Harare — More than 9,000 cattle have died in the last few months following poor rains in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland South Province; more than half the death toll occurred in just one of district.
"The most affected district in Matabeleland South Province is Mangwe, which has lost a total of 5,476 head of cattle since late 2012, with Matobo and Beitbridge districts having lost 1,232 and 1,015 respectively," the province's chief livestock specialist, Simangaliphi Ngwabi, told IRIN.
According to a 2011 parliamentary profile of the Mangwe district the cattle population was estimated at 37,090.
Officially, Ngwabi said, since December 2012 up until 5 February 2013, 9,395 cattle deaths were recorded in the province, but the actual death toll was likely to be much higher.
"The challenges that we encounter when coming up with true statistics is that some people do not report cattle deaths, and that means they do not reflect on our statistics.
"In some instances, after going on an assessment visit, we discovered that some of the data capturing was faulty. In one instance, where we believed the whole district had lost a total of 172 cattle, one area of the same district had actually lost 278 heads of cattle," Ngwabi said.
Ngwabi said the government should intervene through the provision of low-cost cattle feed. She also said farmers must "change their mind set and approach cattle ranching as a business" rather than viewing cattle as symbols of prestige. "It makes more sense to plant grass which can be fed to their livestock than to plant a crop of maize which will not mature."
Alfred George Bango, a small-scale farmer in Matabeleland South's Matobo District, told IRIN that harvesting grass was alien to the communities, but that it was an option they were prepared to explore if it prevented cattle deaths.
"The rivers dry up early in this province, and the existing dams are not adequate to cater to all livestock"
He said, however, that the government had to provide boreholes for all communities in the province as "the rivers dry up early in this province, and the existing dams are not adequate to cater to all livestock."
Provincial agronomist Innocent Nyathi told local media that in Beitbridge, Gwanda, Matobo and Mangwe districts, crops planted at the onset of the first rains had wilted due to a prolonged dry spell.
The Matabeleland South provincial veterinary officer Mbuso Moyo told IRIN that government interventions could include vaccinations against foot-and-mouth and anthrax diseases. Individual or groups of farmers could also take actions to mitigate cattle losses in the drought-prone province.
"They could do this by ensuring that they produce or harvest feed for the summer season and ensur[ing] their livestock is vaccinated. We always urge them to sell or de-stock when the cattle are in good condition to attract good prices, and not sell when they are thin and dying as this does not attract good prices."
Food security outlooks
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in the 11 February issue of its Global Food Price Monitor, said stable maize prices had been seen in the capital, Harare. "However, in areas that experienced production shortfalls in 2012, price spikes have been observed, notably in southwestern parts."
In its January-to-June 2013 food security outlook for Zimbabwe, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said that crop production in Matabeleland North Province and the western part of Matabeleland South "is likely to be marginally average to below average even if seasonal rainfall is above normal."
FEWS NET said an area of concern was the Greater Mudzi Communal livelihood zone in Zimbabwe's northeast, which relies on rain-fed agriculture for the production of small grains, maize, groundnuts, sunflowers and small-scale cotton production.
"The zone had poor production in the 2011-2012 agricultural season due to poor rain quantity and distribution, unavailability of inputs and lack of draught power. Typically, very poor households in this zone are largely dependent on food aid, market purchases, casual labour, some remittances and safety-net cash assistance programming for their food needs," the food security outlook said.