Hardy cattle boost Zimbabwe farmers’ incomes

FAO assists Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers boost livestock production 

Key facts

The European Union (EU), FAO and the Government of Zimbabwe launched a major programme to assist smallholder farmers boost productivity and engage in commercial agriculture through integrated farming approaches. The 4-year US$19 million programme is managed by FAO and focuses on smallholder irrigation and livestock production support activities. As part of the larger programme, the livestock component (roughly US$ 10 million) is placing special emphasis on supporting 40 000 poor farmers - in Nkayi and Lupane Districts in Matabeleland North Province - who practice mixed crop-livestock production. Building on lessons learned from previous projects, the current programme is improving livestock policies, animal health systems and strengthening the whole livestock value chain. This is leading to a more predictable and sustained income of smallholder farmers as well as improving general nutrition of farmers by ensuring access to animal products.

Pilate Moyo is a farmer and village head of Lupaka ward in Lupane. He recalls that when he was first invited to take part in the project, which did not offer any free hand-outs other than rehabilitation of common pool resources (dip tanks, boreholes and sale pens) and training in livestock production and health, he was sceptical. “However, the knowledge I gained represented the beginning of a better lifestyle for me and my family,” he says.

FAO’s livestock project seeks to improve livestock policy and the institutional environment not only in the two provinces but across Zimbabwe; it looks to advance animal health and productivity thus increasing marketability and incomes; and to increase the contribution of livestock assets to food and nutrition security.  

The project places special emphasis on reducing livestock mortality and morbidity (especially animals affected by the Foot and Mouth disease, Anthrax and Tickborn diseases) and training of field extension staff.

Ticks and tickborne diseases (TBDs) are responsible for major cattle losses and account for up to 65% of cattle mortality in Zimbabwe. Currently, intensive dipping is the only control measure being used against the disease. “For years, cattle dipping at our dip tank was erratic,” says Moyo . Some of the farmers in the village resorted to just physically pulling off ticks or applying used engine oil to minimise the damage of ticks on their livestock. Either way, the health and safety of the animals was compromised.

In the absence of both financial resources and technical expertise, the rehabilitation of the Mkhosi dip tank, which was in dire conditions, remained an impossible challenge for farmers. FAO and its partners provided materials and technical expertise, while the community helped with the manual labour. “We were happy to contribute to the rehabilitation of the dip tank because we knew we would reap the benefits,” says Moyo.

As part of the project, some community members were recruited and trained as para-vets to identify and manage common livestock diseases. FAO also supported the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services to procure vaccines which farmers access at a partial cost recovery basis with the funds being deposited into a community revolving fund to be used in following years. 

Strengthened livestock production improves livelihoods
Although Moyo’s family has not yet started selling their cattle, they are already noticing the differences. “Ticks and wounds which would cause our cattle to die are now a thing of the past,” says Moyo.  

There are approximately 220 households and 2000 cattle in the Lupaka ward. Veterinary kits valued at US$ 600 each containing scalpels, syringes, needles, burdizzo, dehorning iron, elastrator rubber bands and applicator, and dosing gun were made available to farmers. The kits are used to ensure that livestock routine management activities such as dehorning, castration and deworming are carried out effectively.

Igniting new business ideas
Moyo’s family owns 16 cattle, 8 goats and a couple of chickens, most of which are indigenous breeds born into the herd/flock. “Training not only helped me grow hardy cattle but changed my mind set. I am no longer focusing on subsistence farming but planning on producing for the bigger market”, Moyo added.

He was quick to emphasize that livestock constitutes a family asset therefore the decision of where and when to sell has to be jointly made. To compliment livestock farming, the family also has a market garden and sells tomatoes.

Moyo’s promising story is just one of many since the inception of the project which is expected to have a significant impact on the contribution of livestock to the food, nutrition and income security of smallholder livestock keepers in the two districts of Lupane and Nkayi. In addition, the lessons learned from the two districts are replicable throughout the country, where livestock are a major component of the farming system.

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