In 2019, Zimbabwe lost more than 21,400 cattle to drought. Most animals starved due to depleted grazing and diminished water sources.
To find ways for farmers to protect their herds as climate change brings more frequent droughts, the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) launched a fodder production and supplementary feeding drive.
The LFSP equipped farmers with skills and tools to prepare animal feed well in advance by: producing fodder crops, on-farm feed formulation, and stocking up on hay and crop residues. Farmers were also trained on how to increase the nitrogen content and nutritive value of low-protein roughages using urea treatment and supplementation (which allows animals to more readily use the energy in existing food), as well as by adding molasses and salt.
More than 9,000 farmers in 10 districts were trained to collect and conserve available materials and production of fodder crops including velvet beans, leucaena, and lablab. Farmers were also encouraged to produce adequate grain crops for their livestock, like sorghum and maize, based on their livestock numbers and feeding plans.
Velvet beans, leucaena, and lablab are high in protein, which is often deficient in dried out veld grazing in the dry season. During this time, the crude protein content can be as low as 2.5 percent versus a minimal requirement of around 7 percent for grazing animals to maintain good body condition.
“So far we have trained 9,445 farmers and 79 local public extension and LFSP program staff on feed formulation. The trained extension officers and LFSP program staff are currently supporting farmers in feed formulation and assisting farmers to access other non-locally available raw materials like premixes and feed formulation equipment by providing smart subsidies,” said Ali Said, the LFSP Chief Technical Advisor.
Lands, Agriculture, Water, and Rural Resettlement (MLARR) Deputy Minister Honorable Vangelis Haritatos recently described fodder as a cost-effective source of nutrients for animals.
“It is easier to digest, helps with weight gain, increases life expectancy especially with dairy cows, and increases the hoof health of the animal, which generally benefits the overall health of the animal, which is of critical importance to our Ministry. Also, remember that fodder is a cost-effective option for our farmers,” said Haritatos.
The LFSP feed formulation intervention is not only contributing to the Ministry’s strategy for livestock development but a key intervention in ensuring that farmers save livestock from drought-induced starvation.
Locally available materials a critical animal feed resource
To help farmers find alternative materials for livestock feed, LFSP is promoting the collection, conservation and use of material already available in the localities of many smallholder farmers.
These farmers are being encouraged to use edible leaves from local tree species, and in addition, farmers are collecting crop residues, edible tree pods such as acacia and monkey bread (musekesa), and making hay from excess veld herbage.Crop residues have the advantage that the cost of production is generally low. A member of the Mafararikwa community, in Mutare district, Shorai Mundoko says that the use of locally available material has not only been cost effective but life-changing.
“We used to lose a lot of livestock during lean seasons. We didn’t’ know that locally available material could be used as an alternative stock feed. The knowledge we got from LFSP has been a major life-changing experience. I have learnt so much in feed formulation, breeding, and diseases management,” said Mundoko.
He added that the production of nutritious feeds like dried groundnut leaves, leucaena, maize stover, dried acacia leaves, and masekesa, has made it easy for the LFSP-supported agribusiness group, Kuziva Kuudzwa Muchatichiva (KKM) to stock up fodder reserves.
“To date we have been able to stock 2 tonnes of feeds and are targeting feeding breeding goats at our breeding centre. This has drastically reduced the cost of feeding our livestock by more than eighty percent,” Mundoko said.
KKM is located in Musandishowa village of Ward 29 of Mutare District. It is among the driest wards in the district and faces perennial challenges such as inadequate grazing for livestock production due to erratic rainfall distribution.
Realising incomes from local feed formulation
Some farmers in Mutare District are exploiting the business opportunities that have been provided by the production of fodder from locally available material. Chiedza Gadziwa, the secretary of KKM said that the group had managed to increase their revenue streams through selling of processed feeds to other farmers.
“Currently we have managed to sell our local feeds to 15 farmers for a total of US$700. I managed to invest my earnings on a US$250 cow. As a group we have also managed to train 70 farmers (47 males and 29 females) on feed formulation. With an increased number of farmers with the knowledge of how to use local materials for feed formulation, we are expecting reduced livestock deaths as witnessed in previous years,” she stated.