The Sunday News
Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau
IN some sections of society it is believed that a man’s looks are not up for discussion but can only be defined by the number of cows he has.
Many therefore, joke that the handsomeness of a man is as “deep as the number of his cows.”
However, successive droughts have brought agony to farmers in Matabeleland region, especially Beitbridge where animal husbandry is rife and a lot of sentimental value is attached to livestock, mainly cattle.
This area falls under Agriculture Natural Region Five and the Meteorological Services Region Three respectively.
Life has become difficult for some of the villagers who have to watch their cattle succumb to drought and their pride and “handsome” waning.
There is literally a struggle for the precious liquid in this area. The competition involves human beings, their livestock and the deep rooted baobab which stand as testimony of how dry Beitbridge.
Nevertheless, these protagonists now turned antagonists with no love lost have to draw from the same sources and even at times with a single borehole supplying a whole village with water.
There are 10 220 households under the Government’s drought relief programme in Beitbridge. Though there are ongoing efforts by Government to boost agriculture production be it on crop or livestock production, the effects of drought have not spared the crop husbandry sector.
Most crops, especially maize in Matabeleland region have been completely written off while livestock continue to die.
Furthermore, in the last two decades livestock numbers in Matabeleland South have continued to decline due to drought, perennial diseases, and stock thefts among other things.
Among all livestock species cattle are the most affected leaving the country’s estimated national herd of 5,1 million under threat.
It is understood that the district received around 200mm of rain during the last farming season against an average of between 350 to 450mm needed for both livestock and crops to do well.
According to Beitbridge’s District Crops and Livestock Production officer Mr Masauso Mawocha, a total of 469 cattle have died due to drought since the start of the 2018-19 farming season.
“We are hard hit by drought and so far we have lost 469 cattle. That’s devastating for many farmers. We have been carrying out some assessments on the ground and it’s not looking good at all. The pastures have depleted and water for livestock is fair.
“To make our situation worse we don’t have any stock feeds and this is something which needs to be addressed with the urgency it deserves. Our wish is to have affordable supplementary stock feeds closer to the farmers.
“At the same time we encourage them to adopt a business model, where they sell some of the livestock to get feeds for those that are still in good shape. A total of 8 592 cattle were in the last farming season sold to local abattoirs, while 2 219 were disposed of at cattle sales.”
Mr Mawocha said in some areas farmers had ventured into fodder production to augment food supplies for their livestock. He said besides the drought, they had challenges in terms of dipping chemicals (acricides).
He said some of the weak cattle were vulnerable to tick-bone diseases including; heart water, sweating sickness and anaplasmosis.
There are 1 350 registered boreholes in the district and 32 small dams, most of whom are not functioning to full capacity due to siltation.
He said Beitbridge had 97 810 cattle, 144 432 goats, 78 826 sheep and 35 978 donkeys.
“As the Agricultural and Natural resources subcommittee for the local Rural District Development Committee we have had an interface with Montana Meats who intend to roll out a livestock drought mitigation programme in the district.
“They will be running two programmes where they will pen-feed the livestock for the farmer and buy them at RTGS$6,20 for the manufacture grade (lowest) and RTGS$10,00 for super grade respectively.
“The other programme will involve farmers, for instance those with 100 herds selling 20 for pen feeding and have the other 80 being pen-fed as well. Montana will claim a small commission on the sales of 20 cattle to cover for feeding expenses,” said Mr Mawocha.
He advised farmers to embrace the mitigation scheme rather than lose the whole herd.
He said it took between 60 and 90 days to get some cattle in good shape under pen-feeding ready for the market.
“It is encouraging that the farmers have realised that drought is upon us and have started growing lucerne, banner grass and some making use of stover to augment the stock feeds. Most of them have acquired engine pumps for irrigating their crops and this has proved to be effective especially in the central parts of the district,” said Mr Mawocha.
Beitbridge district administrator Mrs Kiliboni Ndou-Mbedzi said the situation was a great cause for concern.
“Yes, the district is undergoing a dry spell and most people did not yield anything in the 2018-2019 cropping season. The dry spell is a threat to livestock and grazing areas/ pastures are dry.
“In some areas including Wards 4, 5, 6 and 15 there is no grass for livestock and the water sources are also becoming dry. Though we have an ongoing drought mitigation programme, we are also inviting other players to come in,” she said.
Mrs Ndou-Mbedzi urged the communal farmers to venture into fodder production for their livestock and also sell some of the livestock to maintain a manageable number.
She said those with capacity must practice irrigation farming to augment food supplies. The school feeding programme, she said, must also be resuscitated in order to assist school retention percentages.
“Nutrition gardens must be increased in our communities in order to provide a balanced diet to people, especially lactating mothers and children who are under 5,” said Mrs Ndou-Mbedzi.
It is understood that Beitbridge needs a total of 1 300 tonnes of maize for consumption per month.
Beitbridge West legislator Cde Ruth Maboyi said it was important for communities and Government to partner development agencies to revive irrigation schemes in the district.
“We have enough irrigation schemes here which if fully revived, will generate revenue for the district and produce enough for our people. It is apparent that these projects are facing a lot of capacity buildings, either the Government or villagers can go slow in this quest to boost agriculture productivity.”
Senator for Beitbridge Cde Tambudzani Mohadi said water shortages had also hit irrigation schemes and small-scale farms where crops died at germination. — [email protected]