The Sunday News
LAST week I had an interesting conversation with some officials from the Ministry of Agriculture (Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement) regarding the beef value chain.
The main question was why the livestock value chains in general and the beef value chain in particular are failing to rise to the expected commercial performance despite the farmer trainings that producers are receiving now and again.
The concern was that smallholder livestock farmers hold close to 90 percent of the national herd yet it is in this very sector that commercial performance indicators are not good and eventually affecting the performance of the entire livestock sector including the commercial farming areas.
An example in terms of commercial performance indicators of the livestock industry is the off take rate which is sitting around 3,5 percent against an expected best practice of between 18-20 percent, the calving rate is also around 45 percent down from a best practice range of over 80 percent.
What is it that our training is not doing right? Why are we failing to transform livestock farmers from peasant farming approaches to proper commercial livestock production approaches?
Commercial farming is not necessarily about land size holding but about practices adopted by the farmers.
Our extension approaches both public and private extension practices need to be interrogated and adjusted to deliver and produce the expected production performances from livestock farmers.
One extension officer even remarked in a stakeholder meeting that some farmer training manuals we first used in the 1970s are still used and how relevant are these in modern day farming? It is important for livestock producers and extension providers to realise that beef value chains can only be as functional as the producers are and of course the other segment of the value chain. It is therefore imperative that we ensure that our farmers adopt international best practices in production models and approaches so that they improve production efficiencies as well as the product quality.
We need to ask ourselves as extension providers how we can assist the farmer to produce firstly the right quality of animal and sell it at the right size in terms of both weight and age. Let me hasten to correct the common incorrect narrative that quality is only equal to exotic breeds. This is not true because I have seen commercial farmers who are producing both the Tuli and the Nguni breeds with exceptional results yet these are purely indigenous breeds. This tells me that the equation of quality production is in fact much more dependent on the management aspect rather than the breed aspect.
A Brahman animal poorly managed will also poorly produce despite its superior genetics. The drive therefore should be how can we help beef farmers to manage their animals for profit.
This is not rocket science by the way but merely getting the fundamentals of production correct. These are proper disease management, proper nutrition management, proper breeding procedures, rangeland management and the general good animal husbandry practices.
This is a complete package which needs to be adopted in toto not the usual cherry picking that is done by farmers. Farmers usually adopt an ad hoc and reactionary management as opposed to deliberately instituted management practices that result in a predictable production outcome.
Proper management practices will ensure that the calving rate is increased and this will translate into an organic growth of the herd and inevitably an increase in his/her offtake rate.
Farmers will simply be unable to sell any animal if his/her herd is not growing and herd growth is not an accident phenomenon but an outcome of deliberate management practices adopted by the farmer throughout the year.
Our extension services need to transform the smallholder livestock farmers who are currently holding about 90 percent of our national herd from peasant approaches to commercial approaches which will ensure that we have the right quality of animals produced from this sector.
An improvement in production qualities of this important sector will definitely transform the whole beef value chain.
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