Livestock farmers bear the brunt of drought

LIVESTOCK farmers in Matabeleland South Province fear that they could lose their cattle as most areas have already run out of pastures, three months before the onset of the rains.

The province received low rains during the last farming season which resulted in poor pastures in most parts. Low demand for beef and high cost of stockfeed have made it difficult for farmers to buy supplementary feed for their animals. Because of low demand, farmers are being forced to sell their animals at low prices making it difficult for them to raise money for stockfeed.

Last year around this time, farmers were selling their livestock for a minimum R15 000 per beast but this year they are parting with a beast for as little as R3 000.

Mr Thabani Sibanda an A2 farmer from Mkashi area in Gwanda said he feared that he would lose many of his animals as he was struggling to buy stock feed.

“This year our area didn’t have good pastures as we received low rains therefore I have to buy stockfeed for my animals. It’s a very difficult situation because we’re getting little money from selling our beasts and at the same time stock feed is expensive. A 50kg bag of stockfeed is being sold at R280 while we’re selling a beast for as little as R4 000. Last year around this time you could sell a best for a minimum R15 000.

“With the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for beef is low which has seen a drop in the price for beasts. Restaurants are closed, gatherings are banned which means demand for beef is limited. Farmers are forced to sell their animals even at a low cost to avoid losing them,” he said.

Mr Sibanda said last year around this time he would sell a beast and buy about 40 bags of stock feed but this year after selling a beast he can only purchase 17 bags of stockfeed.

He said he has 30 head of cattle that he was supplementing and in a day, each beast was supposed to be fed five kilograms of stock feed.

Mr Sibanda said the 17 bags of stock feed which he could buy after selling a beast were not enough to feed his 30 beasts for a week.

In total he has a herd of 200 and as time goes on more would need to be put on supplementary feeding which could make it difficult for him to maintain his herd and he feared losing a lot of his animals to drought.

Mr Owen Moyo who is a communal farmer from Garanyemba area said the situation was difficult for communal farmers that did not have large herds as they could not sell their fewer animals to be able to raise enough money to buy stock feed.

“The situation is difficult for us communal farmers because the cost of stock feed is beyond our reach. Supplementing livestock under the prevailing conditions is better for farmers with large herds who can sell part of the herd to buy feed and remain with a significant number of cattle. In my case, I only have six head of cattle which means that if I sell to buy feed my kraal will be left empty. There’s a need for us to be assisted with affordable stock feed because if I don’t supplement, I’ll lose all of them to the drought,” he said.

Chief Bango from Mangwe District said some farmers in his area were now feeding their animals tree leaves as the area did not have pastures. He said the livelihoods of many villagers will be affected if they lost their livestock as that was their source of wealth.

“There’s a great challenge in my area when it comes to pastures. We didn’t receive good rains and I fear that many people will lose their livestock. Some villagers are now driving their cattle to eat leaves which shows how bad the situation is. Some people are now forced to sell their animals for as little as R3 000 and with such as price, it’s difficult for them to buy stock feed which is pegged at R280 for a 50kg bag.

Farmers are forced to buy the stock feed in rand as local shops don’t accept Zimdollars. As months progress, the value of the animals will depreciate which means farmers will be in even more trouble,” he said.

Chief Bango said there was need for stock feed to be availed to farmers at an affordable price.

In addition to depletion of pastures in his area, rivers and dams had dried up leaving livestock with inadequate drinking water. As a result, Chief Bango said, livestock and community members were competing for water at the few boreholes which are functional.

Matabeleland South Acting Provincial Agricultural Officer, Mr Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu said last year, the province lost more than 26 000 head of cattle to poverty deaths between June and early December.

He said the number could increase this year unless necessary measures were put in place.

Mr Ndlovu said this was a critical time for farmers to get real value for their animals as they had to buy stock feed as pastures were poor across the province. He said the worst affected area is Beitbridge followed by Gwanda South, Matobo, Mangwe, Bulilima West and Insiza South.

“Demand for beef is low due to the pandemic as the consumers buying power is low. The majority of customers for beef are still under lockdown as restaurants, hotels and other social gatherings have been suspended. If the situation continues, we might record an increase in animal poverty deaths as farmers won’t have means to supplement their animals,” he said.

Mr Ndlovu said they were conducting a hay baling process in order to supply livestock farmers with feed for their animals at an affordable cost in order to reduce the number of poverty deaths this year. He said the hay would be sold on a cost recovery basis.

Mr Ndlovu said they were also in the process of engaging other partners who are into feed formulation and producing feed for animals to sell to farmers.

He urged farmers who have irrigation capacity to put portions of their land under high-yielding fodder grass or fodder crops to supplement small stock like goats and lactating animals in order to save them as well as feed the animals with crop residue.

Mr Ndlovu said there was also need to establish bigger irrigation projects to grow high yielding grasses which could be sold to farmers. “Our target this year is for farmers to think in terms of resilience. Those with bigger arable lands should fence them and have a certain area where they can plant fodder. They should be reliable and self-sustaining. This is all in a bid to ensure that farmers save their animals in every possible way,” he said. —

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