The Sunday News
I THINK it can be safely concluded that this year is a terrible agricultural year for the majority areas in the country.
The signs are there for all to see and the red flags are all over with most of the crops having completely failed and a few barely making it to maturity stages.
This is going to be an extremely difficult year especially for livestock farmers and the panic has rightly started to creep in and this is illustrated by the high volume of animals that are being offered for sale in various livestock marketing platforms.
I would say to farmers if you are panicking and doing something about it you are in the right path. My worry is with the farmer who is correctly reading all the bad signs of this season and understands what it means to his or her herd but chooses to bury the head in the sand and hope for a miracle to take his/her herd through the dry season.
This is a recipe for disaster, you will be lucky to even sell your animal for US$50 at the peak of this drought. Maybe it will be useful to break down this drought effect for some farmers to visualise the impact.
Firstly, we did not receive any meaningful rainfall which means our grass in the veld did not grow to its full potential and hence it will be quickly wiped out by animals. This is even worse in areas that had veld fires as the veld did not get enough rainfall for it to recover so your carrying capacity for that particular area is drastically reduced.
Coupled with the poor veld regeneration we have failed crops, which means we do not have even adequate cereal stover to use for supplementing our animals during the peak of the dry season. Then lastly, the chief headache for the farmer this season is unavailability of drinking water for livestock.
Most rivers did not even flow and hence dams did not receive reasonable inflows. Therefore, water provision is going to be a real nightmare for livestock farmers this season. There are areas in Nkayi and Bulilima districts and perhaps other districts as well where humans and livestock traditionally share borehole water during the dry season, it may not be far fetched to anticipate that such boreholes will dry up and leave both humans and livestock exposed and vulnerable.
The reason is simple the water table was not adequately recharged because of low precipitation which was received and hence the boreholes are unlikely to be as prolific as in other years. It is my well considered view that farmers who are in places with poor water sources should consider temporary migrating to areas with big dams like in resettlement areas. This is not to suggest that all resettlement areas are safe but some have big and under-utilised dams and hence can accommodate extra livestock population.
This will obviously come at a cost as farmers in resettlement areas have been known to cash in on desperate fellow farmers seeking relief grazing. However, it is good decision making to lose a few animals to save the rest of the herd. For the farmers who rely on sand abstraction for both domestic and livestock water my counsel is that they should make sure there are adequate holes on the riverbed both in terms of size and numbers so that they can draw enough water for the animals.
This is no time for lazy approaches of hoping your 14-year-old stockman can adequately provide water for the animals, it needs active involvement and supervision to ensure that your animals are sufficiently watered.
Having addressed the issue of water provision as a very critical drought mitigation measure, it is proper to indicate to the doubting farmers that now is the time to cull and sell your old animals that are likely to succumb to the drought. The proceeds from the sale of these animals can then be used to buy supplementary stock feed and hay bales.
Let’s prepare for the clearly inevitable drought so that we minimise the number of animals we lose to this natural phenomenon.
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