With good rains, drought-related cattle deaths reduced by as much as 63% in 2019, livestock farmers remain in fear of unpredictable weather patterns which could change this overnight.
In the Matabeleland region, cattle have traditionally represented wealth and are considered the mainstay of the region’s economy.
For most people in rural areas, cattle are necessary for ploughing and they are the bride price in marriage transactions.
If grazing land is ruined by drought, communities fall on hard times as this causes countless deaths of livestock. Over the past years, recurrent droughts aggravated by climate change effects claimed thousands of livestock in the region.
That was not the case in 2020 as the region recorded an increase in cattle, goats and sheep numbers, and statistics from the latest Crop and Livestock Assessment Report show.
Ward 17 in Mzingwane district is home to Thembelani Nkala.
Nkala says as compared to previous years when he was left counting losses after losing as much as 10 beasts per year, in 2020, he lost only three beasts.
“We faced many challenges in the village last year but our joy came when most of us lost a few cattle. I personally lost three due to natural causes,” he says.
“In the past, one could record deaths of up to 10 as a result of drought. In 2017, I lost eight. Last year’s rains saved our livestock.”
According to the Crop and Assessment Report prepared by the Agriculture ministry, Matabeleland South recorded an increase in the number of cattle in 2020/2021.
Drought related cattle deaths were pegged at 3 768 a massive decrease from 10 052 in 2019.
The provincial herd count was 629 743 up from 612 924 in 2019/2020.
Sheep count was 57 702 and increased from 36 723 in 2019/2020, while there were 488 078 goats and 36 740 pigs.
However, Nkala is wary that their livestock faces a constant threat of thirst-induced deaths when water sources start drying up.
“We should be planning and investing in water harnessing methods and technologies. Weather patterns could change and be worse this year.”
According to the Agriculture ministry report, nationally, a total of 10 183 cattle succumbed to drought in 2020 as compared to 66 088 cattle in 2019.
It attributed the reduction on “Government and farmers improving pasture production and provision of subsidized commercial feeds in 17 districts by Partners across the country.
“Farmers adhering to drought mitigation strategies and destocking their cattle so as to purchase survival rations for their breeding stock were more resilient to the effects of drought.”
However, Nkala is not in favour of destocking.
“If I reduce my herd that means my stature in the village also reduces. I won’t sell my cattle; that won’t happen,” says Nkala.
“I heard that some desperate villagers are selling cattle for as low as US$50 as a result of the outbreak of Theileriosis or Disease, a tick-borne infection. As I said, for me I would never sell.”
Matabeleland South provincial officer in the Department of Veterinary Services, Dr Enart Mdlongwa says farmers should be on the lookout for lumpy skin disease.
“In February, almost every district was reporting an outbreak of lumpy skin disease. At that time, up to 10 cases were reported,” Dr Mdlongwa adds.
In a recent presentation to Parliament, Secretary for Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Dr John Basera said this year had recorded lower cattle deaths as compared to 2020 after Government disbursed livestock treatment chemicals.
“Livestock conditions are fair to good across all provinces, with adequate pastures and water. A total of 445 000kg out of the expected 1 million kg of tick grease has been distributed to households in 25 affected districts covering 1028 of 4000 dip tanks”.
The timely distribution of dipping material is also attributed to fewer deaths recorded in 2020.
“We tried to reach most parts of the province distributing chemicals. We think that help reduces deaths. Also there was good grazing,” the official added.
On grazing, the Crop and Livestock Assessment report said: “Grazing conditions are generally fair to good in all districts across the country. The grazing condition in communal areas has improved compared to last season. This is attributed to the good rainy season.”
“Livestock condition is generally good to fair across the country due to the good and well-distributed rains received across all provinces that resulted in improved grazing condition.”
Source: The Citizen Bulletin