$60m boost for Mat livestock farmers

HARARE - Matabeleland  livestock farmers are set to benefit from tens of millions of dollars pledged by government to support the much-hyped Command Agriculture.

Commitments of more than $60 million have been made so far by government to transform livestock production in the drought-torn province over the next years — said by organisers to be the largest package of financial commitments to Matabeleland’s agriculture sector to date.

Deputy Agriculture minister (Livestock) Paddy Zhanda pledged $60 million to help 600 000 farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs gain access to markets, finance and insurance in the next five years, he told the National Assembly on Wednesday.

“As a department, we have identified 600 000 families and we have equated the cost of beneficiaries with what other beneficiaries are getting in Mashonaland; which is almost $100,” Zhanda said. 

“We have also put in a package of livestock equivalent to $100 for the 600 000 families. We will be starting the distribution of this package within the shortest possible time.”

He was responding to a question by Lupane MDC MP Nomalanga Mzilikazi Khumalo what was government policy in terms of Command agriculture, taking note that this week Parliament approved a $7 million loan regarding development of livestock in Matabeleland, Masvingo and Manicaland Provinces.

The new government scheme, spearheaded by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and officially termed “Targeted Command Agriculture”, is expected to help farmers near water bodies who can put a minimum of 200 hectares under maize per person and also involves a National Livestock Strategy aimed at resuming beef exports to the European Union, Middle East and other markets. Around 70 percent of Matabeleland’s population depends on livestock for food and income, but many farmers are still struggling with poverty and poor nutrition.

“What are they doing in terms of Command Agriculture in livestock, particularly small animals, goats, sheep and chicken in relation to the loan that we approved yesterday and the programme that is going on in the country?” she queried.

Zhanda said they were developing various approaches and systems to address the problems confronting farmers in Matabeleland.

“First and foremost, what we are trying to do is to commercialise the minds of livestock farmers throughout the country so that they can realise the value of their livestock.  The main challenge that we are facing as a country is the low-calving rates, which are below 40 percent at the moment,” he said.

“It means in every 10 cows, only four cows are giving calves every year . . . As a result, it makes livestock farming very unviable.”

As for small stock, referring to sheep and goats, he said government was trying to establish a formal market. 

“It is a problem when one wants to sell sheep and goats. So, we are establishing a small market and we hope that during the resuscitation of the Cold Storage Commission abattoir in Bulawayo, there is also a section of the small stock which we also hope it will be operating within the next shortest period.

“What we are also trying to do is fodder harvesting.  Even when it rains in Matabeleland, no matter how much it rains, even in a good year, but periodically when we come to August, September and October, there is always a shortage of pastures. . . .  We should make it a calendar event that there is fodder harvesting, every summer season, every year.”

Zhanda also noted a serious challenge in the marketing of livestock, particularly in Matabeleland, where they were using the Bulawayo Showgrounds as an auctioning floor.

“ . . . we are saying we not going to allow the Bulawayo Showgrounds to be used for congregating all animals from various parts, Nkayi, Lupane, Tsholotsho and Matabeleland,” he said.

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