Zimbabwe: Cattle ranchers call for government intervention as drought claims pastures (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

| August 6, 2012

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Moffat Ndlovu is a communal farmer in Zimbabwe’s Matebeleland South province. Like most rural people in the province, he makes his living as a cattle rancher. Over the years, he’s seen many droughts. Last year he lost two cattle to drought.

Mr. Ndlovu has reason to believe this year will be worse. He says: “I might lose more this year because we have already run out of drinking water for the animals halfway into the year. The last time we faced a similar situation was in 1987 and many people lost all their livestock.”

The Department of Livestock Production and Development recently estimated that about 200,000 cattle in the province are at risk. That’s about two out of every five cattle.

Lack of rain is causing pastures and watering holes to disappear. That means that livelihoods are at risk in this traditional cattle ranching area. Ranchers are calling for the government to intervene by providing animal feed.

Donald Khumalo is president of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. He explains that, in the past, ranchers moved their cattle from areas affected by drought to greener pastures. But this year, outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have led to quarantines in some districts. Mr. Khumalo believes that government-backed cattle feedlots and fodder banks are the only viable option in drought-stricken Matebeleland. He says: “Farmers are selling cattle at give-away prices in a bid to counter the risk of losing all their animals, and the government has to do something.”

Government assistance may be on the way. A few weeks ago, Minister of Finance Tendai Biti presented a mid-term budget review statement. The minister acknowledged the need for supplementary cattle feeding in response to the drought.

Retired Major Clement Malaba is chairperson of the Matebeleland South Livestock Farmers Association. He says that urgent measures must be taken, and urges ranchers to work together to find feed for their livestock. He says: “If people form co-operatives, it will be easy to buy stock feed and transport it.”

In the meantime, ranchers are struggling to keep their livestock fed and watered. Mthokozisi Sibanda herds his cattle eight kilometres each day to the nearest watering hole. Some are already dying. He doesn’t know how many will survive.

Some ranchers take their cattle to good quality grazing land. But the cost is high. Thomas Sibanda says that people in his village pay the owners of these pastures for the right to graze. He adds, “But the problem is that they are now demanding too much. They want a heifer for every ten cattle grazing in their area.”

Mr. Sibanda and his neighbours have tried selling some of their animals to buy feed. But purchasers are offering very low prices. ”Buyers offer as low as US $200 for a beast,” Mr. Sibanda says. “What do I do with that money? I would rather keep my cattle.”