By Makeli Phiri
To most of us when we hear of cultivation we refer or connect the word to tillage. The growing of crops, the use of some implements or machinery to break the soil in preparation of planting of a desired crop.
Livestock cultivation is the rearing of animals that include cattle, poultry, goats, pigs and other livestock. In crop cultivation there are diverse activities that take place, in our livestock cultivation we shall focus on cultivation of cattle due to its commercial and economic importance to the people of Zambia.
In Zambia we have many breeds of cattle that can be found. However, depending on the region one goes to he or she would be greeted by the dominant breed in that part of the country. If one ventured into the Eastern Province, the prominent breed to be found is the Angoni cattle and going beyond is the Malawi zebu. In the Southern Province, it is the Tonga breed and in the Western Province is the Barotse breed of cattle. There are also other breeds especially amongst the farms situated along the line of rail from Livingstone to Chililabombwe and also around the Mkushi farming communities. These breeds are the Boran, Africader Sussex, Herefords these are found amongst the commercial beef farmers.
The Zambian situation, in the rural areas of this country the local beef cattle are mostly reared and from the same although not bred to produce milk, they are actually milked to provide these families with this commodity.
How do the rural cattle farmer cultivate his livestock? It is these farmers who should be boosted in their everyday care of the animals. The President has talked highly about paying attention to the agricultural sector therefore the time is now.
World civilization evolved and developed around the agricultural activities, the growing of crops the rearing of animals etc. Egypt was the center of food production as can be seen from the Bible. It saved the surrounding nations from starvation. Zambia can be in the fore front when it comes to food production in the region and we have done this before we are favoured and therefore we should not relax.
In our rural cattle farmers, the majority of the classes kept by these farmers are cows and heifers and their production is not so good because in most cases certain practices are missing e.g. you can find in a group of livestock farmers, amongst them only one farmer would own a bull which is not restricted and this is common. This bull will serve and roam all over to serve cows and heifers in heat. Therefore, the bull may overwork itself or render itself useless as its performance would dwindle. In such a situation farmers would be crying for bulls because of shortage of breeding bulls for the cows in the area.
It is in the rural area that we have more people who own local cattle than any other type of livestock. Some large livestock breeders amongst the rural communities are found in the Southern Province compared to the other parts of the country although of late a lot of cattle have died due to the outbreak of diseases. These farmers keep livestock for a variety of reasons. They are used as a source of income through selling and this has the potential of generating revenue for the government. From the cattle they get milk, good to combat malnutrition in the local people. Milk can also be supplied to the urban dwellers for an extra income and indirectly protein provision to consumers in towns. Again from the cattle work oxen are picked as provision of draught power and hence becomes the purpose of keeping cattle. With the use of oxen the farmer would be able to till and plow large tracks of land producing a lot more food for the nation. Equally cattle plays a major role in the rural ceremonies and funerals. These are some of the reasons that can be advanced in engaging in livestock cultivation. Meat consumption is not left out although it is not a major activity for the rural farmer.
The commercial viability of livestock is more prominent among rural farmers close to the line of rail and urban settlements where the demand for animal protein is high.
Livestock cultivation in the rural areas of Zambia is predominantly a family business enterprise. However, from cattle breeders in these rural communities engage hired labor to look after their cattle for payment at a later stage. The majority rely either on the family or themselves. Among these they are very few if any that can be considered as trained manpower to look after and guide the farmers in animal breeding. Should a livestock caretaker be engaged he could be someone who is trained in animal husbandry. Today most training centers or institutes are not fully operational as it was in the seventies and eighties in Zambia. Therefore, there is need to revamp training in this sector of livestock cultivation. Bring all the cattle farmers in these institutions to be trained or be retrained in order to contribute effectively to the economy of this country.
Livestock facilities for livestock cultivation in most cases are limited but the government is doing its best to have such facilities provided to these rural cattle farmers. And since this rural cattle enterprise, the rural cattle farmer needs facilities such as dipping facilities, livestock handling facilities and others that are important in carrying out husbandry practices such as castration, deworming branding if desired etc.
Livestock cultivation just cultivating crops is practiced throughout the year. For this reason it is therefore, important that they pay particular attention to the grazing needs of the animals. These farmers are dependent on natural grazing and it is very rare to hear that they are buying supplementary feed to give to the animals, worse still all these animals which are in the majority are on communal grazing land, improved and specially paddocks are in the majority of cases not available . Due to this heavy reliance on communal land, grazing of livestock in the rural cattle farming system is predominantly on natural veld. It can be mentioned here that few if any practice supplementary feeding of the livestock. Most of our rural cattle farmers aim to have as many cattle as possible forgetting to address the issue of feed for their livestock this is now where training of these farmers comes in.
Water in some areas of the country is a challenge, the lucky ones are those near streams and perennial rivers or dams. The distance to water sources is vital to the rearing of cattle therefore proximity to this commodity is very important. Therefore as our rural cattle rearing farmers, if they are to do well and contribute to the growing livestock industry the government must provide such facilities as water points e.g. Wells where water can be drawn to supply the water to these animals. If they are to be productive livestock should not be subjected to long distances in search of water as this can impact negatively on production.
Disease control is also very important. If our farmers are to contribute positively, the government should do everything possible to control diseases especially tick – borne diseases. Disease free animals are an asset because they would fetch more kwacha on the market for the farmer. Therefore, it is important that farmers in the rural areas are taught and trained to look after their valued livestock. It is them who in the end will benefit and so is the country at large.