Zenzele Ndebele | November 18, 2013
Sibusisi Ndiweni has reared cattle all his life. But it was only recently that he started to make any money. The 57-year-old farmer has benefited from the recent introduction of a communal feedlot. Housing his cattle in a feedlot for a few weeks before slaughter has doubled the cattle’s selling price.
Before the feedlot opened, Mr. Ndiweni sold skinny cows cheaply to middlemen. The farmer from Zimnyama village in Matabeleland South could only cover his family’s basic living costs, and barely afford his children’s school fees. After he sold the cows to middlemen, they were fattened for a few weeks, then sold at the same market for twice what Mr. Ndiweni was paid.
The farmer’s plight is not an isolated one. Sale prices are often low during the dry season because animals are thin. But farmers must sometimes sell animals before they are ready in order to meet urgent family needs like sickness or bereavement.
Dumiso Nyoni is a herdsman in Mangwe district. He says: “The problem that we have in this area is lack of access to markets. You can only find good prices in town − but how do I get my cattle there? I don’t have the transport.” Mr. Nyoni often finds it easier just to sell to middlemen who pick the cows up from the farm in trucks.
But farmers in Mangwe district are getting help from an NGO called Livestock Zone. Dr. Ronny Sibanda is a vet involved with the NGO. As the 2012 dry season began to take its toll on livestock in the region, he developed the idea of a communal feedlot.
In the feedlot system, farmers place their animals in a communal feeding pen for a few weeks before they are sold. Dr. Sibanda explains that, under the system, slaughterhouse operators provide feed and veterinary products on credit. Farmers pay for these services after the cows are sold, but still emerge with a larger profit. According to Dr. Sibanda, the system also provides farmers with technical knowledge, business skills, and links to buyers.
Dr. Sibanda says that before the feedlots were introduced, the average pre-slaughter price of a cow in the district was $300 US. Now, it is around $600.
Mkhulunyelwa Nkomo is a livestock buyer. He says that the farmers’ lack of knowledge of animal husbandry is to blame for the poor quality of the animals, noting that raising cattle is more complicated than many farmers think. He explains, “We buy cattle of a lower grade from villagers and feed the beasts to [get] a better price in the market.” Mr. Nkomo thinks farmers need to become more businesslike and improve the quality of their animals.
Many farmers are confident that the new feedlot system will help them increase their incomes. Mr. Nyoni says, “We hope this system will help us realize profit from our animals and expand our business.”