:

  • Weeds can compete with the grain crops for water and nutrients. Regularly remove weeds manually or use appropriate herbicides if necessary.
  • Cultivate the land before planting to reduce weed seeds in the soil.

7. Pest and Disease Management:

  • Monitor the crops regularly for signs of pests and diseases. Employ organic pest control methods when possible to minimize chemical usage.
  • Promote plant health through proper nutrition and soil management to reduce disease susceptibility.

8. Harvesting:

  • Harvest the grains when they reach their maturity. This varies depending on the crop; for instance, barley is typically harvested when the grains are fully developed and dry.
  • Dry the harvested grains properly to reduce moisture content and prevent spoilage.

9. Crop Rotation and Cover Crops:

  • Practice crop rotation to prevent the buildup of pests and diseases and improve soil health.
  • Consider planting cover crops during fallow periods to protect the soil from erosion and add organic matter.

10. Storage:

  • Properly store the harvested grains in dry and well-ventilated containers to avoid moisture and pest damage.

By following these steps and adapting them to the specific requirements of each grain crop, farmers in the arid summer rainfall areas of Namibia can cultivate grains successfully and improve their agricultural productivity.

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