Mwenezi district in Masvingo province is generally considered to be among the top five high cattle density areas in Zimbabwe. As a result, there is a high volume of cattle business activity, ranging from large scale commercial production and marketing to small scale production.
The district lies in natural regions four and five which means that the rainfall is generally low. The rangelands are overgrazed and pastures start to deplete around June of each dry season. Many cattle die each year as a result of shortage of pastures. To alleviate poverty deaths, farmers have often resorted to buying sugar cane tops from the neighbouring Mwenezana Estate as few can afford to buy the cattle survival meals and high nutrient feed. Some farmers have ended up selling their cattle as they cannot feed and maintain them during the dry season. The prices offered to desperate farmers by middlemen for these emaciated cattle is very low.
In light of these challenges, the Beef Enterprise Strengthening and Transformation (BEST) project, embarked on ambitious strategies to alleviate hunger induced cattle deaths, to assist farmers to maintain a healthy herd and improve their production capacities, by assisting them with access to locally grown, improved nutritious feed for their cattle.
Establishment of a 35-hectare center pivot of irrigated pastures at Lapache Estate is a viable solution to save the national herd in Masvingo province and the nation at large. In 2020 a total of 17.5 hectares of Rhodes Reclaimer grass was grown under irrigation. The grass is highly palatable, has high leaf to stem ratio and high nutrient composition, equivalent to purchased feeds.
A total of 4,422 (15 kg) bales have been harvested to date. As of December 2020, the project had sold 3,460 bales, the majority in October and November. The bales were sold at US$1 each to project beneficiaries and US$2 each to non-project beneficiaries. The demand for the bales was high and farmers as far away as Chiredzi district (100km) travelled to Mwenezi to buy the hay bales. With the depleted natural rangeland, farmers mainly used this feed for cattle survival.
Buying hay bales from Lapache resulted in farmers also making economic savings. Local farmers are paying US$1 per 15 kg bale, which translates to US$0.07 per kg against pen feeding meal at US$0.22 per kg and survival meal at US$ 0.20 per kg. As the nutrient value of the hay is very similar to the meal, local farmers are accessing the feed at one third of its commercial value. Farmers from outside Lapache are buying hay bales at USD2 per 15 kg bale which translates to a cost of US$0.13 per kg, making savings of about US$4 per 50 kg bag.
In addition to this, farmers are accessing the bales close to their communities, reducing the cost of transportation. The money saved by farmers is being used to improve their household livelihoods as well as improve their cattle business as these are mostly low-income areas. No restrictions are there for farmers to buy hay bales. The CBC is open to any potential buyer, even during weekends. Close monitoring is in place, however, to prevent unscrupulous elements from abusing the price difference between local farmers and those from outside Lapache for gain.