Zimbabwe: Poor rains affect women dairy farmers

| May 9, 2016

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Drought has had a big impact on the dairy cows in Zimbabwe’s province of Matabeleland South. Sheila Lupuwana is saddened to see the thin and undernourished cows scavenging for what little grass is available on her cooperative dairy farm.

But Mrs. Lupuwana has vowed not to give up dairy farming because of the drought. She has already begun preparations for the next lean season, when milk output is expected to be lower and dairy cows are likely to die.

In the past few months, there has been little rain in Zimbabwe. The poor rainfall has been blamed on the El Niño phenomenon, which has affected many sub-Saharan African countries, and is threatening the livelihoods of Mrs. Lupuwana and other women dairy farmers.

Recent government figures estimate that about 25,000 cattle have died from starvation in Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Lupuwana is the chairperson of Umzingwane Dairy Association, a group of 20 women who came together in 2002.

She says that milk production was low last year. In November, the group produced just 558 litres, only a fraction of the 5,000 litres a month they usually collect.

Dwindling production during the lean season reduces the group’s production of pasteurized milk, yoghurt, and ice cream.

The challenge is a lack of pasture and feed. Mrs. Lupuwana explains: “Things have been bad for us. Low rainfall meant less output because there was no grass to feed the dairy cows. We are a group of women that cannot afford [to buy] other supplements.”

In March, heavy rains brought joy to the women, rekindling hope that grass and other feed would grow for their dairy cows. Mrs. Lupuwana says, “The rains came at a good time because our plan to survive the lean spell will be set in motion.”

Mrs. Lupuwana says the association plans to start fodder banks in order to guarantee enough forage in the dry season. She says fodder banks do not provide 100% of their animals’ feed, but supplement available forage during the dry season.

In the meantime, the low production is hitting some of the women hard, especially those who became family breadwinners after their spouses died. Mrs. Lupuwana says, “Fending for their families has been tough because of the low milk output and the danger of losing their dairy cows to drought.”


Sinini Ndlovu. Credit: Vladmir Mzaca

Sinini Ndlovu is a widowed member of the group. She had no money to pay for the December festivities for her family and struggled to pay school fees for the first term of 2016. She says: “I didn’t know where to start because we were operating at very low capacity and profits were a pipe dream. We feared the worst and I had to look for other projects outside farming to fend for the family.”

While March brought good rains, Mrs. Lupuwana says that, to sustain the dairy business, they need to ensure the long-term availability of drinking water for their cows. She says, “We are looking for a [donor to fund the drilling of] at least two more boreholes because the fodder banks require a lot of water to keep the pastures nourished.”