Agriculture minister Dr Joseph Made last week (June 22) announced the Command Livestock scheme, saying it would be backed by finance from the Preferential Trade Area Bank, a development institution for southern and eastern Africa, and private financiers. The goal is to boost Zimbabwe livestock production by encouraging the breeding of cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, poultry and rabbits. Money will also be spent on foot-and-mouth disease fences, dip tanks, watering facilities and livestock transport infrastructure. The government hopes that some of the new production will ultimately be sold to Europe. “Livestock is an enterprise across the country that requires that farmers be supported,” declared Dr Made when launching the programme.
However, the scheme has not been greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm. The former Zimbabwe Cold Storage Commission (CSC) CEO and opposition MP for Bulawayo South, Eddie Cross, dismissed the programme as a political hoax. “I do not think the Command Livestock programme will have any impact whatsoever,” he warned, arguing it was “cover for an expensive programme of patronage that is part of the internal struggles within Zanu PF”, the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe.
“The problems in the livestock sector are many,” said Cross, who is a member of the Movement for Democratic Change Zimbabwe - Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party. “There are no problems in pigs or other small stock, but in the large stock [cattle] sector, the problems are nearly insurmountable under present policies and political leadership.”
He said a key difficulty was security of tenure for farmers and physical security for cattle. “Without security of title, farmers cannot invest and cannot borrow. Without security over cattle stocks they cannot make the long term investments that are needed.”
He added that following the land reform of the past 12 years, infrastructure had dwindled, with few fences remaining to control stock. “Hundreds of thousands of kilometres of fencing [is needed], there are no dip tanks or cattle sprays, livestock diseases like foot and mouth and others are endemic and out of control. Veterinary services are very poor. The branding system has broken down and there is no marketing system to protect farmers in drought years and no guaranteed markets,” he said.
Zimbabwe Livestock and Meat Advisory Council (LMAC) economist Chrispen Sukume was less critical, but also stressed the huge task facing the Zimbabwe livestock sector, arguing it needed to be completely restructured before resuming exports to the EU.
“The programme should be viewed as a long-term investment,” he said, noting that at present Zimbabwe’s livestock sector was not oriented towards exports. “The whole industry is largely dependent on communal farmers. It is important to note that these farmers use their cattle for multiple purposes including ploughing and not production of quality beef. Therefore, the need for a robust capacity building exercise is apparent. We need to re-establish ourselves as consistent and dependable suppliers of quality beef and allied livestock products, before we retrace our steps to the lucrative EU market.”
He added that the government needed to focus on reducing the high cost of production within Zimbabwe to make the country’s beef competitive on the international market. “Our stock feeds [much of which is imported] are exorbitantly priced, which unfortunately has a negative bearing on the end product,” said Sukume. Creating lower priced and locally-produced feed supplies could “place us at par with regional competitors and inevitably boost production across the whole livestock sector”, he added. Sukume said the government could lower the price of stock feed by improving the Zimbabwe yield of maize, sorghum and soya beans, which are key raw materials.
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union executive director Paul Zakariya welcomed the programme: “It is important to note that Zimbabwe is an agro-based economy, so channelling resources towards the agricultural sector will certainly trigger economic recovery and growth. We commend government for this programme as financial institutions were not providing any capital to our farmers,” he said.
He particularly welcomed that the programme included a training programme for farmers, focused on re-commercialising the livestock sector. “It is however imperative that the government identifies the right farmers for this programme that are capable of delivering as per expectation,” he said.