Command Livestock should target smallholder farmers

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Dec 31, 2017 | 1431 views

smallholder farmers

Mhlupheki Dube

THE cropping season seems to be beginning on a slow start and the amount of rainfall that has been received especially in Matabeleland is already worrying farmers.

There are fears that we might be heading towards a drought and this is not out of the ordinary for this region which seems to receive an alternation of a good season with a drought at a rate of one is to five.

However, in the middle of a potentially problematic farming season livestock farmers take solace in the continued pursuing of Command Livestock Programme.

This optimism comes against media reports during this past week indicating that the Command Livestock Programme was launched in Harare amid generous pledges to support the programme by the private sector.

This pen wishes to reiterate that if Command Livestock is to hit the mark it should target smallholder farmers.

We have said it before that this sector holds over 80 percent of the national herd and hence it only makes sense that any programme that is designed to intervene within the livestock sector must prioritise this group of farmers.

This pen, however, notes that there has been a lot of false starts regarding the Command Livestock Programme, I have written on this platform twice celebrating the conception of the idea and the realisation that agriculture is broader than crop production.

Nothing much has happened since my last two articles.

One writer described one of our professors as “an under-achieving incompetent who is all froth and no beer, all sizzle and no steak, all hat and no cowboy”.

It is my honest wish that this Command Livestock intervention which is so full of promise and hope does not degenerate and fit squarely into the description above.

It is about time the Command Livestock Programme is commandeered into visible and tangible action.

This high sounding lavish launch should now stop and the real action begin. As they say it’s time we get our hands dirty.

We cannot spend a full year celebrating launches with no real activity on the ground.

This is not about just ticking boxes and writing colourful reports about a high-powered well attended event, it’s about real economic emancipation of a people.

I would like to implore the new Minister of Agriculture (Cde Perrance Shiri) to measure progress by real activity on the ground, not attendance registers of some feel good event somewhere.

We have said it before and we will say it now that the people’s expectation of deliverables of the Command Livestock Programme are mainly around support in restocking; breed improvement through availing of quality live bulls and other methods; addressing perennial challenges around water provision for livestock through use of technologies such as sand abstraction and solar reticulation systems; veld management programmes focusing on veld regeneration and reinforcement as well as controlled grazing facilities; fodder production and adoption of high producing fodder such as legumes and grasses; effective control of diseases of economic importance like foot and mouth; establishment of reliable, accessible and competitive livestock markets; finally revitalisation of the leather value sector.

Admittedly this is a long shopping list but it is also a guiding line towards addressing real problematic issues within the livestock value chain.

While Command Livestock may not be able to cover everything it is imperative that it tackles the major issues which ordinarily farmers may not be able to do without assistance such as restocking and breed improvement through use of high quality high value pedigree bulls.

It is my honest hope that next time I write an article on command livestock will be to celebrate tangible activities on the ground.

In the same vein I would like to thank the private players who have shown interest in funding the command livestock activity. This is a very important component and the sooner other players follow the better.

Agriculture-based value chains have multiple ripple effects on other sectors and any intervention that is sincere in its wish to jump start the

Zimbabwean economy should focus primarily on revitalising this sector.

However, the funding for livestock should take into account the peculiar nature of the value chain, especially the inescapable fact that livestock programs are long term hence the funding terms should allow for that.

Livestock farmers have at times run into problems with finance institutions who copy and paste crop production-based funding models to the livestock sector and the support becomes a source of pain instead of happiness for the farmer.

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