Dairy production remains depressed in Matabeleland as dairy farmers struggle to recover from a decade-long economic crisis that ended in 2008, as well as recurrent droughts.
According to statistics made available to The Financial Gazette's Farming by the Dairy Services for the Matabeleland region, which incorporates Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North, farmers are producing an average of 500 000 litres of milk per month, less than half of what they used to produce between 2001 and 2002.
"At least there is an improvement from an average of 300 000 litres that we used to produce between 2007 and 2008 when the sector was almost facing a collapse," said Kasirayi Gwezuva, the regional dairy officer.
"I can say from 2009, with the adoption of the multicurrency system, dairy farming has been growing at a very slow rate considering the monthly intake for the region," he said.
Matabeleland requires over a million litres of milk per month and the deficit is met by both imports and supplies from other regions across the country.
"At an average of 500 000 litres a month, we are still far below what we used to get during the period 2001-2002. We used to get over a million litres but now it's a challenge," said Gwezuva.
Undoubtedly, the country's chaotic land reform programme in 2000 negatively impacted on the dairy sector.
But Gwezuva attributed Matabeleland's poor performance to recurrent droughts due to the region's geographic location in regions four and five.
He said that cattle-feeding was a high cost factor in dairy production.
"With dairy farming, it is what you put in that you get," he explained, adding that due to drought, some dairy farmers did not have the capacity to properly feed their livestock, resulting in milk production falling below standards.
For instance, he said, butter fat should form at least three percent of the total milk composition for the product to be standard.
Gwezuva said due to the demanding nature of dairy farming, in which a single cow requires about 140 litres of water a day to produce about 30 litres of milk a day, only 30 out of 50 registered farmers were active.
Water challenges had therefore compounded problems faced by dairy farming in the region, he said.
Gwezuva said it was also hard for farmers in Matabeleland to grow fodder for their dairy cows during winter as that also requires good and intact irrigation schemes.
The regional dairy officer said dairy farmers were forced to sell some of their livestock to farmers in other regions while leaving manageable herds to avoid losing out to drought, something that also militated against recovery.