By Dumisani Nsingo recently in Insiza
Communal farmers in Matabeleland region continue to grapple with the grim effects of drought as a majority have lost dozens of cattle while many others have seen their herds wiped out.
Last Tuesday, Sunday News visited one of the farmers who lost more than half of his herd to poverty deaths, Mr Stephen Moyo (80) of Kuthula Village in Insiza District, Matabeleland South Province.
Mr Moyo’s world all but crumbled as he came face to face with the reality of agonisingly watching 45 of his 88 herd of cattle succumbing to the effects of drought in a space of two weeks.
When the news crew arrived at Mr Moyo’s homestead last Tuesday, the octogenarian was still to get to terms with the calamity that had befallen him yet he had no control over it.
The grieving could be read in his eyes and it was evident he was struggling to wipe away the memories of watching his animals dropping dead, one after another and day by day.
“I’m still at pains to explain what befell me, I watched as my cattle died one by one. Some of the animals would just drop dead near the homestead or in the pen while others died at the grazing lands, with neighbours only coming to tell us that we have lost a beast or two after having seen our branding marks.
“Others got stuck in the mud in their attempt to quench their thirst at the drying Manyenge and Sanali dams. It was surely a heart-rending ordeal,” said a visibly disappointed Mr Moyo.
He is part of thousands of cattle farmers, notably communal farmers, that have lost their animals due to drought as the effects of climate change continue to take its toll.
“I’m not the only one counting losses, many others in my village and throughout the district are also facing the same predicament. One day I invited my neighbours to assist me to skin three of my beasts but they couldn’t as they were also skinning their animals that had died. To me cattle are my wealth thus I have lost a fortune,” lamented Mr Moyo.
Apart from enduring the agony of watching his animals succumbing to poverty, the enterprising farmer and his family managed to at least savage something from their dead animals by skinning some of the carcasses to make biltong. He, however, buried most of the carcasses and burnt others.
Although the dry weather is being felt by both crop and livestock farmers throughout the country, it has severe economic impact especially on farmers from Matabeleland region whose ecological condition do not favour cropping but does so well with livestock production.
With that in mind, Government had chosen Matabeleland to be the focal point in the revival of the national cattle herd and improving the quality of breed through the Special Livestock, Fisheries and Wildlife Programme commonly referred to as Command Livestock, which was launched two years ago.
Although Insiza managed to receive significant downpour almost a week prior to the visit by Sunday News, most of the cattle were still in poor condition while the news crew came across a number of carcasses in the bushy near the roadside with a heavy pungent smell of rotten animal bodies filling the air.
The other sight, which the news crew came across were a double cab vehicle pulling big apportioned trailers as well as huge trucks synonymous with those used to ferry cattle and according to Mr Moyo, these have been a regular feature at the village and the district as urban dwellers come in droves to buy cattle purportedly for a song from desperate villagers.
“Villagers are now selling their cattle for as little as $2 000 a beast in fear of losing their animals without getting anything from it.
“One prominent Bulawayo farmer and abattoir operator (name supplied)’s trucks are a regular feature in this district and he literally loots most of the cattle in this area,” said Mr Moyo.
Most of the unscrupulous cattle buyers are buying the beasts for a song and thereafter pen feed them and sell the animals at a huge profit to abattoirs or butcheries with some even having the audacity to sell the meat at backyard or makeshift butcheries.
Statistics of cattle poverty deaths obtained by the Sunday News from Matabeleland South’s Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) revealed that as of last Friday 15 596 have so far succumbed to drought though the figure might far outstrip that as other cases are going unreported.
The biggest number of deaths have been recorded in Beitbridge District with 4 403 while Bulilima has lost 2 697, Gwanda (2 569), Mangwe (1 434), Insiza (2 367), Matobo (1 736) and Umzingwane (390).
Statistics for Matabeleland North could not be obtained by the time of going to Press but records obtained in November last year indicated that over 6 000 had died.
Matabeleland South has an estimated cattle population of slightly above 600 000 while Matabeleland North has over 500 000 with the national herd estimated to be more than five million of which most of the animals are owned by communal farmers.
Matabeleland South provincial crops and livestock officer Ms Simangaliphi Ngwabi said although intervention by Government and its partners has been late, it was still necessary to save the remaining herd.
“The situation is now very, very bad and I thinking this season is going to be the worst in as many years. About 800 cattle are said to have died in Kezi (Matobo District) last month (December last year) and some are still dying in Beitbridge despite the rains we have received as most of the pastures have been depleted and replaced invader species, which animals don’t consume.
“Some of the animals are dying due to the numbness of their legs. If we don’t receive sufficient rains soon and intervention isn’t expedited with regards to survival feed, I’ m foreseeing the worst if the situation doesn’t change up to March,” she said.
Ms Ngwabi acknowledged the presence of unscrupulous cattle buyers that are fleecing desperate villagers but said: “You can’t blame that much, if you are in business you seize any opportunity that comes knocking.”
Renowned livestock consultant Mr Mhlupheki Dube said there was a need for Government to declare livestock death in the country a State of Disaster as the situation has reached alarming levels.
“Cattle poverty death is a serious issue. It’s a disaster and needs to be declared as such, so that Government can activate its arms such as the Civil Protection Unit to see what interventions can be done to save the national herd…,” he said. Sunday News