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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.

makera-cattleNewly 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

For media and advertising inquired contact Alexander Hitzemann at alex@africaag.org

Story by Ray Mwareya

When Stella Nzuma – 42 – was kicked off from her receptionist job of eight years, she obtained no pensions. Two years into her new job as a bee honey farmer, incomes have recovered, and her children can finish their education.

“I’ve a new saviour,” Stella smiles, “my bees work for me. They fill 1000 bottles of honey every year. My profits climb to $2500.”

Stella is part of 200 female honey bees farmers in eastern Zimbabwe who were trained by the International Red Cross in raw honey farming skills.

And honey sales are shooting, and the market is healthy. In 2015 alone there is an enviable a 1,9 ton global demand for honey. Stella and her colleagues are joyful but cautious. “Every beehive of mine produces 20kg of honey. I sell a 500 grams bottle for $3.”

Rural Zimbabwean farmers like Stella receive training in what is commonly known as the “The Kenyan Top Bar” beehive.

“The Top Bar hive is unique beehive because it follows the natural shape of the honeycombs with horizontal bars laid across the top of the hive. These can be carefully logged out, one by one, without disturbing bees,” explains Miles Banda, a technician for the UK charity Practical Action that canvasses and purchases beehives for low income Zimbabwean families.

“The Top Bar hive increases amounts of clean honey,” says Stella. “For a bottle of 100% pure honey our price increase to $4.”

In the past, honey farming in Zimbabwe, was an enterprise shunned. Bees were feared in the urban settlements, and where they flourished, the honey was housed in unmarked bottles and the business was dominated by male farmers.

That changed in 2010 when the state-run Standards Association of Zimbabwe agency began to to test farmers honey according to proper health and safety regulations.

Ben Rimi – 36 – is one bee keeper who has gained from having his honey held up to safety measurements. “I lost my driver job in November 2014. Our textile factory sent home 700 workers. In February 2015 I joined a community owned honey processing centre in my village. I’ve never looked back. Authorities say the quality of our honey is superb and may be offered to local drugs companies.”

Ben says the financial opportunities from his bees business are expanding. “For example wax, an unwanted waste product from our honey boxes is snapped up by companies that manufacture soaps and floor polishes.”

Priscilla Dembetembe, the International Rescue Committee economic recovery coordinator for Zimbabwe agrees. “This is the best time to become honey bee farmer in Zimbabwe vs the country’s relentless jobs. Farmer’s honey is needed by supermarkets, hospitals kitchens, hotels and factories.”

“Bee keeping is a life changing trade ,” explains Reggis Woyo an economist for the Zimbabwe Convention of Social Trade Unions, which provides free marketing and bookkeeping skills to honey farmers.

He adds, “for just $90 a student bee honey grower can purchase a hive smoker to dull bees, protective overalls, sturdy boots and bee brush. Bees stockpile honey after three months. This is remarkable; the average farmers harvests 600 honey bottles a year.”

Bee honey farming is a gift to Zimbabwe – a country grappling with vanishing forests. The regulatory Environment Agency of Zimbabwe credits bee farming with a 2% success in its forests replanting efforts. Severe climates, factory pollutions, and greedy tobacco processors are all blamed for the dramatic decline of honey bees species in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on earth.

“Clever farmers leave some honey in the hive for bees to make more production. That’s what we insist on,” says Pious Godo, an ecologist at the Agriculture and Rural Development Agency in the country’s capital Harare. “Bees keep forests unspoiled.”

Problems still persist. Zimbabwe, surprisingly, still imports 60% of its domestic honey needs. The industry is still overwhelmed by male farmers, shutting out women. An astonishing attack on Zimbabwe’s forests by tobacco farmers means some bees species are not thriving in the country.

But farmers still press forward in earnest. “This is a priceless sector of farming. Honey buys medicine for my kids and feeds then when my crops wilt in drought,” concludes Stella the female farmer.

(The writer Ray Mwareya is the Africa news correspondent for the Global South Development Magazine)

Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development

Until recently, eking out a living was a huge struggle for Chiweshe Chirevo, who lives in the parched Zimbabwean town of Buhera, in Manicaland Province. With little arable land to speak of and insufficient rains to nourish soil that more closely approximates sand, meeting the nutritional and household needs for his nine-member family was a significant challenge.

To get by, he did some basic subsistence farming of maize, millet and sorghum, and would earn a little money by drying and selling limestone on credit, which he would exchange for more grains. However, getting any protein in his family’s diet – particularly meat – was rare.

As beef and dairy cattle have difficulty surviving and getting adequate nourishment in such an arid environment, Chiweshe and other smallholders in the area also regularly keep goats.
However, Chiweshe found it hard to maintain his herd, as he often had no choice but to sell these few assets that he had when times got tough. “I obtained my first goats in 1989 and once had as many as 20. However, I had to sell them all off over time in order to pay the school fees for my seven children, while others died of disease.”

DSC_0276Although 97% of Zimbabwe’s national goat herd is owned by smallholders, farmers rarely work together to leverage economies of scale. As they do not treat their goats as assets that require adequate care, feeding and shelter, they are often viewed as scavengers. When farmers are forced to sell their underweight animals at the farm gate, they cannot fetch a good market price, and they typically miss out on the many benefits these animals can provide as a key source for valuable milk, meat and fertilizer.
But, through the Zimbabwe Livestock for Accelerated Recovery and Improved Resiliency (ZRR) program, made possible by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Chiweshe and his neighbors are learning how to manage and market their goat herds collectively to improve their livelihoods. The program provides farmers with training on goat husbandry and health management, and trains Community Livestock Workers on preventative and curative animal health techniques.

Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, ZRR is assisting 2,000 farmers, who collaborate through 10 marketing groups of 200 farmers each. Farmers like Chiweshe receive three female goats, and are ultimately required to pass three female kids onto their neighbors, with one buck provided to service the breeding needs of each village’s goats.

To qualify for the program, ZRR requires that all the recipients already have other goats, and be willing to build a raised goat structure with one or two other families, with whom they can pen their animals together. Penning the animals in at night on a raised structure prevents them from being attacked by other wild animals, facilitates collection of their manure for fertilizer, and also helps to minimize an issue goats often face of foot rot, by providing them with a dry shelter.

“When the program started, I had 10 goats and received another three. I started taking better care of them and proactively working to breed them, which has already enabled me to pass on the three goats I was required to, sell 16 at the market, and still have 12 left over for future breeding and growth,” Chiweshe explained. Prior to ZRR, Chiweshe says he never thought about the importance of disease prevention, even though five of his animals previously died from preventable illnesses. “Through the program, I realized that buying the products required to dip and spray my animals was an important investment in my livelihood. I saw how spraying made the ticks on my animals disappear, and then I was convinced.”

Chiweshe Chirevo and his wife stand in front of the new home they’re building.

Chiweshe Chirevo and his wife stand in front of the new home they’re building.

As a result of their new shelter, disease prevention efforts, and providing them with appropriate feed, Chiweshe says his goats now appear markedly healthier, with their coats free of lice. ZRR also trained him how to keep detailed records of goat births and sales for the first time. Moreover, since he started spraying and vaccinating his animals, none of them have died.

But, most importantly, times are simply a bit easier than they once were. He says he’s now able to pay all of his children’s school fees without issue, and the family now even slaughters a goat once every two months to enjoy some meat over the course of several weeks, which they used to only eat once or twice a year on special holidays. And he’s even started building a new, sturdier home to accommodate his large family, which he’s constructing as funds permit, brick by brick.

The support he received through ZRR has also allowed him to dream about the future, and to think about how he might expand into owning some local cattle one day. “I used to think that taking care of my family, by nature, had to be a struggle. But now, the program has convinced me – made me believe – that I can be a business man. And if I want to succeed, I must invest in what I do in order to grow.”