Farmers in Matabeleland South risked having their cattle wiped out owing to starvation after drought ravaged grazing pasture, but last week's timely intervention by Government will see some of the cattle being salvaged. There have been sad reports coming from the province of cattle dying of
hunger because the rainfall received last year of less than 450mm could not sustain the recovery of grazing pastures, leaving 376 100 head of cattle starving.
It is against this background that we applaud the Government for unveiling US$2 million to save livestock in Matabeleland South.
Through the Enhanced Drought Relief and Livestock Mitigation Programme, the Government will procure 5 617 tonnes of stock feed to benefit 152 830 cattle.
The starvation and deaths of cattle does not augur well with Government's thrust of cattle restocking. The Government and the private sector have made concerted efforts to rebuild the national cattle herd, which had dwindled to alarming levels because of drought, especially in the cattle rearing regions.
The intervention by Government confirms its commitment towards cattle restocking and the importance that it attaches to cattle. There is no denying the fact that cattle are a vital component of the livelihoods of both the rural and urban people in developing countries.
It is a fact that farmers depend on cattle for their basic needs and that any losses undermine their food security. Cattle provide draught power, organic fertiliser for crop production and a means of transport for farmers in communal and commercial farming areas.
It is for this reason that we commend Government for moving in fast to save the cattle in Matabeleland South by unveiling the mitigation programme.
What needs to be avoided now is procrastination in terms of buying the stock feed. All efforts must be made to ensure the stock feed is made available to the cattle without any delay.
We believe that efforts to restock the national herd can easily come tumbling if Government and the private sector fail to intervene in emergencies such as the one obtaining in Matabeleland South.
We can never successfully rebuild the cattle herd when as a nation we fold our hands and leave cattle starving.
The situation obtaining in Matabeleland South calls for the intervention of not only Government but the private sector as well.
We have observed in the past the efforts of the private sector in national cattle restocking, which we have all applauded. We now want to see the same sector moving in, alongside the Government, to save the cattle in the areas ravaged by drought.
We cannot talk of restocking when we are doing little to salvage what we already have and that should be the starting point towards full recovery of the livestock sector.
We have seen cattle providing tillage to farmers in the absence of mechanisation and income through the sale of milk and in the process helped many people to achieve food security at the houshehold level.
A couple of years ago we used to earn millions of dollars in foreign currency through beef exports to the European Union but the quota has since fallen away because of our inability to supply, owing to the dwindling herd as a result of drought, and the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease (FMD).
It is important that Government and the private sector work together so that institutions like the Cold Storage Company can be capitalised to initiate programmes of restocking. There should be specific programmes for cattle production that take into consideration the grazing pastures of cattle in the drought-stricken areas.
We note with great concern that 514 cattle have died of hunger in Matabeleland South since the beginning of the year.
However, it is refreshing that Government has since established a taskforce to look into the issues affecting livestock in the country and it is our hope that the taskforce will get down to work without any further delay.