Beef industries brings few gains for farmers

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Smallholder farmers have become the main suppliers of Zimbabwe’s beef industry, in the wake of the government’s fast-track land redistribution programme which displaced the majority of white ranchers starting in 2000.

Report by Irin

According to Eddie Cross, a commercial farmer and agricultural researcher, over three million of the estimated five million cattle that comprise the national herd are owned by smallholder farmers and their animals account for about 75% of the local beef industry. However, most of the profits generated by the industry are benefiting traders and abattoirs rather than the farmers, who are able to maintain only small herds, selling off one or two animals at a time when needed.

“The farmers don’t sell for profit, but it is their respective sales, when combined, that explain the relative stability of the (beef) industry,” said Cross.

Jairos Dzikiti (47) a smallholder farmer from Murewa, some 130km northeast of Harare, keeps about 12 cattle on communal land and sells them only to meet pressing needs.

About two weeks ago, he sold a bull for $350 to one of the traders who occasionally visit the area scouting for livestock. He made the sale to raise money for his three children’s school fees and set aside the remainder to buy fertiliser and seed in preparation for the main farming season.

Like most others in the village, his family struggles to afford basic commodities, such as sugar, cooking oil and salt, and survives on two meals a day.
“I don’t rear the cattle for profits and sell only when there is need,” Dzikiti said. “I would rather sell the milk that I get from the cows than think of building a house or setting up a grocer’s shop from money from (selling) my cattle.”

He also keeps his herd to use as draught power, even though his harvest has diminished over the years and he has very little surplus to sell from his fields.

Wonder Chabikwa, president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union, told Irin that cattle dealers, abattoirs and butcheries were the main beneficiaries of the local beef industry.

“In reality, it is not the smallholder farmers who come out with obvious gains, but those to whom the cattle are sold. Some of these people have actually made fortunes by regularly buying from those that want to sell, and the sources of cattle are plenty and steady considering that individual farmers feel the need to sell at different times,” Chabikwa told Irin.

He added that traders who visit communal areas to buy cattle offered low prices, short-changing farmers.

Clever Sibanda (30) from Harare, has made a modest fortune from buying cattle from smallholder farmers in Mashonaland Central and East provinces and selling them to abattoirs in the capital.

“Every week, I manage to (buy) an average of five beasts that I sell at abattoirs in Harare. Most of the farmers sell to me for $300 and the abattoirs pay me according to the net weight of the cattle; I (make) at least $200 profit per beast,” Sibanda told Irin.

After four years in the cattle trading business, Sibanda has managed to buy a five-ton truck, which he uses to collect the cattle and has built a house in Harare.
Some smallholder farmers sell their cattle directly to abattoirs, while others take their animals to auctions that are held periodically, but irregularly, around the country. The majority of farmers, however, sell to traders at lower prices than they would get from auction houses or abattoirs, to avoid the cost and inconvenience of transporting their cattle.

Commercial farmers who have emerged since 2000 have struggled to make meaningful contributions to the beef industry, due to a lack of capital and appropriate infrastructure, said Cross, who is a member of the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party.

Most gained their ranches from land carved out of formerly white-owned farms taken over by the government during the land redistribution programme.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The winds of change are here! Hanzi we are being fed by rhodies in Zambia by some. Our farmers must be organized and work as a union, this is where partnerships are needed for mutual benefit and national development. The white ranchers could partner with the indigenous farmers offering their expertise. The indigenous farmer has cattle, land and great potential while the white rancher has loads of experience so I am sure deals can be struck without one group feeling like the big brother or senior partner. What are your thoughts, Zimbabweans?

  2. Access to markets is the greatest issue facing farmers and the issue is not limited to communal farmers but would-be commercial farmers also face the same. For agriculture to work the government needs to look into building and maintaining value chains. This does not mean that the government needs to build and operate the value chain itself but it should provide an enabling environment for the private sector players to operate and market along the value chain. There are some commendable efforts being made by private players to enable access to information to farmers. Mobile network operators can do a lot more to facilitate access to daily prices.

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