Matabeleland South provincial livestock specialist Simangaliphi Ngwabi has advised cattle farmers from the drought prone province to set aside arable land for fodder production to avoid loss of livestock due to lack of pasture.
A total of 9 272 cattle deaths were recorded in the province in just over a month since December 20, 2012 due to the effects of drought.
The most affected areas were Mangwe District with 5 476 deaths followed by Matobo with 1 232 deaths and Beitbridge with 1 015 deaths. The least affected was Umzingwane with only 23 cattle reported dead.
"Farmers should know that drought is there to stay because we are in the dry climatic region four and five and now with climate change it is going to be more prevalent than anything else," Ngwabi said.
Ngwabi said to save livestock, cattle breeders in the province, which at one point had the highest number of livestock in the country, should venture into fodder production to reverse the devastating cattle losses in future.
She argued that crop farming had proven to be unproductive in Matabeleland South, with the province continuing to be the hardest-hit by hunger every season.
Ngwabi said farmers could also start cutting hay now and store it in shades to feed their livestock during the dry season.
"Culling could also be another method of avoiding cattle losses in future. Farmers should check and judge if there is going to be a drought in a particular season and sell their cattle and keep the money," Ngwabi advised.
"They can still restock depending with seasons, instead of losing their herd to drought," added the livestock specialist.
Matabeleland South, once the Brazil of Zimbabwe, now stands third after Masvingo and Midlands in cattle population, Ngwabi said.
Mangwe Farmers' Association board member, Clement Malaba, said farmers in the province should learn to do farming as a business and desist from keeping cattle for prestige.
"Mangwe District lost the highest number of cattle in the province and this should never be repeated in future; it should never ever happen again," he emphasised.
He said the province should totally do away with crop production as their source of livelihood and concentrate on livestock production, adding that underutilised irrigation schemes such Ngwizi and Antelope should be converted into fodder production zones to supplement cattle feeding during drought times.
Matabeleland Livestock Investment Initiative chairperson, Sifiso Sibanda, who also said what has been witnessed in Matabeleland South should never be repeated, said it was high time the government released money set aside for livestock production to ensure restocking begins in earnest.
He argued that now that the cropping season was already in full swing, the government had to shift focus from crops to livestock.