APART from the tomato smallholder farmers in Zambia, do you know of any such farmer that has walked in Toyota Showroom to buy a brand-new vehicle?
I doubt if there is any. I have driven and interacted with smallholder farmers from the breadth and length of this country and I can hardly remember any such that has bought such an asset through maize production. Many of us rush to second-hand vehicles from Japan the time we want to buy any.
It is not our choice that we buy such vehicles but we are limited by the amount of money we make from our field crop production businesses.
Today, allow me to share with you that I have seen several of the cattle herders from Namwala buying very good brand-new cars including the famous Mercedes Benz. What is funny is that people who don’t appreciate the value of livestock like that lady from the political class even goes to an extent of laughing at such farmers.
Nobantu (you people), agriculture is not all about fighting for free fertiliser to grow the low-value crops like maize; it is identifying the enterprise that will give you more value and developing a competitive edge in producing such commodity. The Tongas of Namwala and other areas of Southern Province have realised that the weather pattern is no longer favouring them and they can get more value from rearing cattle.
Of the five million head of cattle that we have in Zambia, half of that is found in Southern province. On average, a cow can take three to four years to reach market weight and a good-looking cow can fetch as much as four thousand per head. Some people in Southern province have as much as five thousand heads per person. If such a person decides to sell about three hundred animals, he will realise a value of K1.2million.
A double cab Toyota Hilux from Toyota Zambia costs about $50,000 which in our currency is about K500,000. Such a farmer can buy a brand-new Hilux and remain with K700,000 which he can use to build himself a good house, send his children to school and support other daily activities. Can I hear someone say ‘Kachema’! If you do, then you don’t know the value of livestock.
Zambia’s land can support as much as 15 million cattle and if we contained the epidemic diseases that keep breaking out so often, we could be supplying lucrative markets such as the EU like Botswana does.
By so doing, we will be creating more sustainable jobs and improving the economies of the farmers in particular and Zambia in general. I have always said the vast resource we have in land in Zambia, if well used, can’t even burrowing in the ground searching for useless copper.
There is no country in this region which is blessed like we are. Going forward, what do we need to do as a people? I have less that I feel we can do for Southern Province as far as cattle rearing is concerned.
However, we need to increase the number of watering points such as dams so that our animals don’t mingle with buffaloes that carry some of these diseases. We also need to build more dipping infrastructure to control disease causing pests such as ticks. Additionally, we need to train and sensitise people of that province of feed formulation for feed supplementation.
These activities can be replicated in Western, Central and Eastern provinces, which have relatively fair population of livestock. In addition, we need to introduce improved breeds in Eastern Province to interbreed with the Angoni cattle, which have a ‘short wheel base’ to improve on the size. We also need to rid of the types of pigs found in that province with pure breeds such as the land lace or other good meat, producing breeds.
On the other hand, we need to do a bit more than just introducing pure breeds and controlling diseases in Northern, Muchinga and Luapula provinces. This is because of the cultural backgrounds of the people from these regions; they are traditionally capture fishermen.
They do not have time to go and herd their livestock but would rather go fishing in the various water bodies and sometimes they go hunting for smaller animals like monkeys. Firstly, it should be demonstrated that they will get more value from rearing pigs, cattle, goats, chickens and keeping fish than venturing into fishing in lakes such as lake Bangweulu, which has more crocodiles than fish.
The fish in the water bodies from Luapula has been depleted and people have ended up trekking south to Itezhi-Tezhi and Lake Kariba to fish. There should be campaigns to sensitise our brothers that they will get more benefit from the other enterprises such as rearing cattle in the vast sweet grasslands in their lands.
Once they understand the benefit and with a lot of exchange visits to areas such as the Southern, only then can we think of restocking these provinces. Our brothers like meat and they may end up eating the breeding stock. In a nutshell, we have a greater opportunity to turn around this sector for economic prosperity than growing maize. There is more value in ‘cow dung’ than in maize Stover and I would like to give a hand to the government for splitting ministries of livestock from crop agriculture. I hope they can allocate and timely release equal resources to the two ministries. Livestock farming is the way to go!
This author is an agribusiness practitioner. ftembo2 firstname.lastname@example.org