An increase in livestock production will boost the sector which, together with mining and manufacturing, has been projected to be the key sectors to drive economic rejuvenation
By Paison Tazvivinga, and Nyenge Dzinotyiwei
In August 2020 cabinet approved a Livestock Growth Plan (LGP) which seeks to enhance the livestock sector to USD1.9 billion by 2025. This is quite a commendable initiative considering that livestock is one of the key subsectors of agriculture.
According to World Bank, the agriculture sector contributes about 10% of Zimbabwe’s formal GDP, over 40% of recorded national exports, 60% of raw materials to agro-industries and provides employment and income to over 60% of Zimbabwe’s population.
Therefore, an increase in livestock production will boost the sector which, together with mining and manufacturing, has been projected to be the key sectors to drive economic rejuvenation.
The livestock growth plan is a key component of the government’s agriculture food systems transformation strategy aimed at enhancing the agriculture economy to USD8.2 billion by 2025.
The strategy came at an opportune time when livestock and production of related products has been suboptimal.
To put this into perspective, dairy small-scale farmers produce less than 200l per day. Most of these small-scale dairy farmers have a total herd of about 20 cows with production levels of 10 litres per day per cow.
Medium-scale farmers make around 15-17 Litres per cow per day whilst large scale farmers make around 22L. These productivity levels are way below global daily yields of 35 litres per cow, experienced in highly mechanized dairies with superior genetics and higher input feeds.
If, as a nation, we are sincere about the success of the LGP the systematic challenges that led to the low production levels must be understood and solutions proffered accordingly. Some of the key challenges and high-level recommendations are:
- The major obstacle to livestock production is feed e.g., dairy feed cost constitutes more than 60% of the total production cost and is out of reach of many farmers especially small-scale farmers;
- Beef processing units and milk bulking centres are centralised in certain areas. This translates to very long distances for farmers such that dairy farmers are limited to morning milking. The long distances hinder them from late afternoon milking. This is exacerbated by the fact that most farmers do not have overnight cooling facilities;
- Lack of long-term funding from financial institutions. Livestock production is a long-term investment which needs to be complimented by long-term borrowing periods, not one-year loan cycles.
- Lack of good breeds. Those with dairy cows end up using local breeds because of lack of or unaffordability of genetic banks.
- Most farmers rely on government veterinary services of which government is failing to provide even dipping services hence most cattle are susceptible to theileriosis (January disease) attack. Rural farmers depend on communal paddocks so even if they buy their own tick control it becomes less effective as their cattle will mingle with those unvaccinated at communal paddocks.
Some high-level recommendations
- To make feed relatively cheaper, farmers need to grow silage, however, only commercial farmers have the capacity to grow silage. Most small-scale farmers do not have access to machinery like silage cutter, chopper grinder and irrigation systems. Government intervention must be directed towards such programmes to improve small scale farming.
- Farmers should be trained so that they can accurately calculate carrying capacity of their paddocks. This will make them aware of the maximum herd they should keep. Farmers should also consider pen fattening methods as feed supplements.
- Vaccines and chemicals are relatively expensive in Zimbabwe. The price misalignment is leading farmers to consider neighbouring countries for cheap vaccines and chemicals, e.g., Butachem for Theileriosis is costing USD15 in Zimbabwe but in Zambia it costs USD2. Interventions in this regard will be greatly appreciated in reducing costs.
- Some farmers are still believing in traditional methods of cattle rearing but due to climate change, majority of vectors are now resistant, instead of taking appropriate control action, farmers interpret it as a curse. There is needy, therefore, to ensure extension facilities are optimally utilized through the veterinary office.
- Authorities can model a policy around ‘prevention is better than cure’. If an animal contracts theileriosis, the solution is to kill and burn the respective animal rather than to try and cure it (South Africa has a similar policy). To date there is no cure for that tick born disease, available chemicals like buparvaquone are there to suppress its severity. This means, the affected animal becomes a carrier and spreader of the disease. Such knowledge must be imparted to all farmers.
- Climate change has devastating effects on livestock, some of which are thermal and cold stress, increased disease incidences and decreasing water availability against increasing livestock water requirements. Government must educate farmers on these issues through extension officers and should encourage farmers to adopt climate friendly farming practices. Regular farmer group discussions should be encouraged to facilitate sharing of ideas on how to adapt to climate change.
Paison Tazvivinga is a Development Economist and Nyenge Dzinotyiwei is an Animal Scientist. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facebook: Zimbabwe Digital News
Zimbabwe Digital News