Livestock Gains

Dr T. Mutibvu. Livestock Production Specialist

Dec 2020

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Dr T. Mutibvu


Dr Mutibvu is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Livestock Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Environment and Food Systems, at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). He is a holder of a PhD degree in Animal Science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa. Dr Mutibvu joined the UZ 11 years ago as a Lecturer in Animal Production. He has experience working with various other organizations including; government, private sector and institutions of higher learning particularly in the areas related to livestock production development, livestock feed and feeding, animal production research, training of trainer programs among other education, extension and advisory activities.

Dr Mutibvu’s current research interests are on identifying alternative feed resources for livestock in view of the shrinking feed resource base due to the effects of climate change with particular bias on smallholder livestock production. He is a proponent of small stock production and continues to conduct research on small ruminant rearing. He has published over 15 scientific articles in various areas pertaining to smallholder livestock production.


AGN: A number of factors e.g. biological, socio-economic etc can influence the nature of agriculture undertaken in a given place or region. Such factors can affect a farmer’s ability to maintain and increase a healthy, well-nourished herd. In light of existing economic constraints, what safeguards do you feel can be practically and most easily undertaken by individual farmers in order to improve outcomes for their herds?

TM: A key issue here is the shortage of feed for livestock. One of the most important approaches that could be more widely adopted is the conservation of forage and fodder.  

For instance, farmers could consider harvesting biomass during the most productive periods and then drying and storing it appropriately in a way that conserves nutritive value. One should be mindful of drying in direct sunlight as this tends to lead to a loss of nutritive value. Instead, shed drying of forages would be more beneficial.

Drought has been a recurrent issue here. Investment in water supply systems e.g. drilling of bore holes, erecting storage facilities and effective water resource management is something that would aid farmers even if they grouped together to undertake such a project. 

AGN: Various pinch points are identifiable with regards to rearing of livestock in the ‘Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment Report’, published in May 2020, produced by the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture. We have just touched on possible interventions that can be undertaken on an individual basis. 

In light of existing constraints, if you were to assemble factors that impact negatively on rearing of livestock in a hierarchy, which point do you feel application of government resources should first be applied to in order to have the most meaningful outcome over the long term?

TM: For the past 5 years the country has not received adequate rainfall. Investment in regional water supply and resource management is certainly a priority.

A number of diseases have had a devastating effect on flocks/herds in recent years e.g. ‘Newcastle Disease’ and ‘January Disease’ (Theileriosis). Strengthening and better resourcing veterinary services would be very impactful.

Zimbabwe has about double the number of cattle of some of the countries neighbouring us, however, productivity of ours is poor. Introducing higher yielding breeds as well as imparting appropriate knowledge to farmers to enable them maximise the resource is key. Obviously there are number of factors that come into play in order to do so e.g. ensuring the type of feed utilized is the best match for the breed as well as capacitating farmers with regards to management requirements.

Capacitating farmers in order to enable them to transform their small-hold farms into larger commercial enterprises through which they can realise more rewarding gains is something that governments could do more of. When done right, it not only benefits farmers but also the economy at large. 

AGN: According to the FAO, the population in Africa will increase to over 2.5 billion in 2050. A growing affluent urban population will demand increased consumption of meat, milk and other associated livestock products. What do you feel the sector should be doing now to better position itself to satisfy future demand? 

TM: Increasing the efficiency with which animal based proteins are produced is key.  I have touched on appropriate feed resources above. Investment in cost effective feeding interventions is likely to yield benefits e.g. incorporating enzymes in feeds and hence enabling animals to gain easier and more comprehensive access to the nutrients therein.

Diversification of protein sources is yet another approach. For instance, in Thailand there is a whole industry on cricket production. Crickets, locusts, flying ants etc are insects that have been consumed since time immemorial in Africa however significant farming of them is yet to happen across the continent. 

Aquaculture is another area that is yet to be more effectively embraced. Adequate investment in this area now would certainly pay off in the long run.

AGN: Sustainable farming can be defined as production of food in ways that are environmentally friendly and economically profitable. To what extent do you feel sustainable farming is practically being advanced in Zimbabwe?

TM: There appears to be a degree of polarisation between conventional and sustainable agricultural methods. It is of course important to keep abreast of global trends and not to isolate oneself. While we are mindful of its importance here and are making strides in this area, there is of course a balance to be struck between what is achievable locally within existing constraints.

AGN: Are there any exemplary projects you can highlight?

TM:  There are a number of initiatives one could look at which fall under the umbrella of the ‘Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme’ (ZAGP) i.e. the ‘Beef Enterprise Strengthening and Transformation’ project (BEST), ‘Agricultural Knowledge and Innovative Systems’ (AKIS) and the ‘Inclusive Poultry Value Chain’ (IPVC).

Taking BEST as an example, it aims to create a robust, competitive, beef value chain that promotes enhanced trade, employment creation, food security and inclusive green economic growth by 2023 for 25,000 small to medium scale as well as large commercial cattle farmers.

It seeks to look into factors that underscore beef production to ensure breeds are best matched to the environment they will be reared in, that suitable crops are grown for feed rather than just relying on the veld or established options. For example growing the drought tolerant Velvet Bean (Mucuna Pruriens) in dryer parts of the country instead of maize.

Employing rotational grazing practices. Supplementation of nutritional requirements; e.g. supplying diets rich in legumes as they supply high crude protein content.  

AGN: It was recently reported that an artificial insemination project is being pioneered by Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT). The aim being to improve genetics of breeds, resulting in larger animals and increased milk producing herds. It is anticipated that successful outcomes will go hand in hand with measures to prevent overstocking and a deleterious effect on available grazing land. What associated measures would you advocate in order to tip the balance in the farmers favour?

TM: It’s crucial to take a step back and assess the effects of technology that is being deployed. It is important to be constantly aware and guard against the possibility of over-exploitation. It is of paramount importance to couple the acquisition of larger animals with adequate resources to operate any associated enterprise optimally. 

As an example, the Romagnola is a cattle breed of European origin of which the male grows to over 1000kg. While this breed is comparatively hardy and is potentially a high meat yielder, being reared in Southern Africa in countries such as South Africa and Namibia, it is yet to be widely reared here. This is likely due to resource constraints with regards to productive capacity.

Taking the activities of CUT as an example, in addition to being a centre for research and the production of super animals, they also sell them and accompany sales with training. 

In response to the question I would say establishing and/or maintaining robust communication channels between all stakeholders within the sector and ensuring adequate resources are available that can be deployed in a timely manner is key.

AGN: Cattle ownership has cultural significance and in some cases it is a store of wealth among rural communities in the developing world. Increased commercialisation of farming and regulated use of land has in some cases led to a squeeze on available grazing land for communal and subsistence farmers. This has sometimes led to deadly outcomes. What provision should be made for this segment of livestock owners to ensure they can adequately raise their herds in a manner that is sustainable and free of conflict?

TM: It is difficult to see what specific provisions can be made for a segment that is diverse, informal and fluid in its operations. Recently in the Chinhoyi area there were clashes over land. Sadly things took a turn for the worse before any sort of peace was achieved. 

I feel things need to move away from allowing for traditional systems of apportioning and distributing land or at least adapting things so that it becomes the norm to refer to a registration body rather than for groups to contest things among themselves. It is of course illegal to take the law into one’s own hands. Robust enforcement of penalties against transgressors needs to be maintained.   

AGN: The trajectory of science and technology in farming is on an ever-upward slope.  What role if any do you feel remains for traditional practices or concepts in modern agriculture?

TM: There is a common saying that states ‘history repeats itself’. I believe some traditional concepts still remain very relevant even in modern day practice.

Traditionally people would use manure in their processes, then came a time when the trend changed towards use of manufactured alternatives. There appears to be a growing trend back towards increased utilisation of manure. 

Ethno-veterinary medicine is increasingly being researched on as a means of treating various conditions affecting livestock.

Extensive work is yet to be done on identifying active compounds, synthesis, and/or sustainable cultivation of appropriate plants and determining dosage levels. One cannot deny the role farmers who employ traditional remedies are playing in highlighting potential treatments to research. Some observed practices are as follows:

Unripe fruits of the ‘Green Monkey Orange’ (strychnos spinosa) also referred to as ‘Mutamba’ in one of our county’s local languages is used to control ticks. 

Part of the ‘Snake Bean’ plant (bobgunnia madagascariensis) is also used for tick control and to treat wounds on livestock. 

Aloe Vera is known to be used to treat a range of conditions e.g. coccidiosis, respiratory problems, wounds etc.

AGN: Zoonosis has been brought sharply into focus like never before in recent times.  Measures that safeguard the welfare of labour are not always prioritised. Are there any basic bio-security measures that are not resource intensive and can easily be applied but are overlooked due to ignorance rather than as a result of other factors? 

TM:  In 2006 I was working as a ‘District Livestock Specialist’ in a district in the Midlands province. There was an outbreak of anthrax that sadly proved fatal for a local business owner. It transpires he had been sold meat from an infected carcass.  The person who initially processed the carcass also fell ill. Extension workers had raised the alarm that anthrax was an issue in the area at the time but sadly this did not lead to the best outcome for all.

Sometimes a combination of factors conspire (not least the financial imperative) that result in highly undesirable outcomes even when those at the sharp end may have some awareness of the risks involved. I’m not of course suggesting that was the case in the example I narrated above.

A comparatively straightforward approach is to erect/create barriers, also empowering farm hands/farm workers in order to raise awareness about the dangers of unsafe working practices would be useful, as would compelling farm owners to provide adequate clothing/protections and ensure adequate safeguards are in place. 

AGN: It is not uncommon to hear of gaps and poor linkages between extension workers and the clients they serve. Is there a recurring issue you have come across and how might it be remedied?

TM: During my time as a district livestock specialist in 2006 I faced problems accessing everyone in the area I was assigned to. I would receive calls daily from farmers with needs; however, due to insufficient resources it wasn’t always possible for me to visit them. Resource constraints are no doubt a current factor that affects the sector across the continent to a greater or lesser degree. Zimbabwe is no exception in that regard. Any issue I could highlight is tied to this recurrent factor.

A team member was employed to produce content for a website/ app that farmers could utilize. This was intended to offset some of the challenges with regards to specialists visiting farmers and enable streamlining/prioritising of cases. However, unreliable availability of power that end users experienced proved to be the project’s undoing. A lack of adequate infrastructure continues to be a recurrent theme.

In light of the above constraints more creative thinking is required to get things done, e.g. engaging the private sector more, encouraging more farmers to collaborate and form associations.  Such groups could identify the most suitable individual/few individuals amongst them that they could pool resources to pay for travel costs in order to send them periodically for training, these people could in turn return to disseminate what they have learned to the group as a whole. Adequate feedback loops would need to be in place in order to address any issues and for reinforcement purposes. 

Not all processes can be handled this way but there may be scope for it in some cases. 

Such groups could also pool resources in order to purchase a basic solar powered set-up that would enable them charge their devices and access training and information that are pertinent.

AGN: According to the GSMA (a body that represents the interests of mobile phone operators, world-wide) and their ‘GSMA AgriTech’ initiative; the ‘Agricultural insurance for smallholder farmers’ report they published earlier this year indicates that only 3% of smallholder farmers have any form of insurance coverage in Africa.  Given the devastating effect disease and/or adverse climate conditions can have on livestock, what do you feel needs to be done in order to increase insurance coverage or do you feel there are other home-grown alternatives that can be deployed to compensate farmers when typical perils befall them?

TM: Insurance is a worthwhile safeguard for farmers to consider. Despite recent periods within which there have been outbreaks of disease and/or natural disasters, it is not apparent that farmers are actively looking to utilise it to a greater extent.  Perhaps as the insurance sector develops here things will change.