Farmers reap big | the herald

the herald

Bulawayo Office

LIVESTOCK farmers in Matabeleland South use provincially grown fodder as an affordable supplementary feed for their animals, which will help prevent livestock from dying from lack of grazing.

Self-production of cattle feed is one of the cornerstones of the Second Republic’s vision to restore Matabeleland as the country’s primary center for cattle and beef processing.

The intervention has been identified as a major approach to boost the national livestock population by ensuring that farmers have access to highly nutritious animal feed at affordable costs.

One of the main fodder producers in the province is Artherstone Irrigation Scheme in Insiza district, where farmers own 25 hectares of alfalfa.

With such programs providing ever more fodder, Zimbabwe hopes to increase the national herd, which has seen a marginal growth of 0.6 percent to 5,509,983 in 2021 from 5,478,648 in 2020.

Official statistics also show that the livestock mortality rate has fallen from 11.1% in 2020 to 8.86% in 2021.

President Mnangagwa launched the Presidential Livestock Program as part of efforts to develop the livestock sub-sector.

Under this program, farmers receive legume seeds, fertilizers and fodder sorghum, among other inputs. The distribution of inputs should stimulate the creation of fodder banks for better animal nutrition.

Priority is given to the driest regions in the south of the country which suffer the highest number of drought-related cattle deaths.

Livestock production is a key source of income and safety net for millions of people, but recent prolonged droughts due to climate change are negatively affecting agricultural production, including pastures.

The program falls under the Livestock Growth Plan, which is part of the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy that is expected to transform agriculture into an $8.2 billion industry by 2025 and contribute to achieving the 2030 Vision.

To augment government efforts, irrigation owners were asked to put part of their land into forage production.

Irrigated smallholders and communal farmers have reserved part of the land for fodder production.

A target of 20 percent of arable land on irrigation sites in Matabeleland South Province is set for fodder production to ensure that farmers have access to nutritious supplementary feed for their livestock during the dry season.

A farmer from Singe irrigation scheme in Insiza district, Mr. Sisa Sibanda, said he buys fodder crops from Artherstone irrigation scheme. He said alfalfa was the best plant because it was nutritious.

“Producing alfalfa has brought us huge relief as we can now access complementary feed for our animals at an affordable cost. Alfalfa is generally cheaper than the animal feed we buy in stores,” he said.

“Lucerne has helped me to revive my animals for sale and also to revive animals whose condition is deteriorating due to the drought. Alfalfa is also convenient compared to other livestock feeds that require us to feed the animals and provide them with water in one place.

“With alfalfa, I can feed the animals and then take them to the dam to drink. With other animal feed, animals should not feed and then walk a long distance to fetch water because it deteriorates them.

Mr Sibanda said the condition of his animals had improved significantly since he started feeding them alfalfa. He said alfalfa is readily available locally compared to commercial animal feed, which he could only buy in Gwanda.

A farmer from Artherstone Irrigation Scheme, Mr Zenzo Jele, said alfalfa production has not only provided them with a source of income, but they now have a reliable source of complementary feed for their own livestock.

He said the area has limited pasture and at this time of year farmers struggle to find grazing space for animals.

Mr. Jele said A1 and A2 farmers and some communal farmers in the area get their fodder from the irrigation system.

“This fodder production project has brought enormous relief to us as farmers. Now, when we run out of pasture, we can just go back to alfalfa for a feed supplement. The locals benefit a lot,” he said.

Matabeleland South Province Livestock Specialist Mr Hatitye Zondai said livestock in the province were in fair to good condition. He said farmers were encouraged to supplement their animals with fodder produced in the province’s irrigated perimeters.

Mr Zondai said most of the farmers have set aside some land for fodder production and there is also a need for farmers to increase production to increase supply for animals.