The adage that says “You reap what you sow” is very true in beef production, if you invest nothing in your cattle you get nothing in return. This is the challenge for small holder cattle producers, who perceive cattle rearing in a subsistence way, unlike commercial farmers who focus on production and productivity. Under the Beef Enterprise Strengthening and Transformation (BEST) project, small holder cattle producers are embracing farming as a business and are being transformed from subsistence cattle rearing to commercial cattle production.
Midlands province has not been spared by the myriad of challenges facing communal beef cattle farmers. Major challenges include poor access to input and output markets, recurrence of cattle diseases which results in high mortalities, poverty induced cattle deaths, genetic erosion of local breeds among others. The key success driver to alleviate these challenges (as quoted in the strategy and policy roadmap blue print; Zimbabwe Livestock Growth and Recovery Plan) is, “Organising small holder farmers into effective and functional livestock producer groups.”
Use of high nutrient feed among beef farmers is not easy to implement, because it is very costly for a farmer with an average of 10 head of cattle to buy feed from commercial stock feed manufacturers. The only way for such a farmer to derive discounted prices, guaranteed supply and convenience in procuring livestock inputs is when they become part of a producer group.
In 2020, BEST, in collaboration with government stakeholders, embraced this as a solution to ensure provision of high nutrient feed to cattle throughout the dry season.
Farmers were organised into beef producer groups in Kwekwe, Gokwe South and Shurugwi districts. These producer groups mobilised funds to purchase molasses from Tongaat Hulett in Chiredzi. A total of 318 farmers in Midlands province from 19 producer groups purchased 25.8 tonnes of molasses at a cost of US$5,524, saving themselves US$20,276 over the cost of buying it from local agro dealers. Bulk molasses in Chiredzi costs US$0.22 per litre, while local agro dealers charge more than at $1 per litre. Organising the farmers for bulk procurement of molasses resulted in a saving of US$0.78 per litre.
Molasses, a by-product of sugar processing, is a low cost ingredient used in feed formulations. The associated key benefits of using molasses include high digestible energy, high level of degradable protein, highly palatable and high copper content. It increases the palatability of feeds whilst contributing good levels of energy and protein.
Farmers now appreciate the benefits of buying in groups as opposed to individual buying. An increase in the use of molasses in feed formulations using locally available resources resulted in the maintenance of good cattle condition and survival during the lean season.
Farmers are now realising the value of working in groups and BEST project is currently organising farmers into five regional cattle producer associations in Midlands, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Masvingo. The associations will spearhead the following;
- Advocate for an enabling BVC policy and regulatory environment
- Represent beef producers in beef value chain activities
- Information and knowledge hub for Beef Producers
- Market Intelligence
- Bulk procurement of inputs
- Facilitate beef producers’ access to financial services