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Say It Loud

Zimbabwe loses $2bn cattle

sule moyo
2003-01-01 11:42:54

ABOUT 15 000 cattle valued at $1,5 billion have died since October in drought-ravaged Matabeleland South Province after farmers ignored the Government?s call to destock.

Gwanda and Beitbridge are the worst affected districts.

The principal director in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement (Veterinary), Dr Stuart Hargreaves, said the Government had done its best to encourage stockowners to sell their cattle or to move them to areas where there was suitable grazing pastures.

"As Government, through the local government and veterinary services structures, we held several meetings with cattle owners where we advised them of the possibility of a drought.

"We encouraged them to destock their herds either through selling or slaughtering the unproductive animals.

"But most cattle owners remained optimistic that the rains would fall and that the cattle that had lost weight would recover. They have, however, not been lucky, as the cattle have continued to die in thousands," Dr Hargreaves said in an interview.

Some of the cattle have become too thin to move and as a result have not been able to go for dipping.

Such cattle have died from tick-borne diseases.

The deaths are a major concern to the cattle industry in as far as beef exports are concerned and the need for draught power within the small holder farming sector.

Dr Hargreaves said the Government was continuing to educate farmers on the need to destock since cattle were dying owing to the shortage of water.

"It is a pity that the loss of cattle through death is preventable. Farmers simply need to sell the non-breeding animals or move them to other pastures.

"The problem has been compounded by the fact that some stockowners do not live on the farms and are not aware of the critical situation that faces their cattle.

"At the end of the day, it all boils down to poor management on the part of farmers who let the cattle lose weight until they die."

Dr Hargreaves conceded, however, that the Government had drilled a number of boreholes in the province and established four feedlots in every district.

"But in a year of drought, where there are crop failures, farmers cannot take advantage of the feedlots for you need crop residues to make the hay to feed the cattle. Of course in a good year, farmers can make roughage from crops."

He said the year 2002 had been a difficult one, adding that there was need for farmers to always prepare for bad years. There has not been any rain in Matabeleland South and the deaths have largely been due to nutritional problems.

Beef prices have soared in recent months owing to the significant drop in the cattle available for slaughter yet farmers in areas inflicted by drought leave their herds to die instead of selling to abattoirs.

The death of cattle due to the drought was now stifling Government efforts to rebuild the national cattle herd.

It is estimated that the country?s breeding herd has dwindled from one million to 400 000.

The future of the beef industry hinged on livestock rearing from communal and small-scale farmers.

"The death of cattle is a real national loss and we are concerned. That is why the ministry has set up a Livestock Production Department.

"It seeks to relieve the effects of drought by encouraging farmers to destock because we realise the deaths are to a greater extent due to poor management," said Dr Hargreaves.

By George Chisoko

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