The Sunday Mail
Lying in the Zambezi Escarpment, Mbire is notorious for high daytime temperatures, poor and erratic rainfall patterns which render crop farming an almost futile exercise.
But livestock, especially goats and cattle, somehow thrives in these punishing climatic conditions. Hence the birth of the cattle-fattening pen at Mushumbi, one of four such facilities in the district.
“This project is a joint partnership with Action Aid Zimbabwe, which provided funding for the infrastructure and Oakfin Micro-finance which is funding the project and Carswell Meats which is helping with cattle management,” explained Cloudious Majaya, the chief executive officer for Mbire Rural District Council, one of the major players in the community-driven projects.
He says the involvement of Carswell Meats is strategic as the meat-processing concern will offer a ready market for the cattle. As a knowledge centre, 16 farmers selected from different wards come to the Mushumbi cattle pen to learn how to fatten cattle, how and when to de-worm the animals as well as learning the right breeds to fatten.
“You will realise that most households have the hard Mashona breed, whose conversion rate is very poor. Ideally a good animal should gain at least 1,5kg per day and within 45 to 60 days, that animal should be ready for slaughter,” explained Majaya. Besides cattle, the council has, with the help of Action Aid, sourced 120 Boer he-goats and given these to communal farmers to improve their goat herds.
“Each ward was given seven Boer he-goats, with the remainder to be based at this resource centre so that those farmers who did not benefit can come and borrow the he-goats for an agreed period.”
The Mushumbi cattle fattening facility also has an incubator as an extension, so that it is a one-stop centre for a learning farmer. The incubator has a capacity to hatch 6 000 eggs per week.
“Though the incubator can hatch chicken eggs, the bias is towards the guinea fowl. The guinea fowl lays a lot of eggs and takes time to hatch them. So a farmer can bring those eggs to the hatchery and have their guinea fowls in a shorter period than they would ordinarily hatch.”
With the Government providing a field extension worker to help the farmers in running the cattle fattening project, as well as the hatchery, goat project and community garden, Majaya said after three years, the projects will be handed over to the communities.
“Over there is about two hectares, where 60 farmers run a community garden. The idea of community gardens is to minimise the human-wildlife conflicts that are rampant in these areas.
“For instance, communities cultivate in the river banks as they seek moisture but more often than not, we receive crocodile attacks. And because their gardens will be by the river bank, they are aiding siltation of the rivers, thereby clogging the hydrological cycle.
“Since these gardens are not perennial, only made for the dry season because they will be washed away during the wet season, the fencing around them is usually temporary. With the weak fencing, the gardens are easy fodder for the cattle, increasing friction and fights between the villagers.”
The community gardens are meant to take the villagers away from the river banks, minimising human-wildlife conflict, as well as helping the farmers to sell their produce as a group and improving their bargaining power.