Sites of silted streams, birds chirping and livestock grazing welcome one when negotiating the rugged terrains of Umzingwane district. One is guaranteed the aura of cow dung scent and the bleating sound of goats at almost every homestead for livestock is a status symbol in this southern part of Zimbabwe.
By Problem Masau
“Our livelihoods depend mainly on livestock,” said Thembani Mhlotshwa, an Umzingwane villager adding that “crop production is practiced at a minimal scale because of the rain patterns and type of soils here.”
However, climate change is threatening the livelihoods of livestock farmers in Umzingwane as erratic rainfall patterns have been experienced in the past seasons. For three consecutive seasons, Zimbabwe is facing another ravaging drought as climate change takes a toll on the Southern African country.
“Climate change does not see boundaries or borders,” said Tich Zinyemba, head of the public weather service at Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Service Department. “Some of the things which we are seeing now such as prolonged droughts and dry spells are a result of climate change.”
In 2019, farmers in Matabeleland lost more than 21 400 cattle due to drought — regarded as the worst in four decades. Most animals were succumbing to depleted grazing pastures and diminishing water sources.
Of the 21 400, 15 180 deaths were from Matabeleland South, while 6 220 deaths were recorded in Matabeleland North.
Matabeleland South provincial livestock officer Zondani Muchemwa said 360 cattle died in Umzingwane in 2019.
It is against this background that a group of eight women and three men in Umzingwane’s ward 4 village have come together under the name Vusanani to provide local solutions to the ravaging effects of climate change.
“We bought a bushmeal grinding mill with the help of ZRBF-MELANA. We raised 30 percent and they paid the rest,” said Vusanani chairperson Thembi Mlilo.
The Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF)-Matabeleland Enhanced Livelihoods Agriculture and Nutrition Adaptation (MELANA) project which has been launched to work with communities in the district as well as three other districts in Matabeleland North and South.
The project was implemented in Nkayi, Bubi, Umguza in Matabeleland North and in Umzingwane district in Matabeleland South provinces.
It is a long-term development initiative supported by the Lands and Agriculture ministry with funding from the European Union, Embassy of Sweden, United Nations Development Programme and the United Kingdom Development for International Development to the tune of US$80 million
“We use local materials to produce stock feeds mostly velvet beans, chicken droppings and acacia pods. The stock feed is mixed according to ratios prescribed by the agricultural extension officers,” said Nobizitha Ncube, secretary of the group.
So successful is the project that Vusanani group has managed to save the livestock of 351 farmers in the past four months they have been in existence.
“We even surpassed our initial target of serving 350 farmers per year within four months. Our hope is to serve the whole of Zimbabwe,” said Ncube.
ZRBF-MELANA markets officer Rodney Mushongachiware said that the stockfeed comes in handy during September to December period when most areas run of pasture.
“During this time of the year (rain season), farmers will be harvesting and storing the material used for the stockfeed.
“We are also encouraging bushmeal stockfeed production to mitigate loss of livestock during droughts and also cattle feed swop where we have destocking in exchange of stockfeed. This is an initiative with MC Meats Abattoir,” he said.
On the issue of deforestation, Mushongachiware said that they do encourage cutting down of trees but rather pruning.