The death of over 15 000 cattle during the 2019/2020 agricultural season has become a serious cause for concern in Matabeleland, a region known for livestock farming.
Cattle have traditionally been valued as a symbol of wealth in Matabeleland, with Matabeleland South in particular also has been in the past considered the Brazil of Zimbabwe because of the province’s quality beef.
However, over the past years, recurrent droughts, aggravated by climate change effects, have seen the region continue to lose livestock and the just ended year 2019 has not been an exception.
Latest statistics from the Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) in Matabeleland South indicate that a total of 15 596 cattle have to date succumbed to drought.
The figure, according to authorities in the province, captures only reported cases, meaning it might far outstrip that, with a number of deaths remaining unreported.
Beitbridge District leads with the highest number of cattle deaths at 4 403 while Bulilima has lost 2 697, Gwanda 2 569, Insiza 2 367, Matobo 1 736, Mangwe 1 434, and Umzingwane 390.
Matabeleland North, which has better pastures but fewer cattle than Matabeleland South, on the other hand, has as at November last year lost 6 000 cattle.
Matabeleland South has an estimated cattle population of slightly above 600 000 while Matabeleland North has over 500 000.
Just recently Mangwe Farmers Association member, Clement Malaba, told CITE it was high time the government came up with drought relief programmes for livestock to avoid future cattle losses.
“We appreciate the fact that the government saw the need to come up with drought mitigation programmes for people, but they seem to be blind to the fact that drought does not only affect people but livestock as well,” he said.
“We, therefore, call upon the government to come up with drought relief programmes for animals as well. Our cattle have almost been wiped out by the drought and the government has not come up with anything to assist us.”
Michael Mdladla-Ndiweni, from the civic society, said the cattle deaths were a sad development in the drought-prone region.
“My view is that it is not an accident that the region is dry and faces perennial droughts,” said Mdladla-Ndiweni.
“If the government was serious about alleviating drought, it would have planned and tried to get water underground and by now the region could be having wind-driven pumps. We need to revert to that model of using windmills in rural areas and sink more boreholes.”
ZAPU spokesperson, Iphithule Maphosa, described the development as a tragedy for the region.
“We all know that our people traditionally store their wealth in the form of cattle and the deaths herald massive losses for many people and households,” lamented Maphosa.
“There was need long back, to invest in water harnessing methods and technologies. It is a pity that the government, forty years in power never did anything in the area of dams building, borehole drilling and practices of agriculture that preserve water for future use. Instead of concentrating on power retention alone, the government must as a matter of urgency and importance, build on technologies that will alleviate effects of drought.”
Maphosa also encouraged farmers to trim their herds in order to minimise loses.
“On the part of farmers, now that indications are clearly pointing to continued dry spell, should practice some culling of their stock and remain with smaller herds,” he said.
“This will cushion them from total losses as it is easier to feed and water a small herd as compared to a larger one.”