Nelly Bassily | May 16, 2011
Ten years ago, Xolisa Nteo Diale received two pregnant Nguni heifers from the South African government. He recalls, “I was among the first to be selected as part of a Nguni pilot project. Now I have a herd of 150 animals.”
Nguni cattle are a native breed of cattle from South Africa. But farmers switched to “exotic” cattle from developed nations and the Nguni were dying out. The apartheid regime regarded the Nguni breed as inferior. A 1973 government decree empowered animal inspectors to inspect bulls in communal areas and to castrate them. This resulted in the near extinction of Nguni cattle. In addition, the gene pool became diluted through cross-breeding with exotic breeds.
Mr. Diale says his fortunes changed after he ventured into Nguni production. He is a small scale livestock farmer from Didimana village in the Eastern Cape. He adds, “I also used money from my pension to buy more cows. I sell the animals to local producers, butcheries and those who sell the skins.”
Due to its hardiness and longevity, the Nguni breed has now returned to the South African livestock industry. After realizing the animal’s genetic importance, the government, with technical support from the University of Fort Hare, is donating Nguni cattle to smallholder farmers.
Ms. Tina Joemat-Peterson is South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. She says, “We are bringing back the Nguni, as the animal develops easily under a process of natural selection in a highly challenging environment.” She adds that the animal is easy to manage and is highly adapted to surviving in the harshest and most disease-ridden areas of South Africa.
Mr. Diale confirms that the cattle thrive under challenging conditions. They are known to have a long productive life, and cows produce 10 or more calves. They graze in the bush, require little management and produce good yields of milk in harsh conditions.
Mrs. Sithembisile Mtembu is a farmer from Limpopo Province in north eastern South Africa. She says that emerging farmers like her have few resources and technical skills to handle high-maintenance breeds of cattle. She says, “Giving us these breeds as nucleus breeding stock is disastrous.” She explains, “The animals deteriorate rapidly under low-input conditions, straining us with limited resources.” Mrs. Mtembu knows that Nguni cattle need good management for optional production. But she says they do not need as much management as most other breeds.
Dr. Mark Ngwadla was an animal breeder and now raises livestock. He says “… [The Nguni breed] has survived for over 2000 years in harsh conditions. Nguni is the most inexpensive to breed. One doesn’t need expensive feeds and vaccinations.” He says the breed is unique in that each animal’s horn shape and hide pattern is different. He notes that, “No two animals are alike, which has its own attraction.”
The animal can be used for both beef and milk production. It can also be used for draught power. Nguni beef has low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, according to tests done at academic and government centres. For the health-conscious, the beef compares well to the popular Aberdeen Angus and Bonsmara breeds. For the farmer, the return of this native breed is a welcome opportunity.