Article written by Ray Mwareya, 14 November 2016
Africa Agribusiness Magazine media by Alexander Hitzemann
Reckless inbreeding, spurred by ignorance, almost wiped off cattle, goats and sheep stocks in Zimbabwe´s rural provinces.
In the words of Mr. Max Makuvise, co-founder of Makera Cattle Company, an entrepreneur who is at the forefront of reviving the country´s beef cattle herd, the calamity that chopped off Zimbabwe´s cattle head can be described in one word “inbreeding!”
Rural farmers, especially women, watched in dismay as calf births plummeted to an average of 25 kg, drug resistant sheep diseases mutated, and dishonest merchants dangled exploitative prices like $80 per heifer bull.
Thanks to a critical intervention by global Irish Aid and GOAL charity, and indigenous startups like Makuvise, pedigree cattle bulls have been introduced to farming cooperatives in rural Zimbabwe.
The results are astonishing and instant.
Newly birthed calves have seen their weight shoot to 45 kg! Goat stocks have multiplied into hundreds, entrepreneurial female farmers are stocking up to $50 000 in saving clubs, commercial beef corporations are offering lucrative prices again, villagers are selling livestock as community cooperatives, and spreading the income into pharmaceuticals or growing legumes like lablab, velvet beans to supplement stock feed.
We sit down with Mr. Max Makuvise, the beef entrepreneur, who says an $80 000 seed grant from Zimbabwe largest bank, mentorship from Zimbabwe´s top finance regualator and strategic collaboration with multilateral organizations such as Irish Aid has sparked his efforts to return the country to the status of “the beef capital” of Southern Africa.
Between him and his partners Mr. Petrus Erasmus, they claim to have 50 year’s livestock experience. “Through Coopers Animal Health, which we are both directors of, we also bring over 100 years of animal health experience to the party.”
“We began this in 2004 with a “pedigree Tuli cattle herd,” he begins.
Why this specie of cattle?
Zimbabwe government’s aggressive seizure of white owned commercial farms beginning in 2001 provides a clue.
“The Tuli cattle herd specie became available as it was being sold by a friend who had lost his farm. He was winding up operations, and had already moved them onto our farm with a herd of Herefords specie for safekeeping. Naturally, he was looking for a buyer. We took an interest in them as they were indigenous breed and are known to be very fertile.”
Zimbabwe was facing world record hyperinflation from 2004. Beginning operations was a nightmare until intervention came. “The initial cost was approximately US$80,000. We received help from a bank through Mr. John Mangudya, who is now the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.”
He says Zimbabwe beef industry, formerly the darling of European Union importers and restauranteurs, has changed beyond belief today.
“Our beef industry has been rebranded in the last fifteen years. Historically, white owned commercial farms accounted for the largest output. Interestingly, rural small cattle farmers are the mainstay of the country beef supply today. It´s a revolution.”
“I think now it is important to allow rural farmers the ability to manage their cattle both as an economic, commercial asset.”
Mr. Makuvise and his company are walking the talk in their passion.
“We train rural farmers to be para-vetenarians who treat their own sick cattle, equip them with tools to monitor market prices, provide breeding literature etc.
Funding is ours, complemented by the donor community. An informed farmer brings increased genetic cattle sales.”
“We upgrade Para vets through refresher courses.”
He smiles and reveals, “The term Para is being changed to Primary Animal Healthcare worker.”
Mr. Makuvise who manages over 200 bulls in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and will over the next few months be completing the training of 10,000 farmers in Primary Animal Healthcare.
He thinks Zimbabwe´s beef industry need to gaze long into the horizon and avoid rapid consumption culture. “We a great deal of emphasis on the farmer not just worrying about markets. Our rural farmers need to be able to present the best possible product that they can to the market to maximize their earning capacity. Cattle sales must be a purely commercial decision not motivated by desperation and hunger.”
One way his company is doing this, is through science and genetics. “We are producing world class genetics through our breeding business, for use in the community / rural livestock projects. We deploy bulls for Artificial Insemination, so the rural farmer can obtain healthier breeds of cattle.”
“On science are carrying out trials on feeding of crop residues in winter as for supplementary feed cattle in hot summers.”
The offspring, bred from science, is spread wide, to obtain maximum results. “Our customers are any farmers that have cows that need to breed, universities, commercial farmers and of course rural farmers.”
Zimbabwe with its grim economy, characterized by vanishing US dollars and runaway industry closures, presents obstacles, when it comes to critical cattle feed.
“Yes, cattle feed is sourced from local players and is not hard to find. However, it is rather expensive comparing to regional countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia.”
Electricity, a key component to run beef abattoirs and raise calves, is a vanishing product in Zimbabwe, but Mr. Makuvise counts his luck this year. “2016 has been very good with virtually no power outages for the last 10 months.”
Makera Cattle Company is not all beef and bones. Milk, once a mainstay of Zimbabwe´s dietary economy before a catastrophic fall to just 22 000 cattle in 2010 from 110 000, is in their sights too.
“We have have embarked on a project to grow a milk collection centre in conjunction with Zimbabwe´s agriculture ministry. We lecture 23 dairy cows on primary animal healthcare, the right ration to feed their animals etc. It´s a pilot program.”
His mind is disturbed by the ever present threat of foot and mouths infections that can ground beef farms. Since 2001, the country lost its lucrative quota of 9000 tons to the European Union.
“True, foot and mouth diseases are hampering Zimbabwe´s ability to export beef. Government is battling to regulate the movement of live animals. We see room to partner with authorities.”
In conclusion, he says climate change and drought – a menace looming on Zimbabwe – is forcing him to distinguish their programs from other beef entrepreneurs.
“We insist on productivity not merely increasing herd sizes. Our competitors are preaching the doubling of family herd sizes. We think this is an error. This puts a strain on the environment at a time Global Warming is ravaging pasture grass and natural water streams in Zimbabwe.”
ABOUT THE WRITER: RAY MWAREYA is the Africa Correspondent for the Global South Development Magazine. Twitter: @rmwareya
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