By Elton Ziki
THE current agriculture education curriculum in the country has since ceased to be appropriate after the agriculture sector transformed from commercial farming based to smallholder and communal livestock farming.
Livestock production models imparted in tertiary education institutions’ curriculum in the country are still inclined towards the commercial sector and are not in line to the smallholder sector production system that owns the bulk of the national herd as of today.
Technologies developed by agriculture researchers and services provided by extension personnel are inappropriate therefore curriculum realignment is a prerequisite for the improvement of livestock productivity in the smallholder sector (Assan 2013, Mutambara et al 2013).
Livestock marketing is an important component of the production processes in livestock farming, more so, cattle rearing farmers in communal or commercial settings ought to consider this aspect more carefully. It is key that farmers get fair return for their animals. Communal farmers resort to the informal ways of marketing their cattle where pricing is based on a random scale, with reference to visual valuation of the animal.
Middlemen are the main buyers and purchase live animals from farmers for resale at cattle auction points and to abattoirs in towns often benefiting more than the farmers themselves (Mavedzenge et al 2006).
It is on this basis that communal livestock farmers should pool their animals together for sale on specific auction dates if feasible.
If not feasible a more predictable manner of livestock marketing should be developed by Agricultural Economists going forward so that farmers are not short-changed or fleeced by unscrupulous buyers and middlemen.
Several considerable recommendations can be made to improve cattle yield in communal areas around the country. The major aspects to be improved relate to feeding management (Mapiye et al 2006a), training of farmers (Senda 2008), breeding management of cattle (Ndebele et al 2007) and marketing management (Homann and van Rooyen 2007).
In training of farmers it is crucial for a partnership between agriculture departments, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, universities and other stakeholders to actively engage the farmers (Nqeno et al 2011).
Lessons can be learnt from the goat forum initiative where various stakeholders pooled resources and trained communal farmers on commercialisation of goat production in Matabeleland province (Nyathi 2008b) to regularly supply goats of superior quality to the market.
The farmers were provided a goat manual written in local vernacular (Senda 2008).
Farmers should be trained on various aspects of improving cattle productivity (nutritional, health and breeding management) in communal areas and developing their entrepreneurial skills.
The beef breeding calendar which is generously supplied by Agrifoods, for example, should be grasped by all communal cattle farmers.
Use of the breeding calendar has the potential to improve communal cattle production as it has been noted that the low level of cattle production is mostly affected by poor breeding management in communal areas (Ndebele et al 2007).
Livestock security and insurance are other possible elements that farmers should seriously consider so as to secure livestock from thieves and unexpected loss.
Technology to track and monitor livestock, branding and use of chip implants may also be considered for development and adoption by farmers.
Productivity of cattle in communal areas is constricted by several limitations that include high prevalence of diseases, poor reproductive performance, limited feed availability and skewed marketing.
It is therefore, imperative to develop concerted, coordinated and wide-ranging farmer training, research and development programmes to address these constraints.
The Livestock Growth Development plan in the NDS1 should be carefully implemented so that the preferred outcome of 6 million herd of cattle by 2025 is attained without fail or excuses.