Improving cattle management through digitisation

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THE rationalised agrarian conditions in Zimbabwe created by the post-2000 land reform have given rise to enduring major changes in the country’s livestock sector in general and the beef industry in particular.
This has resulted in significant changes in land ownership, land use and management of livestock, with its associated effects and ramifications on animal nutrition, disease management, marketing and production coming to the fore of livestock production.
This is especially crucial now under the new dispensation, where Command Livestock and Command Agriculture, under the stewardship of the Minister of Agriculture Chief Air Marshal Perence Shiri (Rtd), are taking root and starting to bear results.
The main economic rationale for the Land Reform Programme was motivated by the inverse-farm productivity relationship, which argued that for given technology levels, small farms are more efficient than large farms due mainly to reduced managerial hassles and problems of supervision.
Collectively, communal farmers in Zimbabwe own more cattle than commercial farmers.
According to statistics, prior to the Land Reform Programme, beef production in Zimbabwe accounted for about
30 percent of Zimbabwe’s GDP, 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s exports and 45 percent of total employment in agricultural related sectors.
The sector experienced a sharp decline on the national herd population and beef off-take is presently at 3,3 percent against a national target of 15 percent.
Beef cattle off-take rates being particularly low in resettlement areas, there is need therefore to address the rural farmers’ needs, means and care management as a matter of urgency.
Changes in cattle numbers, cattle ownership, cattle production and marketing structures brought about by the Land Reform Programme, buttressed by the Command Livestock initiative, has made it necessary to re-think our traditional methods of cattle rearing and adopt new, improved and computerised methods of farm management that include cattle production.
It is recommended that Government and other stakeholders provide adequate technical and institutional support to effect robust positive developments on the country’s smallholder beef production.
While the Government, through the Rural Electrification Programme, provided many rural farmers with electricity for irrigation and other purposes, there is need to buttress this electrification with digitisation.
Today, the need to digitise, mechanise and maximise our livestock production cannot be underestimated; which is why, the launch of a wider digital extension services network for cattle husbandry, that will encompass the rural areas, is necessary and should be initiated and developed.
Rural farmers are as literally competent as former commercial farmers, (if not more advanced); many, if not most however, lack the necessary computers and the requisite computer skills to run their smallholder cattle farms or ranches digitally.
Digital skills, such as keeping up-dated farm records and accounting, monitoring and keeping track of the health of their livestock, food consumption and supplies, among others, should be computerised and made available under the Command Livestock Programme.
Such a programme, although financially onerous in the initial output, will be very beneficial in the long-run.
With digital cattle husbandry, a visible flow of tangible accounting and management will enable taking and keeping better stock of their livestock and advance their role in the economy.
Computerised beef cattle production allows for a measure in performance of value chains as well as an understanding of how the chains function, access to markets, digital dipping systems, improved livestock performance and overall mechanised farming.
Recent studies have shown that digital animal husbandry and information technology offers alternative solutions and economically viable ways of cattle production.
Hitherto unmeasurable entities and factors such as climate prediction, soil fertility and vegetation, diseases and pests, suitability of cattle types and their ability to adapt to prevailing conditions as well as the foraging capacity utilisation of particular grazing areas, can all be accessed and measured electronically.
Undoubtedly, this will result in improvements in cattle management and production for maximum yields and profits for the country.
Commercial cattle ranching in most developed nations have high technical efficiency which digitally takes into account range management and herd improvement technologies, where cattle stocks are adapted to the productive land capacity and appropriate measures taken to preserve the suitable carrying capacity for one’s cattle herd according to land measure.
Even the right calibration of stock feeds can be measured according to age, weight and disposition of the individual animal.
Equally, the distribution of agro-chemicals can all be digitally calibrated if farmers in Zimbabwe are digitally empowered.
Given cattle production is one of the country’s foremost economic activities and that Zimbabwe’s livestock is under constant threat from diseases, a digital vaccination campaign with modernised monitoring would go a long way in securing the health of livestock.
With digitisation, it will also be possible to completely eradicate serious trans-boundary animal diseases through the correct monitoring of livestock movements.
Digital registration of cattle would also be beneficial in curbing livestock theft which is rampant in Zimbabwe at the present moment.
A sustainable digitised and modernised cattle husbandry will help to alleviate the chronic food insecurity of the underprivileged communal farmers and their families; whilst boosting the national herd.
In Zimbabwe’s cattle production and marketing environment, it is necessary to undertake and implement an urgent national paradigm shift in rural cattle management, production, marketing and tracking vis-à-vis supplies, nutrition, land utilisation, health and stock theft through a robust command digital technological livestock programme.
Then, even our cows can tweet: “Zimbabwe is open for business…!”
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and post-colonial heritage studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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