ZIMBABWE wants to resume large-scale beef exports to international markets, and has come up with various measures to keep its offerings to the globe highly competitive. The latest innovation involves decentralising cattle auctioning to contain foot and mouth disease.
Zimbabwe has between 5,3 million and 5,4 million cattle.
This data is collected regularly from our 4 000 dip tanks around the country.
We should not be fixated with increasing the number as the more the cattle we have, the more grazing ground will be required.
Assuming, for instance, an average communal farmer has five cows and four of them calve every year, that person is not poor as he or she is able to sell two or three cows every year.
We want to conscientise our farmers particularly on how best to take livestock as a commercial venture. And when we speak about commercialising cattle, we are also putting in place measures to protect our farmers from being ripped off by buyers.
It is a fact that the Matabeleland region produces the best cattle and its climate is suitable for cattle rearing. However, there have been complaints, more specifically through media reports (last week) that Government and particularly Deputy Minister Zhanda decentralised the cattle auction system to disenfranchise both farmers and cattle buyers.
The point of contention is why Government stopped centralised auctions at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair grounds.
The primary purpose of animal handling facilities at the ZITF grounds, like all other agricultural exhibition facilities in other provincial centres and districts, is to exhibit different types of livestock and not to serve as sale pens.
The equivalent of the ZITF grounds are the Harare Agricultural Show grounds.
Several applications to use the grounds in Harare as a quarantine facility in between shows have been turned down as the proposal is high risk.
Public cattle auctioning is considered a high risk activity for foot and mouth disease as animals from different parts of the country — with different disease status — congregate in one place each time a sale is conducted.
No other agriculture exhibition facility in Zimbabwe has been allowed to operate public auction sales as has been happening at the ZITF grounds.
Public auction sales there and at many other sale pens in foot and mouth disease-affected areas were suspended indefinitely and not for three months as suggested by some.
The re-opening of each of these facilities was considered on a case-by-case basis, considering the prevailing foot and mouth disease situation and risk factors.
Following the widespread foot and mouth disease outbreak, which started in 2014 and affected 26 of the country’s 62 rural districts, the Department of Veterinary Services embarked on an exercise to revise its control strategy with a view to coming up with a sustainable solution to prevent outbreaks of a serious magnitude in future.
The Department has already started implementing these measures, and significant progress has been made in controlling this massive foot and mouth disease outbreak estimated to have cost Government in excess of $12 million.
The outbreak has, however, not been completely resolved as areas such as Gokwe, Nkayi and Zvishavane are still grappling with it.
Measures against foot and mouth
Given the high cost of foot and mouth disease vaccines and the limited resources available for their purchase, the revised control strategy is focusing more on management practices that minimise risk and the disease’s spread.
Some of the measures in place include revising operational procedures and guidelines for all foot and mouth disease high risk operations along with the meat value chain to minimise risk.
We have stopped the alternative use of exhibition facilities, abattoirs and feedlots as selling points for livestock.
Public auction sales have been decentralised to areas closer to the production frames or communal areas to avoid aggregation of large groups of animals before and after sales.
We have been improving livestock identification and enforcement of quarantine orders to ensure outbreaks are as short as possible.
Then there is regulating and monitoring of livestock traders (speculators) who work as individuals or as agents of abattoirs/auctioneers. Their activities were identified as the biggest single cause for long distance foot and mouth disease spread.
Plot to misinform the nation
While it has not been my habit of replying to media reports attacking the ministry’s livestock department and myself, in particular, I felt I could not let livestock and small-scale farmers from Matabeleland be hoodwinked by unscrupulous cattle auctioneers through their mouthpiece, one Nick Mangwana.
True to his statements, I am honestly in the position of deputy minister because I am a politician. For one to be deputy minister, you must have been elected to participate under a party ticket and, of course, in my case, Zanu-PF.
It is most unfortunate that Mangwana decided to politicise an issue on behalf of a particular auctioneer. My coming from Mashonaland East has nothing to do with the control of foot and mouth disease and decentralising the auctioning of livestock.
Besides, farmers are set to benefit and that is what we have been pushing as Government.
It would be naïve to believe that a farmer from Lupane, for instance, will get a better deal by bringing his or her cattle to the ZITF grounds than auctions taking place in Lupane.
Previously, farmers would hire trucks from their areas to get to the ZITF grounds where they would be confronted by cartels that offer low prices.
The desperate farmer would then give in. But we are saying, let buyers go to where the farmers are and buy cattle there.
Since we decentralised auctioning, people are very happy and auctions have increased; both farmers and buyers in Matabeleland are praising the system. It boggles the mind who Nick Mangwana is representing.