A DISCUSSION with my colleague and budding farmer Mr Mitsho Nkomo in Plumtree got me seriously thinking about some serious parameters that need to be carefully considered when there are farm audits.
The issue in question is the minimum land holding for livestock farmers in Matabeleland region and other regions of the country that fall within agro-ecological Region 4 and 5.
While our discussion focused on the unit tax being charged to livestock farmers in A2 farms and the feeling being that the $2/hectare is expensive, the minimum sizes of the farms became topical.
The idea is that some of the farms are too small for anyone to do commercial livestock ranching. For example, a farmer with 180ha in A2 is expected to have a stocking rate of at least 18 livestock units.
These 18 livestock units can be loosely equated to 18 animals and this is a small figure for a serious livestock farmer even by communal farming standards.
This farmer, who by dictates of stocking rate calculations, is expected to have between 18-22 animals in his/her 180ha farm, is expected to pay an annual unit tax of $360 at $2/ha.
This means that the farmer is effectively taking out one animal from the 18 to pay the tax. Effectively this farmer will have to part with about three animals if we factor in the cost of the labour and other input costs for the farm.
This means it is very difficult for such a farmer to realise an organic growth on his/her herd, if anything the farmer may become poorer. What this means therefore, is that there is a serious need to relook at the minimum farm size for livestock farmers in agro-ecological regions 4 and 5 with a view to increase the size of the farms to levels that make the enterprise viable.
There should be a properly calculated landholding that will allow the farmer to grow.
Secondly, the unit tax needs to be reviewed with special attention being given to peculiarities of each production system. The one-size-fit-all approach has been condemned many times for its inadequacy in addressing issues. While the $2/ha may be reasonable and fair in intensive production systems such as those in horticultural production, the figure may actually be punitive for extensive production systems which are almost inevitable in the drier regions of the country.
Another important factor which farmers should consider is how to increase the carrying capacity of their farms. It should be appreciated that there are a number of factors that determine the carrying capacity of a farm and some of the factors can be manipulated by the farmer to his/her advantage.
These are rainfall amount, soil type, soil depth, veld condition, topography and livestock type. The first three have a natural bearing on veld condition.
The soil type and depth defines the grass species that can be supported in that particular farm and consequently the number of livestock units that can be carried on that farm.
It is important therefore, for farmers to try and improve the coverage of palatable grasses in their farms as this will improve the carrying capacity.
The other important aspect in influencing the carrying capacity of the farm is to regulate the density of trees.
Thickets reduce grass cover and hence decrease carrying capacity especially for non-browsers.
Mixing browsers such as goats and minimum browsers such as cattle increases the carrying capacity of the farm as most of the vegetation is utilised.
Topography of the farm relates to its natural geographical features such as rivers, vleis and mountains.
It goes without emphasis that a farm which is predominantly rocky will have a significantly reduced carrying capacity for grazers hence the need for a careful consideration when allocating a farm in such an area. The size of the farm may need to be increased to compensate for poor topography.
However, in the reality of small farm sizes which are already out on farmers, it is prudent for these farmers to explore ways of increasing the carrying capacity of their farms as well as exploring other less extensive production systems. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.
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