Unmasking a threat to food security


By Dr Tony Monda

AS the global scourge of COVID-19 continues to whiplash mankind into a closeted existence, collective activities, such as agricultural, are at a low ebb the world over, posing yet another threat to humanity – that of global food insecurity.

In Zimbabwe, which is also under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural and allied agro-business activities such as farming, cropping, cattle ranching and the all-essential veterinary as well as the requisite extension services are being discounted while priority is given to human lives. 

Both livestock and animal care are essential services, but are not receiving the requisite, mandatory and vital national attention that they require in Zimbabwe, where cattle continue to die from various murrains and lack of pastures at an alarming rate.

For Zimbabwean rural crop farmers and cattle ranchers, the 2020 post-harvest agricultural season of May, June and July 2020 presents its own compounded multifarious problems.  

Supplementary stockfeed will be required to ensure that cattle are kept in reasonable condition as winter approaches and the little remaining grazing available is denuded

Furthermore, calves of four-six months need to be vaccinated at this time (if necessary) for quarter evil (QE) and botulism.

Heifer calves of four-nine months require the brucellosis vaccination while older cattle of 15 months also need to be vaccinated for quarter evil (QE) as well as anthrax and botulism – this should, in fact, be done annually during this period.

Additionally, cattle farmers who are penning their cattle need to dose the cattle for roundworm and for fluke, particularly in this 2019/2020 season when the rains ended early.  

Dosing cattle with Systamex Plus and/or Nilzan, if available in Zimbabwe, are recommended for fluke.  Given that the various parasitic arachnids — ticks (zvishambwe) typically found in the Zimbabwean savanna veld — living on the hides and skins of warm-blooded animals such as livestock and ruminants in general, as well as domestic pets, are still active at this time. 

They pose a great threat to livestock farmers who need to maintain strict control of ticks, particularly this season.  

It is therefore vital for veterinary practitioners and veterinary suppliers to be given leeway and travel clearance from  the various police stations and other Government public order offices, to assist the cattle farmer and help maintain the national herd, through stringent disease control, especially during the COVID-19 national lock-down currently in force.

Beyond the COVID-19 predicament, the denuded pastures and lack of quality grazing resulting from low rainfall this season, coupled with the lack of veterinary supplies and cattle health supplements, all compound the health of the national livestock and equally pose a threat to our national food security.

Domestic pets such as cats and dogs will also feel the effects of the COVID-19-induced lockdown as pet food supplies in most outlets diminish and become more expensive due to the untethered inflationary trend, or are simply not available due to the closure of abattoirs, meat processing factories or retail shops.

Given the aggravated resultant food insecurity arising from the global lockdown, Zimbabwean agricultural industry needs financial, technical and humanitarian support systems to compensate for the current lack of food production.

In Zimbabwe, the symbiosis between cattle husbandry, stock feed production, animal health care, veterinary supplies and services need to remain buoyant, especially so in the rural areas where extension services and consistently reliable veterinary supplies need to be co-ordinated and managed through an inter-provincial and inter-ministerial taskforce to maintain the communal herds during this crisis period of COVID-19.

With regard to international fiscal support, Zimbabwe, together with eight other African countries, is included in the United Nation’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP), co-ordinated in New York. Locally, the GHRP is co-ordinated by the United Nation’s Resident Coordinator Maria Ribeiro, which is seeking US$84,9 million to “… respond to both the  immediate public health crisis and the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable people….”

This request was in addition to the US$715 million appeal for the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) launched on April 2 2020.

The COVID-19 addendum to the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which “…seeks to mobilise emergency funding for UN agencies and NGOs to provide support for public health emergency response o contain the spread of the COVID-19 contagion through public health programmes, risk communication and community engagement, infection control and prevention, as well as the provision of water supply and increased hygiene and sanitation intervention,” must supplement their efforts to include and buffer the veterinary and livestock sectors of Zimbabwe in order to mitigate the prevailing severe crisis of food insecurity and protect the country’s vulnerable agricultural sector.

Animal healthcare should be considered an essential national component to help save what remains of the rural national herd which is in crisis.

In times of extreme trials and tribulations, as being experienced globally today, Zimbabweans have a Shona proverbial saying: ‘‘Sunga dzisimbe’, which simply means: ‘Buckle up your load, the road ahead is rough and bumpy.  Strengthen your inner reserve.’

Communal cattle ranchers in Zimbabwe would be advised to destock and only maintain breeding stock for a better season. 

Here, practical and prognostic cattle husbandry planning is required.  

Very often, rural folk are sentimental about culling their cattle herd.  However, in this COVID-19 era, it is the most practical action to take.

Direct Government food and monetary subsidies as well as the recapitalisation of the livestock and agricultural sector will be essential during and post-COVID-19 era to mitigate the crisis of drought and save the vulnerable rural communities as well as their cattle herds.  

Dr Tony Monda (PhD, DBA, BSc,) currently researches and provides veterinary epidemiology content and discourse for Zimbabwe and Southern Africa on livestock and agriculture.


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