By Elton Ziki

A SURVEY by Ndebele et al (2007) in Matabeleland revealed that cattle are an investment and a status symbol. 

Cattle, thus, generate income among communal households through sales of the animals and their products. 

Improvement in cattle production and innovative value addition strategies of cattle production and management can create employment for people, as individuals are engaged in processing and selling cattle and their products at various points of the production value chain. 

Cattle play a pivotal role in socio-cultural functions such as lobola payments and appeasement of ancestors. (Maburutse et al 2012) 

They are also useful in nutrient recycling in communal rangeland. (Tessema et al 2011) 

Cattle can also be exchanged or loaned to neighbours to enhance kinship ties. (Mavedzenge et al 2006) 

However, the actual contribution of cattle at household level is not well-known because the current valuation systems rely on monetary standards which ignore the non-monetary contribution of cattle to households such as provision of manure, drought power and milk. (Chimonyo et al 2000) 

Information on the real contribution of livestock to human food security and livelihoods is scarce. (Gwaze et al 2009) 

It is therefore essential for agro-economists to come up with guides which include non-monetary contributions when valuing cattle’s contribution to communal livelihoods. 

In Zimbabwe, cattle are the most important livestock species followed by goats. 

This is the trend in most countries in Southern Africa. (Maburutse et al 2012; van Rooyen 2007; Mashoko et al 2007) 

With 89 percent of the cattle in Zimbabwe in the smallholder sector and around 25 percent of GDP coming from the livestock sector, more resources should be channelled to communal cattle development programmes in order to redress national food security. (FAO 2006)

Cattle population and distribution in Zimbabwe communal areas show that cattle population in Manicaland is estimated at 615 190, Mashonaland East 

(572 154), Mashonaland Central 

(521 335), Mashonaland West (450 504), Midlands (989 362), Masvingo (1 019 315), Matabeleland North (681 045), with Matabeleland South having 629 743 beasts according to the 2020-2021 2nd Round Crop and Livestock Assessment Report by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement.

Cattle breeds in communal areas

In this write-up, it will be prudent to also look into the breeds that are dominant in communal areas around the country with the view to improve their quality, resilience and numbers. 

Some of the breeds found in Zimbabwe’s communal areas include the Brahman, Afrikander, Nguni, Tuli, Hereford, Simmental, MaShona and non-descript crossbreeds. (Mashoko et al 2002) 

The Nkone, Tuli and MaShona are regarded as indigenous to Zimbabwe. (Mpofu 2002) 

Indigenous cattle are valuable reservoirs of genes for adaptive and economic traits (Assan 2012; Khombe 1995; Moyo 1995) in providing diversified genetic pool which can help in meeting future challenges resulting from possible changes in climatic conditions, production dynamics and consumer requirements. (Masikati 2010, Musemwa et al 2009) 

An investigation by Ndebele et al (2007) revealed that indigenous cattle breeds are better able to utilise low quality feeds and can walk for longer distances in search of water and feed during the dry period of the year when compared to the imported breeds. It is ideal that such breeds be utilised (Swanepoel and Setshwaelo 1997) in the communal areas which are characterised by highly variable spatiotemporal availability of feed. (Mashoko et al 2007) 

Diseases and parasites 

Parasites and diseases are of major concern for every livestock farmer as well as the Government through the Department of Veterinary Services which is mandated to deal with and respond appropriately to any disease outbreaks in the country. 

Disease affliction of farm animals needs to be contained and controlled urgently so as to prevent infections of other animals in the areas of outbreaks.

Diseases and parasites are major constraints to communal cattle production and are endemic in most Zimbabwe communal areas. (Ndebele et al 2007)(Chimonyo et al 2000)

Although indigenous cattle breeds are hardy, their growth performance is generally poor, partly as a result of high disease and parasite challenges and low plane of nutrition (Swanepoel and Setshwaelo 1997) characterising communal areas which are mostly found in marginal regions of Zimbabwe. (Mapiye et al 2006a) 

Management factors which cause low cattle production include low use of improved technologies (vaccinating, dosing), poor nutrition of feed leading to low milk production (Ngongoni et al 2007), poor calf housing structures allowing the build-up of infective agents during the rainy season and prevalence of contaminated water sources (Masikati 2010) causing scours. 

Also, use of uninformed ethno-veterinary medicines as most communal farmers are not able to purchase drugs or to access Government veterinary doctors much easily leading to high mortality in livestock which would have survived had a veterinary doctor been engaged timeously.

The epidemiology burdens and susceptibility to parasites and diseases in different classes and strains of livestock require research. (Gwaze et al 2009) 

Mechanisms of resistance, tolerance or resilience of indigenous cattle and the probable development of immunity in imported and crossbred cattle should also be explored. 

Parasites with huge impact on growth and mortality, such as tapeworm, should be prioritised in the research efforts. Affordable ways of controlling parasites, such as the use of ethno-veterinary medicines, should also be evaluated to complement the conventional control methods (FAO 2001) as they can provide low-cost health care for simple animal health issues. (Matlebyane et al 2009) 

Effort should be placed in tapping into indigenous knowledge systems such as those which can be repackaged for use in an informed and regulated way by local farmers. 

Agricultural economists are, therefore, vital in identifying constraints and opportunities to cattle production in communal areas so as to enable set national targets to be met.


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