BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
OVER 50% of Zimbabwe’s national herd of 5,2 million cattle is at risk of being wiped out by this year’s drought if no mitigatory measures are put in place within the coming few months, farmers and livestock experts have warned.
The future of livestock is very bleak owing to escalating diseases, critical shortages of dipping chemicals as well as the devastating effects of the El Niño-induced drought.
Pastures have depleted while water bodies are drying up in most parts of the country, leaving animals — both wild and domestic — fighting for survival.
The southern African nation did not receive adequate rainfall during the 2018/19 summer season due to the El Niño phenomenon.
Livestock farmers who spoke to Southern Eye said urgent intervention was needed to avert the impending catastrophic situation.
“As livestock farmers we know and we can see that it’s going to be a bad year. It could be catastrophic, especially if there are no mitigatory measures put in place. If government does not intervene, farmers will not be able to manage the situation on their own. In the next two months, water and pastures would dry up,” Livestock Farmers’ Union chairperson
Sifiso Sibanda said.
“According to our assessment, if no mitigatory measures are put in place to avert the situation, we are likely to lose about 50% of the country’s national herd. Government should declare the situation a national disaster,” Sibanda said.
To make matters worse, Sibanda said stockfeed, vaccines and dipping chemicals were too expensive and beyond the reach for many farmers.
In a newsletter, Stockfeed Manufacturers Association of Zimbabwe said the general non-availability of raw materials has resulted in some stockfeed operators being unable to fulfil orders by non-governmental organisations for survival stockfeeds.
The association also noted that the price of high crude protein cotton cake has increased drastically from ZWL$400 to ZWL$1 200 per tonne between January and March and molasses, wheat and maize brans were in short supply.
“Farmers could consider selling a few of their animals, especially those that are old so that they can buy dipping chemicals, vaccines and stockfeed. We are not talking of destocking.
No, we have not gone that far,” Sibanda said.
Matabeleland South crop and livestock officer, Simangaliphi Ngwabi said drought mitigation strategies were required to save the livestock.
“Livestock are currently in good condition, but that would be temporary. Pastures are fast depleting and water bodies are drying up. If we had water it was going to be better. Farmers should assess the situation and come up with a solution. They can reduce their herds to manageable numbers or even sell some of their livestock and buy stockfeed. If they fail to supplement their livestock, chances are high that they might succumb to drought,” she said.
Matabeleland North crop and livestock provincial officer Dumisani Nyoni said all districts in the province did not have enough pastures as well as water.
“Almost all the districts will run out of pastures by July or mid-August. There is no water and animals will start competing for water with humans. That will make boreholes break down constantly or run dry quickly,” he said.
He urged farmers to sell some of their animals and buy supplementary feed or dig wells for watering them.
“If possible, at national level, government should come up with a programme to assist farmers access stockfeed easily and at affordable prices. As we speak, the stockfeed is not affordable,” he said.
The situation is also bad in Midlands province with the worst affected districts being Mberengwa, Zvishavane, Kwekwe and Gokwe North.
Masvingo province lost about
40 000 cattle to drought last year and if no significant measures were put in place, the province might suffer again.
A veterinary expert who requested anonymity urged farmers to start feeding their animals now before their condition deteriorates.
“Farmers can start feeding their livestock now; they should not wait until September when the situation gets worse. They should also make sure that their animals do not walk long distances in search of pastures and water because that would exhaust them,” the official said.
The province is home to an estimated herd of 500 000 cattle, but the figure is under threat from effects of drought.
Despite recurrent droughts that have seen the national herd diminishing, government does not have programmes to combat effects of drought on livestock.
Agriculture plays a key role in Zimbabwe, contributing 11% to the total gross domestic product and remains the main source of livelihood for around 67% of the country’s population.
Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement deputy minister Vangelis Haritatos said the ministry was looking into urgently drilling boreholes at strategic places in order
to solve the water problem caused by the current drought.
“It is important to note also that this programme will have a double benefit as it will also stop cattle from straying into neighbouring countries, such as Botswana, in search of water,” he said.
He said the Department of Veterinary Services has already vaccinated cattle in drought-stricken, low-risk foot and mouth disease (FMD) areas to allow them to move to FMD red zones for relief grazing.
“This is critical in order to ensure that they do not get FMD when they mix with buffalo. We try our best to ensure that red zone cattle are always vaccinated against FMD. We are grateful to our partners for also supporting our initiative by supplying survival feed to the hardest hit areas at reduced prices,” he said.
“We would also like to highlight that livestock can be a lucrative business if managed correctly. In times of drought we encourage our farmers, through our extension officers, to destock slightly in order to be able to generate funds in order to purchase feed to ensure that the remaining livestock stay healthy and productive,” Haritatos said.
“Furthermore, we want to discourage people from burning grass, in particular in provinces that have had better rains, but to instead cut the grass and make hay bales in order to export to other provinces that are in dire need of feed,” he said.
“As a ministry, we are also looking into assembling hay bailing units (tractors, slashers, racks, and hay balers) in order to assist with the same concept. Hay is one example, but broadly speaking, going forward, we are encouraging our farmers to grow fodder in provinces that have better rainfall than some of our drier provinces.”
He said fodder was a great benefit to the animal through nutrients and act like fresh pastures.
“It is easier to digest, helps with weight gain, increases life expectancy, especially with dairy cows, increases yield of milk, and of course increases the hoof health of the animal, which generally benefits the health of the animal, which is of critical importance to our ministry. Also remember that fodder is a
cost-effective option for our farmers,” he said.
Haritatos also said farmers needed to consider silage, also important in preserving the food for the animals, which could then be used during dry times.
“The concept here is that of cross trade between provinces. For example, Mashonaland West grows feed and exports to dry areas such as Gokwe to feed livestock. Farmers in Gokwe then sell their meat to Mashonaland West province,” he said.