Dynamic livestock husbandry for Zim’s Vision 2030

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LIVESTOCK make an important contribution to global calorie and protein supplies. 

However, livestock need to be managed carefully to maximise this contribution. 

Meat, milk and eggs in appropriate amounts are valuable sources of complete and easily digestible protein and essential micronutrients.  

While livestock products are not absolutely essential to human diets, they are valued and will continue to be consumed in increasing amounts. 

In Africa, cattle play a major role in the socio-economic development and nutritional security for the people of the continent.  

In fact, some the earliest African societies, given their nomadic lifestyle, depended solely on their cattle and other livestock for their sustenance. 

The long legacy of the history of cattle and human development and migration on the African continent bears testimony to the importance of cattle and the socio-economic role cattle play in human development.

For Africa, cattle remain an important animal genetic resource.

In traditional Zimbabwean societies, cattle are considered the most treasured form of wealth and heritage. 

Traditionally, cattle livestock in ancient Zimbabwe was regarded as ‘the fat of the land’.

Archaeo-historic and cultural studies of cattle production conclusively reveal the cattletrail economy dates back to the Late Iron Age in Zimbabwe.  

Here, cattle were the impetus that led to the development of the imperial Zimbabwean state of the Munhumutapa’s at Great Zimbabwe, located in the south-east of the country.

The importance of transhumant cattle rearing was central to trade, food security and economic development of the Great Zimbabwe economy and still is today.

From the 4th Century in antiquity, livestock formed the basis of Zimbabwe’s economic growth, wealth, poverty alleviation strategy and food security insurance, that even today, a study of ancient and modern cattle population distribution, cattle husbandry dynamics and cattle veterinary practices can be used to interpret the current state of our cattle and its effect on the general economy.

Contrary to common belief, Late Iron Age Shona animal husbandry in Zimbabwe, was scientifically advanced due to the ancients’ vital understanding of botany, traditional veterinary practices, meteorology and the maintenance of pastures for the well-being of their livestock that was a vital sector of the economic systems of their times.

Archaezoology studies from the Late Iron Age, shows that the Munhumutapas placed a growing emphasis on cattle rearing within the MaDzimbahwe subsistence and inter-regional economy.

Harking back to antiquity, Zimbabwe’s modern reputation as a ‘cattle country’ stemmed from the reputation of Munhumutapa’s imperial MaShona cattle herd, where indigenous Shona herd management strategies were practiced – such as traditional disease control, selective slaughter, rotational grazing and hygienic livestock housing which were employed to maintain and breed the famed imperial MaShona cattle herds of MaDzimbahwe.

Today, as the Government of Zimbabwe envisages a new middle-income economy by 2030, certain agro-economic indicators such as efficient veterinary services for improved animal health and modernised digital cattle husbandry need to be re-visited, prioritised and established nationwide for communal cattle farmers to ensure a healthy national herd, boost Zimbabwe’s beef production, revive export earnings and bolster national food security.

Recently, the European Union (EU), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), together with the Government of Zimbabwe, launched a major programme to assist Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers boost livestock production and engage in commercial agriculture through integrated farming approaches. 

During my research in the various cattle-ranching provinces and districts in Zimbabwe, which revealed a serious lack of technical and veterinary support systems for rural cattle ranchers, one can only conclude that the programme is most welcome and vital for the development of the communal cattle industry of Zimbabwe.

Post-colonial bovine epidemiological studies in Africa reveal that the development of new forward-looking veterinary animal health policies for African countries is due to the failure of independent African governments to reconcile the previously segregated animal health policies of the former colonies, where policies were based on a colonial matrix, in which African indigenous farmers were marginalised and underfinanced and remained with inadequate means to manage their livestock resources.

The effects of this colonial marginalisation still remain an anomaly today to the detriment of indigenous cattle producers, especially in Zimbabwe.

Building on lessons learned from previous projects, the current EU and FAO-sponsored programme in Zimbabwe, seeks to develop improved livestock policies, animal health systems and strengthen the livestock value chain. 

The programme is projected to lead to more predictable and sustained incomes for smallholder rural livestock farmers as well as improving the general nutrition 

of farmers by ensuring access to animal products. 

A four-year-US$19 million programme, to be managed by the FAO, looked to advance animal health and productivity thus increasing marketability and the incomes of Zimbabwean farmers.  

It is designed to improve livestock policy and the agro- institutional environment across Zimbabwe which focuses on smallholder irrigation and livestock production support activities; mainly the rehabilitation of common pool resources – i.e.: dip tanks, boreholes and sale pens, and training in livestock production and animal health management; as well as to increase the contribution of livestock assets to national food and nutrition security.   

The project places special emphasis on reducing livestock mortality and morbidity – i.e.: animals affected by the foot and mouth disease, anthrax and tick-borne diseases, and the training of field extension staff.  

Presently, ticks and tick-borne diseases are responsible for major cattle losses and account for up to 65 percent of cattle mortality in Zimbabwe. 

Meanwhile, in the wake of more than 80 000 cattle succumbing to tick-borne diseases countrywide, Treasury has allocated a supplementary Budget of $67 626 000 million to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement’s Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) for the procurement of dip chemicals, vaccines and animal pest and disease surveillance to curb livestock deaths.

The Second Round Crop and Livestock Report revealed that diseases remained the major cause of livestock deaths countrywide.

The supplementary Budget allocation would go to settle outstanding payments to dip chemical suppliers and the Botswana Vaccine Institute and obtain an additional 500 000 doses of foot-and-mouth, rabies, anthrax and newcastle vaccines.

Currently intensive dipping is the only control measure being used in Zimbabwe against tick-borne diseases.  

However, with most dip tanks in various states of dilapidated conditions, cattle-dipping has been erratic for years.   

Some communal cattle farmers, out of desperation, have resorted to physically pulling ticks off their cattle by hand, or applying used engine oil to minimise the damage of ticks on their livestock which compromisesthe health and safety of their beasts. 

In the absence of both, financial resources and technical expertise, the rehabilitation of dip tanks countrywide has remained an impossible challenge for Zimbabwean cattle farmers. 

To this end, the FAO and its partners provided materials and technical expertise, while the community assistedby providing manual labour. 

Some community members were also recruited and trained as para-vets to identify and manage common livestock diseasesas part of the project. 

The FAO is also supporting the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services to procure vaccines, which farmers can access on a partial cost recovery basis with the funds being deposited into a community revolving fund to be used in following years.  

Veterinary kits valued at US$600 each containing scalpels, syringes, needles, burdizzo, dehorning iron, elastrator rubber bands and applicators as well as dosing guns were made available to the farmers. 

These kits are used to ensure that livestock routine management activities such as dehorning, castration and deworming are carried out effectively. 

The main veterinary animal health indicators in Zimbabwe currently hinge on the maintenance of our cattle to overcome the current high morbidity and mortality rates experienced mainly in the past five years (2015-2020).  

The major causes of cattle morbidity and mortality in the vulnerable rural cattle sector can be prevented by the implementation of a robust all-encompassing veterinary policy that implements preventative measures and reinforces proficient extension services throughout Zimbabwe for a more dynamic cattle industry.

Dr Tony Monda is currently researching Agronomy, Farming and Veterinary epidemiology in Zimbabwe. He is a writer, lecturer and a specialist post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.

For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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