MBERENGWA — In 2007 as inflation walloped the Zimbabwean currency, rendering it valueless, then 54-year-old Langton Musaigwa of Mataruse village west of Zimbabwe in Mberengwa district, Midlands province, switched to cattle as his currency.
He wasn’t alone; scores of other villagers in his locality followed suit.
In no time, cattle became a new currency as the Zimbabwean dollar went down the drain, pounded by inflation.
“We had no choice. It appeared cattle was the only money we could stare at and not the real Zimbabwean bank notes, which were now losing value every day as prices skyrocketed,” Musaigwa told IPS.
Many villagers like Musaigwa, pummeled by inflation then, found the panacea in their livestock like cattle.
The cattle, said Musaigwa, could be traded by villagers for any valuable goods or services.
One such villager whose life was saved by her cattle is 67-year-old Neliswa Mupepeti hailing from the same village as Musaigwa.
“I fell sick very seriously and was no longer able to walk on my own. I had to use one of my cows to pay a local school headmaster to transport me using his car to Zvishavane to get medical treatment in 2008,” she told IPS.
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Then, Zimbabwe’s inflation peaked at 231%.
Fourteen years later, inflation has resurfaced in the southern African country, and cattle have again turned into a currency as people evade the worthless local currency.
But from 2009 to 2013, during the country’s unity government that followed the disputed 2008 elections, Zimbabwe enjoyed some currency stability because authorities allowed the use of the United States dollars and many other regional currencies.
Many Mberengwa villagers, like Musaigwa and Mupepeti, had been visited by inflation before, and they know the survival tricks.
“We have just had to return to using cattle as our money. I can tell you I have recently managed to buy a cart and a bicycle using just one cow here because villagers can’t accept the local currency. Many don’t have the popular US$, and cattle have become the readily available currency,” said Musaigwa.
Zimbabwe’s inflation currently stands out at 269 percent, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, with the local currency ever falling against international currencies like the US$.
As cattle turn into currency, just a single cow in Zimbabwe ordinarily costs about US$400.
In order to store the value of their worth, many Zimbabweans who can at least access US dollars, like Mwenezi district’s 67-year-old Tinago Muchahwikwa, whose children working abroad send him money for personal upkeep, have had to buy more cattle.
“Money, either US$ or any other currency — tends to lose value at any time, but cattle, for as long as they are well-fed and regularly treated for any diseases, remain with their value, and one can trade them off when a need arises,” Muchahwikwa told IPS.
For Muchahwikwa, cattle are the currency he can rather trust than any money, worse the Zimbabwean dollar, he said.
Even for 40-year-old Admire Gumbo, a Zimbabwean based in Cape Town, South Africa, investment in cattle has become the way to go back in his village home in Mwenezi as Zimbabwe contends with an inflation-ravaged currency.
“Back home, the money I send is buying cattle because when I settle back home, I don’t want to suffer. As my herd of cattle increases, that also means the increase of my own worth in terms of money,” Gumbo told IPS.
A worker at a grape farm in Cape Town, Gumbo bragged about owning a herd of 15 cows that he had bought back home.
As many like Gumbo surmount inflation in Zimbabwe using cattle, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has been on record saying livestock accounts for 35% to 38% of this southern African country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Faced with a collapsing Zimbabwean dollar, cattle seem to have become a more stable currency than the local currency for many, like Gumbo.
“I have made sure my mother buys cattle for me and not keep the money when I send cash to her because of the risks faced by the local currency back home, which has kept losing value, meaning even if one changes money from rand to Zimbabwean dollars, it won’t make any sense as the manipulated exchange rate there would still mean one remains with nothing meaningful,” said Gumbo.
For agricultural experts, with inflation ravaging Zimbabwe’s currency, cattle have become the alternative currency.
“Inflation has meant that many people now abhor the local currency and rather prefer foreign currencies like the USD, but many have no access to the USD, and cattle have become the readily available currency,” Steven Nyagonda, a retired agricultural extension officer in rural Mwenezi, told IPS.
To Nyagonda, as long as cattle are well-fed, it means they gain more weight and, therefore, more value if one wants to trade them off.
Pummelled by inflation here, even urban dwellers like 51-year-old Kaitano Muzungu are having to hoard things like solar panels, which they trade off with cattle in the villages while they shun the worthless local currency.
“When I get the cattle on trading off my solar panels in the villages, I feed the cattle in order to increase their weight so that I sell them to butcheries in the city in Harare in US dollars to business people here, save the profits and keep ordering solar panels to keep trading in the villages where I get cattle currency,” Muzungu told IPS.
With cattle currency gaining traction across Zimbabwe, entrepreneurial Zimbabweans have formed cattle banks, where investment in cattle has become a sensation.
According to Ted Edwards, who is the chief executive officer of Silverback Asset Managers, one emerging cattle bank in Zimbabwe, they have established a unit trust investment vehicle where Zimbabweans can invest in cattle using the local currency.In this model, when a cow produces offspring, the value of that calf is added to the client’s portfolio, meaning a rise in worth for a particular cattle investor.