The Sunday News
Mollet Ndebele, Sunday News Reporter
THE ravaging drought that has seen pastures depleted and water sources drying up has so far wiped out nearly 5 000 cattle in Matabeleland South Province only while thousands more are at risk if no immediate action is taken, Sunday News has learnt.
The situation is almost similar in most southern parts of the country with farmers enduring the agony of watching their investments and source of wealth being wiped out.
Statistics obtained from the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services in Matabeleland South showed that 4 539 cattle have died with the most affected district being Beitbridge where 1 057 cattle have since succumbed to drought.
The second most affected is Insiza where 918 cattle have died while 600 have been lost in Gwanda.
In Matobo, 524 have died and 498 succumbed in Mangwe while the least affected is Umzingwane where 330 cattle have been lost.
Matabeleland South provincial livestock specialist Mr Hatitye Muchemwa said more cattle could have died as the figures represents only the reported incidents.
“Compared to last year, the figure represents nearly 500 percent increase as by this time we had only recorded 1 000 cattle deaths,” he said.
The province has a herd of 658 518 cattle.
Statistics from Matabeleland North could not be readily obtained, but the Department of Veterinary Services provincial officer Dr Polex Moyo told Sunday News recently that cattle in the province were also being affected by the drought.
But it is farmers in Matabeleland South who have suffered more with some saying the situation was unbearable as a majority cannot afford the prices of stock feed while water sources have dried up.
They said everyday they are watching helplessly as their prized wealth is being wasted away.
The chairman of Livestock Farmers Trade Union, Mr Sifiso Sibanda, said while the loss of livestock might be viewed as a loss to individual farmers, it was the national herd that is taking a knock.
The country’s herd stands at slightly more than five million and Matabeleland region used to be the country’s prime cattle producing area but recurrent droughts since 1992 reportedly killed about 60 percent of the provinces’ herd.
“It has been the national herd that has been affected. We have a situation whereby livestock is dropping like flies. In Matabeleland large numbers of animals are dying while this is the beef basket of the country. No one is doing anything to help the farmers and after this season farmers will be left impoverished and they won’t be able to recover,” he said.
Mr Sibanda said the drought was also inflicting further pain on farmers who have already lost some of their cattle to tick-borne disease which started last year.
Most of the farmers are not only grappling with sourcing stock feed but dipping chemicals have gone up beyond the reach of many with most veterinary shops selling chemicals for as high as $400 per dose.
The prices also change regularly.
“Most animals are not only succumbing to drought but to diseases worsened by the poor health and the poor diet. Vaccines, a dosage is going for $400. Some of these farmers have no any other source of income. Imagine a litre of dipping chemicals costs $800 and how many can afford this. A single bag of stock feed is $400 and that cannot even last for a week,” said Mr Sibanda.
“We have advised farmers to say sell a few beasts and then buy vaccines and stock feed but when we made that call the stock feed producers also increased and when farmers went to buy, they could not afford,” lamented Mr Sibanda.
However, most farmers are now also reluctant to sell their animals as they are thin and would fetch very low prices on the market.
A farmer in Figtree, Mr Amon Moyeti said most communal farmers were looking to the skies but nothing has come out so far.
“The Meteorological Department had said the rainy season will start early in October but still there is nothing, if we continue under these conditions until mid -November then the losses will be too much,” he said.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union director Mr Paul Zakariya said it was well known that during this period, most areas will be dry with the most affected being the southern parts of the country.
However, despite such conditions, he said, nothing concrete has been put in place to mitigate the challenge.
“Farmers are losing animals and this is knocking harder on producers who lost quite a lot during the last season. Plans need to be put in place to mitigate such disasters going forward. Livestock farmer associations must be formed for the sole purpose of producing feed to bridge these known dry periods,” he said.
Mr Zakariya said the Government could provide the necessary policy environment to assist farmers save their animals.
“Farmers, together with private sector players must develop business initiatives around livestock feed to avoid any further losses,” he said.
Last month, the Government, however, announced that it has partnered with various organisations to avail 200 000 tonnes of stock feed to save hundreds of cattle mainly in Matabeleland.
Experts said the problem will likely result in the increase in beef prices especially towards the festive season since most farmers are reluctant to sell their cattle in the condition they are.
“Farmers are also reluctant to sell because they will not get value for their cattle since they will not fetch high prices,” said a livestock expert.
The price of beef is already averaging $80 per kilogramme in most butcheries which is beyond the reach of many people.