Reviving Zim’s herd beyond 2020

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AS Zimbabwe awaits the dawn of the Second Decade of the New Millennium — 2020, world science and technology have brought several innovations to the global agricultural template.

How have we, as Zimbabwean agricultural producers and cattle breeders, fared so far?

The robust and ongoing Zimbabwean Command Agricultural Programme, under the stewardship of the Honourable Minister Retired Chief Air Marshall Perence Shiri, of the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, and his honourable deputies, has introduced and embraced many new global and African-centred agro-innovations designed to revive the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe for the  well-being of today’s nationals and the future of our progeny.

The modernisation of the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe, which currently constitutes 60 percent of the GDP, is largely centred on the mechanisation, digitisation and new technologies drive, envisaged to buoy the agro-industry beyond 2020.  

The nation’s adaptations to climate change and a revival of our ‘old world’ indigenous crops such as mhunga, mapfunde, rapoko, madhumbe and wild wheat, among others, referred to as ‘small grains’, cultivated mainly in drought-prone areas will also supplement the indigenous dietary needs and may even be exported to many developed nations that are now resorting to new ‘Smart Organic Foods Nutrition’. 

Since small grains tend to thrive under harsh conditions, a deliberate national programme to increase production of small grains was initiated for 2018-2019 summer season.

The strategy included expediting the installation of irrigation infrastructure to broaden range of crops to include small grains in all farming sub-sectors and regions. The resuscitation of district irrigation schemes since 2017 has been critical in ensuring the sustainability of agriculture and livestock production.  

For instance, in Matabeleland South, a five-year multi-donor initiative with an overall budget of US$75 million has been undertaken known as Sizimela.  

Commendably, the Command Livestock Programme has garnered traction, re-stocking the national livestock. 

Consequently, these positive developments will undoubtedly help to revive our world beef exports. 

Agro revival

Zimbabwe’s agro-economic growth has been mainly anchored by agriculture’s strong recovery buffered by the Government of Zimbabwe’s Command Agricultural Programmes. 

Other innovations and developments in the 2018-2019 agricultural season included the establishment and re-construction of several communal cattle dipping facilities and the introduction of an artificial cattle insemination programme.

 In October 2019, Government partnered with the Matobo Research centre under a three-year Zimbabwe livestock resilience programme, designed to boost livestock production in the Beitbridge area using artificial cattle insemination technology.

At the dawn of Zimbabwe’s winter agricultural season May-June 2019, a report from Africa Revival read: “Zimbabwe’s Beef Industry Stampedes Back to Life.” The report went further to say: “Zimbabwe’s cattle slaughter records reflect that in the agricultural season 2018-2019, the percentage of cattle slaughters rose to 1.1 percent; accounting for 265 903 slaughters compared to         253 005 head in the previous season 2017-2018. Comparative statistics during the last quarter of 2018 cattle slaughters in Zimbabwe, at formal commercial beef abattoirs totalled 57 846 herd that is less than the 79 290 head slaughtered in the previous quarter.”

The current 2019-2020 season is witnessing similar unabated price increases which deleteriously affect national food security and calls for urgent price control measures to be instituted.

With increased funding for agriculture we can forecast an upward trajectory in the livestock economy of Zimbabwe.

Having expanded the Presidential Inputs Support Scheme in the 2017-2018 farming season by 125 percent to target 1.8 million households and widened the scope of Command Agriculture to go beyond maize, cater for wheat, livestock, fisheries and wildlife, at a total cost of US$334 million, the supplementary food programme should yield improved nutritional conditions for Zimbabwe.  

This is in line with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement’s vision to make Zimbabwe the Bread Basket of the SADC and COMESA regions by 2030.

While the growth of the economy is expected to be underpinned by agriculture, regrettably plant and animal diseases, such as a serious outbreak of army worm which wreaked havoc in various parts of the country in the 2018-2019 season, have continued to pose a serious threat to the production and quality of food, fibre and biofuel crops in the country, undermining the agricultural sector’s contribution to the economy on a sustainable basis.

Estimates say that farmers spent an extra US$77 per hectare on chemicals to fight army worm in the previous farming season. 

Agro-researchers in the food and agriculture sector have predicted that the army worm could continue to multiply and become endemic across the Southern African regions of the Continent. 

Zimbabwean farmers will have to increase their pesticides and agro-chemical solutions budgets and resources to fight the worm and other pests.

The impact of animal and plant diseases and pests to the sustainability of agriculture production in the country should not be underestimated, as it may result in a number of adverse consequences. 

The most direct economic impact of such outbreaks is the reduction in the efficiency of agricultural production, which also reduces incomes of farmers and threatens national food security.  

For example, the European Union (EU), banned beef imports from Zimbabwe in 2001 following outbreaks of anthrax; a negative reputation we need to overcome.

The outbreak of various agrarian diseases triggered unwarranted price increases, due to harvest shortages.  

As a result, producers and retailers increased their prices ostensibly to balance the cost of production.  

These price increases reflect how the price of food is affected by disease outbreaks, and negatively compromises the already diminishing incomes of the Zimbabwean population, as well as the reduction of exports.

With Zimbabwe in the throes of international re-engagement, including accessing high-value beef export markets such as the European Union and free trade with the rest of the world, Zimbabwe’s agro industries need to strengthen their production base to meet global standards.

Of paramount concern to Zimbabwe is national food security, which the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, is striving to achieve by introducing conducive policies and incentives for indigenous farmers.  

Here, I recommend the revival of bi-monthly formal district livestock markets and auctions under the auspices of the Department of Veterinary Services and Agritex to give economic momentum and viability to rural communities.

To further show its commitment to the elimination of cattle Zoonoses in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Lands garnered 

$67 million worth of veterinary medication and agro-chemicals for the Command Livestock and Communal Livestock Programmes of Zimbabwe. 

Recently, there were an estimated 5.5 million cattle, 2,6 million goats, 400 000 sheep and 175,000 pigs in Zimbabwe.

Cattle veterinary welfare and immunisation 

With the farming season currently at its peak for cattle ranchers, the months of December and January are major tick and infestation periods for cattle ranchers in Zimbabwe. 

As tick counts increase, it is recommended that weekly dipping cattle is carried out.

Due to the recent rains, midge and fly- borne diseases will also prove to be problematic during the wet December period if the farmers have not vaccinated their cattle in the October-November period.

Vaccinations which should be correctly scheduled before the rains in early October are inoculations against lumpy skin disease, Rift Valley bovine fever and cattle stiff sickness, which now also greatly affect our once disease resistant Mashona cattle breeds of Zimbabwe.

In the velds of the Southern African regions, worm counts increase in the wet environment, farmers therefore, also need to dose their cattle for Round worm and be wary of heartwater, gall sickness and red water diseases.

The perennial threat of Theileriosis, also commonly termed January cattle disease, still haunts our Zimbabwean communal herds and therefore needs to be kept at bay, through diligent animal husbandry and preventative immunisation.

Given veterinary medical supplies in Zimbabwe are beyond the reach of many, especially hard-pressed rural communal farmers robust national supplementary veterinary programme needs to be established throughout all the provinces and districts of Zimbabwe to prevent further decimation of our communal cattle herd which, at approximately 80 percent, constitutes the largest national livestock resource.

To protect our national livestock investment extensive veterinary monitoring and access to livestock dipping solutions must be supplemented by government and be made accessible to all rural community farmers and instituted as a mandatory requisite for all village cattle breeders as was the case in the past.

Well-equipped government livestock veterinary centres in peri-urban and rural areas, supplemented with the requisite, affordable agro-chemicals and emergency technical requirements need to be established as a matter of urgency. 

National de-worming and immunisation programmes need to be carried out for total cattle disease control in Zimbabwe in order to improve Zimbabwe’s food security and bolster beef exports.

My advocacy for a Command Zimbabwean Livestock Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which is digitalised and readily accessible to farmers, veterinary scientists, researchers and consumers should be heeded and developed soonest, in the current farming season, to supplement the work of extension officers.

Communicating Zimbabwe’s beef quality and market integrity 

In the course of my discussions and engagements on cattle livestock issues early in November this year, I was informed of an outrageous scandal concerning Zimbabwean beef that I found most alarming.

Alarmist, disruptive and unsubstantiated social-media reports and  sensational communication of our cattle industry can easily destroy the industry. 

A case was observed  in the dispersal of unfounded statements pronounced on social media which affected the integrity of Zimbabwe’s beef markets and local indigenous livestock farming.

The irresponsible social media reports and scandals, known as the Formaldehyde Beef Scandals were circulated on social media in early November 2019. Here, the report read that “….due to ZESA’s unprecedented and continuous electricity power outages, some local butchers and beef traders are alleged to be keeping their meat stocks fresh by immersing the beef carcasses in the flesh-tissue preservative, Formaldehyde” – purportedly obtained or stolen from some of the City’s mortuaries and general hospitals.

Formaldehyde is a chemical used in science laboratories, museum preservation labs and in hospital morgues keep cadavers (zvitunha) ‘fresh’.  

If the malicious rumour is true then such malevolent, sinister people are seriously endangering the health and lives of fellow Zimbabweans.

Further, such unfounded and unpatriotic gossip- mongering, grossly affects the sales, public perception and international confidence in local meat products and our Zimbabwean Beef Industry. 

As a nation we are obliged to proffer information and education to the broadest possible audiences to empower the citizenry, and this template applies more urgently and practically to farmers and cattle ranchers of Zimbabwe.

Accurate, progressive and patriotic agricultural communication is a vital kernel required to grow and seriously transform livestock production in our communal and commercial agricultural sectors and restore and bolster our public knowledge, perception and confidence in Zimbabwe’s safe and prized beef and dairy cattle herds and industry.

Historically, Zimbabwe always had a surfeit of high quality, disease-free beef supplies, agricultural produce and harvest. In colonial times, the nation was even reputed as the Cattle Colony of Southern Africa and later, following Independence in 1980, as The Beef Country and the Bread Basket of Africa. 

During that period, from Independence to 2000, the average weight of Mashona cattle was recorded and maintained at 499kg for adult beasts and 180-200kg for juvenile calves.  Zimbabwe’s cattle were in a world-approved and exemplary state of health, commercially viable and envied throughout the region.  Sadly, I understand the average weight of an adult beast in our communal herds is now a little over 250kg and cultivated pastures and grasslands are equally depleted.

Beef exports, world standards and agro-investment 

Today, bearing in mind the New Zimbabwean Dispensation’s Re-Engagement policies, attracting foreign investment and capital in the Zimbabwean beef industry requires the cattle producers and farmers’ integrity  all along the value chain – from farm to pastures, veterinary services,  abattoirs and butchers  to retail supermarkets, fast-food outlets, hotels, restaurants and barbeque (gocha nyama), spaces to the dining room table consumer’s safety, trust and confidence in good quality Zimbabwean beef is essential.

This is earned by upholding world beef standards, in the highly competitive world beef markets where the first of the consumers’ concern is: safe, uncontaminated disease-free and chemical-free organic beef; followed by high quality beef marbling, taste and succulence of which the Mashona cattle breed is reputed world over, and has been since the time of Munhumutapas.

Previously, in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, Zimbabwe’s Beef Exports  began to grow and expand, consolidated in the SADC region South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Libya and the U.K. and more notably, positively penetrating the greater European Union (EU), market and other Occidental world beef markets.  The initiative was facilitated by the Director of Veterinary Services, the Late Dr. Hargreaves.  

From that period until today, Zimbabwe’s Mashona cattle breed bloodlines and genetics began to attract the attention of cattle breeders the world over; from the Southern and Mid-Western states of the USA to Southern and Western Europe, the Middle East and parts of Australia where Mashona Cattle breeding societies have since been established – but to what benefit for Zimbabwe and its Mashona cattle?

All one can say to Zimbabwean beef ranchers, producers and meat processors is that our nation can become the progressive beef  cattle country it once was, and significantly transform our economy and national health.  So, let us uphold World Beef standards.

The nation’s new progressive Zimbabwean farmers and agronomists need to reclaim, harnessing this sterling global reputation practically, creatively, judiciously and economically in the agricultural and agro-industrial sectors for the socio-economic development, well being, future and sustenance of all Zimbabwean people.

However, due to uncontrolled communal cattle murrain, an abnormally high cost of livestock maintenance, coupled with costly veterinary pharmaceuticals and a general lack of knowledge on how to deal with new and recurring cattle diseases, our national herd is dwindling. This poses a serious threat to national food security and needs to be countered forthwith.

In my previous articles of Cattle Custodial Heritage series (2018-2019) published in The Patriot newspaper, based on live interviews and surveys of various cattle breeding communities in most of the main communal cattle ranching areas of Zimbabwe, I highlighted the various challenges encountered by the majority of communal livestock ranchers including the eradication of known cattle diseases. 

Suffice to say , in the last few years Zimbabwe’s beef cattle and beef industry is breaking restrictions of international isolation and regaining the attention and response from  both old  and new international world beef markets.

I will end this edition of my Custodial Cattle and Agro-Heritage series for 2019, with an old, but enduring Shona cattle proverb: “Mombe inopfuura mumusha haipedzi huswa” — Be generous to visitors who pass through your homestead.  Especially this festive season regardless of the overbearing austerity measures and unbridled inflation we are experiencing. 

Enjoy your festive season; take care of each other and each other’s crops and cattle.  Wishing all Zimbabwean farmers a prosperous 2019/2020 farming season! 

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 and a specialist Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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