Enabling smallholder farmers to improve food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe

Australia Awards Alumna, Fortune Kachidza, is using her Award-gained skills and experience to enable smallholder cattle farmers in Zimbabwe’s Buhera District to improve their livelihoods and contribute to sustainable food security.

For nearly 15 years, Zimbabwe has been facing increasing levels of food insecurity. Various factors have led to the country’s inadequate food production, including economic mismanagement, political instability, high unemployment and HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, together with the restructuring of the agricultural sector. Natural disasters, like recurrent droughts, have also played a major role in threatening the country’s crops. The 2015/16 El Nino-induced drought that affected Southern Africa has exacerbated the problem to such a degree that the proportion of hungry Zimbabwean households has doubled from 16% in May 2015 to 37% in January 2016, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

A further indication of the severity of the food shortages is the Zimbabwean government’s economic blueprint, Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socioeconomic Transformation (2013–2018), also known as Zim Asset. It identifies food and nutrition security, and the value addition and beneficiation of agricultural production, among others, as economic clusters to be prioritised and exploited.

Against this backdrop, Fortune Kachidza, a livestock production specialist at the international non-profit organisation GOAL, has been working on a project that complements the government’s efforts, as outlined in Zim Asset, to alleviate what she calls the “continuous food crisis”. The project, which was initiated in August 2014, has brought together various stakeholders in the Buhera community, private industry, and national and local government. The project has two primary aims: to genetically improve the Buhera District’s animal herd, and to link smallholder farmers to a formal cattle system.

Fortune, whose Australia Award allowed her to study Livestock Production Systems at the University of New England (UNE), has contributed to achieving the first aim by helping to secure 39 bulls from the Makera Cattle Company, a commercial cattle breeding venture. “The knowledge [I gained] on breeding and genetics enabled me to advise my organisation and the community on good choices of cattle breeds to use in the project,” she says.

These improved indigenous cattle breeds were acquired for farmers to interbreed and so aid in the genetic enhancement of the local Mashona breeds. Fortune explains that the Mashona breeds have been deteriorating in performance due to periods of erratic drought and improper management by farmers, among other reasons. She further reports that approximately 150 calves have been born so far, with the contribution of the 39 bulls.

A crossbreed Mashona and Tuli cattle calf suckling milk from its mother.

The knowledge Fortune acquired in Australia on how to establish effective livestock value chains, which includes forming commodity association groups, has also enabled the project to succeed in its second aim: linking smallholder farmers with a formal cattle market system. Fortune explains that in Zimbabwe, farmer-market links are difficult to establish as smallholder farmers are geographically scattered and disjointed.

A six-day training workshop in Africa (a component of her UNE course) helped to overcome this obstacle. She states: “The Kenya visit was an insight to me, as I saw how the proper organisation of farmers can improve their incomes and better their lives. When I returned to Zimbabwe, we quickly organised smallholder farmers into commodity groups.”

Yet another positive result was Fortune’s ability to assist the farmers in the construction of a cattle feedlot, which is used in intensive animal farming to increase the value of livestock within a shorter timeframe. The community owns the feedlot and is also responsible for its day-to-day welfare.

Fortune’s efforts to connect organised farmers with the beef markets (in this case the privately owned beef abattoir Surrey Meats) also added value to the farmers’ products. The advantages of being part of a commodity group does not only lie in the sharing of knowledge and information, it also allows for combined marketing to boost efficiency and reduce transactions costs, thereby increasing profitability. Fortune’s implementation of a livestock value chain therefore seems set to bring about concrete improvements in the livelihoods of Buhera’s smallholder farmers.

Fortune explains that GOAL Zimbabwe did not discriminate against vulnerable groups in the selection and screening of project beneficiaries. Each farmer in Buhera was ensured an equal chance of being selected and benefiting from the project. The group targeted for participation consisted of 450 households. An indirect result of the project was the empowerment of women in what can generally be considered a male-dominated economic sector, as 150 of the target households were led by women.

The project is ongoing and the coming years should provide even more measurable results in terms of improved livelihoods and the alleviation of hunger. Nevertheless, Fortune is working hard to fulfil the vision of the Awards Programme for its Alumnae to be agents of sustainable change by enabling the farmers of Buhera to add value to their agricultural products and optimise market-related activities.

In this way, Fortune, together with her organisation, is opening the way for smallholder farming in Zimbabwe to change from extensive, subsistence-based farming to an intensive, market-oriented business, contributing to long-term food and nutrition security in the country.

Key results

• Improved livestock handling facilities were constructed, comprising a three-cross section kraal design, fodder bank, ammoniation pit, drug stand, feeding rack, water trough and inspection race.

• Thirty-nine bulls (mixed indigenous and exotic breeds) were acquired for the Buhera farmers to improve local breeds.

• Approximately 150 calves were born from the 39 bulls.

• The Buhera community was mobilised to construct a community cattle feedlot.

• The cattle farmers were organised into commodity groups and were linked to a formal cattle market system.

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