LIVESTOCK, especially cattle, play a critical role in the sustenance of most rural communities and commercial farmers in Zimbabwe and across Africa.
Traditionally a symbol of wealth and a way of accumulating assets, in modern farming cattle are a source of sustainable income and cattle farming is a business.
But besides providing a regular flow of cash from annual sales, cattle also provide draught power, organic fertiliser for crop production and a means of transport for farmers in communal and commercial farming areas.
There are other downstream industries like tanneries that use the products from livestock as a raw material, as well as herders who see cattle as a source of employment.
Cattle play a crucial role in ensuring food security for most communities and are used in the performance of religious and family rites.
While cattle do have social and cultural functions that are important across communities, these are generally secondary to economic functions.
It is for this reason that the Second Republic under President Mnangagwa has taken robust measures to rebuild the national herd and small livestock through interventions that are already paying dividends.
Following the Government’s pledge to bolster livestock production in Masvingo, the Midlands, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North, areas where income from livestock can easily be far greater than income from crops, farmers in these areas have started receiving inputs under the Presidential Livestock Scheme.
The forage is under the Livestock Growth Plan rolled out by the President, which also includes the Presidential Blitz Tick Grease Programme, to curb the spread of tick-borne diseases particularly January disease.
The two programmes that are running parallel to each other are in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) which prioritises animal health and production through strengthening farmer knowledge, skills in livestock production and health to enhance productivity through various strategies.
Livestock helps in food supply, family nutrition, family income, asset savings, soil productivity, livelihoods, transport, agricultural traction, agricultural diversification and sustainable agricultural production, family and community employment.
Government has come in handy with the Forage Banks Programme under which households with cattle will receive a 20 kilogramme bag of Compound D fertiliser and legume pasture seeds among other inputs.
This allows them to grow better food for their cattle to improve animal nutrition, curb drought-related deaths and improve meat quality.
By the end of the programme, which is targeting farmers in drought-prone areas, about 500 000 households would have benefited, affording them an opportunity to gradually rebuild their family herds, already on a rebound following successive droughts.
Most rural areas neither have enough grazing areas nor feed for livestock if rains are poor or fail, and in drought-prone areas this results in “poverty deaths of livestock” during dry seasons.
But with the advent of forage banks, the country is likely to witness better management of grazing areas along with promotion of the storage and use of crop residues for winter feeding, since farmers will now be able to plant and preserve crops under the forage programme.
The forage bank programme comes hard on the heels of the $500 million National Livestock Blitz Tick Grease programme that was launched by President Mnangagwa who was represented by Vice President Kembo Mohadi at its inaugural launch in Matabeleland South in November last year.
Already that programme has begun to yield results with the Department of Veterinary Services confirming that there has been a significant reduction in tick-related diseases throughout the country.
And yet it was a fairly simple concept, giving each smallholder livestock farmer a large tin of a grease that will kill ticks. It worked because the Government started looking at what individual farmers needed.
The entwined programmes should salvage the precarious position the country finds itself after poverty deaths and diseases heavily decimated the nation herd, which at one time contributed to the country’s forex exports earnings.
Since 2015, the country has lost over 154 000 cattle worth US$61 million due to drought-related deaths. The programme is expected to save close to 30 000 cattle worth US$15 million, that the country normally lose every year during the dry season when pastures dry up.
All these stresses the importance of livestock production in the social, cultural and economic environment of Zimbabwe and offers a number of initiatives to boost production and productivity within the sector.
However, the success of these programmes heavily hinges on the community buy through participation and engagement with stakeholders such as the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Resettlement and other stakeholders.
Instead of plating the forage at household level, communities can plant collectively to maximise on the hectarage, increased yields and proper monitoring since every cattle owner would be involved.
A community-based approach also enhances accountability and collaborative efforts where cattle owners should be able to pool resources in the event of disease outbreaks, while waiting for external assistance.
On the other hand, the tick grease programme, which is one of the National Development Strategies approach will save livestock while leaving the majority of the smallholder farmers empowered.
Armed with the proper strategies for controlling animal diseases, farmers will now be better equipped to deal with future disease outbreaks, utilising the expertise and collaborative efforts from stakeholders on the ongoing tick grease programme.
Through the successful implementation of programmes specifically aimed at the smallholders, we can supply not just Zimbabwean markets but resume exports.
Botswana runs a major export business using cattle from smallholder farmers, and in fact this export-led beef production is the major source of farm income in Botswana. And we, even in drought years, have better pasture and better rainfall so we should be able to do at least as well.
Beef exports are important as a foreign currency earner for the country and the domestic market for beef is huge.