Production, processing and maintaining the availability of adequate feed for livestock is crucial to dairy producers in Zimbabwe. Traditionally, efforts to improve the quality and availability of fodder have focused on technology, but the TranZDVC project is revealing that strengthening interactions among the various actors involved produces even better results.
TranZDVC discovered that the challenges related to fodder availability have just as much to do with access to knowledge as with access to appropriate technology. In collaboration with Agritex and the Department of Veterinary Services, the projects procured fodder seeds for velvet beans, maize, forage sorghum, cow peas and Katambora Rhodes grass which were used to establish 160 fodder demonstration plots at selected lead farmer sites in the project’s targeted districts. In a farmer to farmer extension approach, these sites are acting as knowledge transfer hubs for at least 10 peer farmers located close to the demonstration site. The initiative will also see seed being multiplied and fodder produced for dairy animals while hosting of farmer field schools are ensuring that knowledge and experiences on good agronomic practices of the different fodder crops are transferred to others.
Being an area where most smallholders survive on livestock production, the introduction of fodder crops in Chikomba District, in Mashonaland East Province, was a welcome development.
Fodder production, processing and preservation is one of the pillars of the TranZ DVC project to enable farmers to increase productivity and reduce the cost of production while ensuring increased returns.
In response to the effects of climate change, TranZDVC is promoting climate smart fodder production. Two major climatic changes have been self-evident are the rising temperatures as well as a significant decrease in precipitation (2017-2020 seasons) or in some cases flooding due to excess rainfall (the 2020/2021 season. The project is therefore, promoting wide range of measures at the fodder demonstration sites that are required to reduce the livestock sectors' climate-change footprint. These include climate smart dairy farming practices such as growing of drought tolerant varieties, intercropping, manure management and production of highly nutritious fodder.
According to Dr Edson Chifamba, the TranZDVC Project Coordinator, the project is working through the lead farmer extension model. “Peer farmers gather and assist with labour at the demonstration plots. In return, each farmer will receive fodder seeds for their own use in the coming season and some hay bales for their animals”, said Dr Chifamba.
TranZDVC is working with ZADF, Dairy Services and local extension personnel offering technical advice and mentorship to the farmers. The demonstration plots will also benefit surrounding farmers and communities who will draw lessons from them.
Through training and technical assistance provided by the project’s extension staff and in view of the continued rising stock feed prices for supplementing her dairy cattle Mrs Dorica Hwengwere, the Sadza Dairy Cooperative chairperson, is now engaged in on-farm forage and fodder production. Fifty-three year-old Dorica Hwengwere is one of the selected lead farmers mentoring 10 other farmers, including women and youth. Using seed provided for the demonstration plot and her own resources, she has utilised her one and-a half hectare field by growing 0.5 hectares of maize, 0.4 hectares of velvet beans, 0.2 hectares of cow peas and 0.3 hectares of bana grass.
Fodder makes up 70 percent of livestock inputs and is critical to the income earning capacities of smallholders in most parts of the country. Most dairy farmers in the rural areas depend on agricultural crop residues and grass provided by the grazing of common or fallow land supplemented by cultivated grass. But most crops are rain-fed and can’t be relied on. In addition, shits in crop type and variety tend to reduce the availability of feed, as does encroachment from other land uses.
“Thanks to ZADF and its partners, we have learnt and increased production of home- grown nutritious feed and during the lean season, our cattle will not starve or have decreased milk production. I have plans to use the harvested crop to make low-cost feed formulations which will lead to reduced cost of production and increased incomes through dairy farming,” said a delighted Hwengwere.
Drought tolerant varieties such as sorghum, velvet bean and cow pea were selected to promote climate change adaptation among farmers. Intercropping of cereals such as maize and sorghum with either velvet beans or cow pea is being implemented at the demonstration plots. This practice provides live mulch especially under poor rainfall conditions, as well as contributing significantly to nitrogen levels for following crops (resulting in reduction in use of synthetic fertilisers). Besides the mulching effect, velvet beans intercropped with other crops also help to control weeds as the canopy helps to suffocate the weeds. A reduced weed population implies a reduction in herbicide use, too.
Improving the management and feeding practices within the dairy sector stands to dramatically increase potential sales and incomes for 4,530 TranZDVC small-scale dairy farmers’ dairy value chain by 2022.