Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
FARMERS in Matabeleland are crying foul over the suspension of cattle sales at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) show grounds in Bulawayo.
The cattle sales, which attracted farmers from across the region, were suspended by the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development in April 2015 after foot-and-mouth disease was detected in three beasts that were being sold at the ZITF show grounds.
Before the suspension of cattle sales in Bulawayo, between 450 and 500 cattle were being sold per week.
In separate interviews yesterday, livestock farmers in Matabeleland expressed displeasure over the continued closure of cattle sales saying this seriously affected thousands of commercial and communal farmers who survived on cattle ranching.
The Zimbabwe National Farmers Union provincial chairman for Matabeleland South, Mr Mcebisi Ndlovu, said they were concerned by the continued closure of cattle sales in Bulawayo.
“In 2015, there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth and all sales were suspended. Normally what happens is when sales are suspended, after an investigation by the veterinary services department, they then allow limited movement of cattle to direct slaughter and this normally happens after three months,” he said.
“After 18 months from the last known outbreak, if there is nothing (foot-and-mouth detection), the veterinary department would then lift that quarantine allowing sales to resume normally.”
Mr Ndlovu said since the closure of the ZITF show grounds sales, ZNFU had engaged the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development responsible for livestock, Cde Paddy Zhanda, to have cattle sales resume but to no avail.
“As per veterinary explanation, if we have got centralised sales like the show grounds, if an outbreak of foot-and-mouth happens, infected cattle from that centralised sale will now disperse to various districts carrying that disease.
“We then suggested that the cattle that go back to the farms are the breeding stock, so let’s suspend the sale of breeding stock and have the slaughter stock.
With slaughter stock, the cattle would come and the next morning they are sold; and that also was not acceptable to the Deputy Minister,” he said.
One of the livestock farmers from Matabeleland region Mr Clement Malaba said the closure of the cattle sales at the ZITF show grounds has pushed them out of business as prices of livestock in rural areas were no longer competitive.
“Since the closure of the ZITF show grounds, cattle sales in Matabeleland region are no longer competitive and this is a sad story as livestock farmers are now worse off than they were before the closure of the cattle sales since very few buyers are buying at favourable prices.
“For instance, a live beast is being sold at an average price of $1,60 a kilogramme unlike when the cattle sales were conducted at the show grounds. Back then the prices were fairly reasonable,” he said.
Mr Malaba said it was surprising that abattoirs in Bulawayo were being allowed to operate along the same lines ZNFU was suggesting. “So if this risk is this big, why not shut down the abattoirs also. And the problem that we are now facing as farmers is that our cattle are now being sold for a song.
“The idea of decentralising cattle sales was noble because it meant that the abattoirs would now go out to the rural areas to buy cattle directly from communal farmers without the rural folk incurring transport costs. But that is a simplistic explanation because abattoirs are currently receiving cattle directly at their doorsteps without incurring any costs.”
Mr Ndlovu said cattle buyers who go to the rural areas were limited and consequently the beast prices in communal areas were relatively lower.
Another livestock farmer, Retired Brigadier Levi Mayihlome, said the closure of cattle sales in Bulawayo was tantamount to economic sabotage to farmers in the Matabeleland region.
He questioned why cattle sales were still suspended in Bulawayo while other provinces such as Masvingo where foot-and-mouth was detected the same time as in Matabeleland had livestock sales’ suspension lifted.
“As farmers in Matabeleland we are bitter as to why cattle sales in Bulawayo are still suspended two years after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That is tantamount to economic sabotage to farmers in Matabeleland,” he said.
Ret Brig Mayihlome said Deputy Minister Zhanda has vowed that centralised cattle sales in Bulawayo would never be opened.
In a separate interview, Deputy Minister Zhanda said:
“Those farmers (agitating for the opening of the cattle sales in Bulawayo) are being used as fronts by some elements.
“What the farmers are suggesting is not from their thinking and reasoning and it’s a personal attack on me as evidenced by an article that was published by The Herald.
“Why would people attack me like that saying the closure of cattle sales in Bulawayo means politics is at play. Where does politics come in there?”
Deputy Minister Zhanda said this paper should find out what the communal farmers in rural Matabeleland were saying about the closure of the cattle sales in Bulawayo.