BY TATENDA CHITAGU
Year in and year out, Hlekani Chauke from Lapache, Mwenezi’s ward 16, under Chief Maranda, loses his cattle to poverty- related deaths, especially lack of pastures.
Occasionally he would sell his trudging cattle at low prices and very often, unscrupulous middlemen and butchery owners came along and ripped him off.
His animals struggled despite the fact that Chauke lives less than two kilometres from the perennially flowing Mwenezi River, which is almost always bursting its banks with under-utilised water trapped by a weir.
“Every year, our cattle herd gets depleted due to drought. I had almost given up on cattle, but I had no other options in this area which is not good for crops.
“Setting up irrigation systems was more a dream than reality.
“Today, however, we are in a new dawn and our dream has come to fruition, thanks to the European Union (EU). We are happy that we now have irrigation here,” he says, pointing to Mwenezi River, a stone’s throw away.
Mwenezi falls under natural region four and five and the weather is hot and dry throughout the year.
According to the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement’s second round crop and livestock assessment report for 2019/2020 agricultural season, the national beef cattle herd declined by 5,7% from 5 774 525 cattle in 2018 to 5 443 770 cattle in 2019.
For Chauke and thousands of other smallholder farmers from the area, cattle deaths due to lack of pastures may now be a thing of the past following the establishment of a cattle fattening scheme in the area.
The Lapache Cattle Business Centre (CBC), located in Mwenezi West, was established under the Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme-Beef Enterprises Strengthening and Transformation (ZAGP-BEST) project, funded by the European Union to the tune of US$ 8 848 009 to support small to medium scale beef cattle producers in Zimbabwe.
The project is being implemented up to 2023.
The CBC, established in 2019, comprises a 35 hectare centre pivot irrigated pasture facility and a sixty head capacity cattle feedlot.
It serves the communities of Lapache and surrounding areas through making available not only lucrative beef cattle output market opportunities but has also served as a hub where farmers access critical beef value chain services such as high nutrient stock feed, bulling services, pluralistic extension, livestock inputs, hay bale sales, cattle handling facilities, cattle pen fattening and water for both livestock and domestic use.
The CBC, located 20kilometres from Rutenga growth point along the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, is community owned and managed by the private sector-SABI Meats in liaison with a seven member farmers’ representative committee and government line ministries that are offering technical support.
So far, 782 cattle have been sold as direct sales from 120 beef producers from the area, while 13 642 hay bales have also been produced and benefited 101 farmers in Mwenezi and surrounding districts.
The bales, high in nutrient, improve cattle condition before direct sales, inductions into the feedlot and for survival during the dry season. Local cattle breeds for the farmers are also improved as there is Brahman bull to service their cows.
“By now, 185 cattle from the community have been pen fattened. We are committed to improve the locals’ cattle grades,” said SABI Meats general manger Douglas Chapisa.
The project has also created employment opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled community members.
The project is also being implemented in Buhera, Chiredzi, Gokwe South, Kwekwe, Lupane, Makoni, Mt Darwin, Shurugwi and Umguza.
“The CBC’s vision is to serve as a one stop shop for previously disenfranchised beef producers to access inputs like vet drugs, stock-feed and to serve as a buying point for cattle.
“The thrust is to create a better functioning beef value chain, beef value chain transformation and embracing inclusive green economic growth for sustainable beef farming,” said Lloyd Muponda, ZAGP BEST project value chain financing specialist and acting team leader.
According to the ministry of Lands’s, second round crop and livestock assessment report for 2019/2020 agricultural season, many farmers are constrained by limited capacity to operate agricultural markets, inadequate technical skills and knowledge to improve productivity and lack of access to capital to expand their production.
Mwenezi council chair Jorum Ncube said the district is poor despite being endowed with vast resources.
“Mwenezi is a highly marginalised district out of all the districts in Masvingo, despite the fact that it has its own resources like rich soils, cattle and big dams full of water,” he said.
He added, “We appreciate the project as it will address the challenges of small-holder farmers.
“Our cattle breeds and grades have improved.
“We are happy as a local authority that the project has created employment to locals.
“As a local authority, we will continue to support the project even after the funding cycle.”
Lapache CBC committee chair Venganai Shoko said they had started accruing benefits from the project and the villagers no longer relied on donors for food.
“We have come to the realisation that cattle-rearing is a business, thanks to the project.
“Some have used the facilities here and sold their cattle at higher prices.
“We now have grass and our cattle won’t succumb to lack of grazing.
“We are now able to buy our own food and pay fees for our kids, thanks to the EU.
“We appeal to government to give us more land for irrigation.
“There is a lot of land that is lying idle.
“While we are irrigating pastures for our cattle, we also need to have crops under irrigation.
“Our cattle now have grass, but the owners are hungry.”
Speaking at the official handover ceremony of the CBC to the community on Wednesday, Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Ezra Chadzamira, who was the guest of honour, urged villagers to sustain the project beyond the EU funded lifespan.
“This project is designed to create sustainability and growth beyond the funding years. You should continue with this project even after the donor has pulled out.
“We do not want to hear a situation where everything collapses once the donor withdraws funding.
“You should capitalise on this project to earn money. Take cattle business seriously,” said Chadzamira.
Chadzamira admitted that vast water bodies in Mwenezi were underutilised and said government was working to increase irrigation facilities in the province.
If speedily implemented, this would make Chauke and other villagers from the area more than happy.