Climate change is hard on farmers
For Mrs. Sinqobizitha Hleza (43), a herder from Sibangane village in Ward 4 of the dry and arid Umzingwane district in southern Zimbabwe, cattle are a “four-legged bank”.
In this part of the region, cattle are the main source of income for her and for many other small herders.
But with temperature changes and declining and erratic rainfall, tending to livestock has become a major headache for Ms. Hleza and most other farmers.
“Over the past season, the amounts of rain have been erratic. What is happening to us now is exceptional. Drought is now a permanent thing here and every year we get less and less rain,” she said.
“Water is scarce and as herders we face pasture shortages. All of this affects us deeply because we rely on cattle as our four-legged bank.
Umzingwane district has experienced low rainfall over the past decades, often experiencing consecutive droughts.
In this part of the world, wetter seasons are now very rare compared to drier periods.
The frequency of droughts is increasing and farmers are now feeling the negative impact of climate change.
Among the problems Ms. Hleza and many other herders are currently facing are water scarcity, lack of pasture, disease outbreaks and low prices for their less healthy livestock.
In Umzingwane, as in other drier parts of Matabeleland, around 70% of the land is used for cattle.
The ripple effects of climate change resulted in the death of 468 cattle in 2019, 219 in 2020 and 39 in 2021 for this district, according to statistics from the Directorate of Veterinary Services.
But the fate of this devastating loss of “four-legged banks” rallied Ms. Hleza and other women in her village to start a bushmeal business with 11 members (eight women and three men) to help end the drought-related livestock deaths.
In response to the devastating impact of climate change, Ms. Hleza and other herders are coming up with innovations to protect their source of income. “We now manufacture our animal feed using locally available resources. We have ground meal to make our bushmeal which we use to feed our livestock,” she said.
“The condition of the livestock has improved during the lean periods and we have reduced costs. In the past, we used to walk about 100 km to Bulawayo to get extra food.
“Now things are better. Over the past three years, we have purchased hammer mill equipment for bush feed processing and grain grinding to produce affordable animal feed with locally available ingredients from forest, fodder and feed. harvest stalks.
Ms Hleza said they formed the Vusanani Group, which started as a savings and loan club in 2016.
The group has received considerable support from the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund’s long-term development initiative called the MELANA (Matabeleland Enhanced Livelihoods, Agriculture and Nutrition Adaptation) project.
Under this initiative, farmers received 70% financial support for the purchase of bushmeal hammer mills and sorghum threshers.
They also received training in agriculture and animal husbandry. After gaining knowledge, Ms. Hleza and her group members are now producing low-cost food using locally available resources such as tree branches and seed pods that are high in protein and cheaper than conventional food.
Livestock feed is made up of protein-rich crop residues, monkey bread and acacia seeds which are then mixed with chicken dung, sorghum, maize and coarse salt to help farmers save their livestock from the drought.
“Before we started preparing our bush meal, we were losing our livestock due to water shortage and lack of pasture,” Ms Hleza said.
“I lost three cattle and another farmer here lost about 10 in the 2017 drought year. At that time we didn’t know how to do a bush meal. But the unity of purpose and our willingness to learn made things better for us.
Agricultural technologies now help them mitigate the effects of climate change and protect environmental resources and livestock.
Access to water helps them overcome hunger and poverty by adopting technologies that improve the production of traditional cereals and bushmeal for their livestock.
“Initially, they had no idea how to respond to climate change, but with the support of government and other development partners, most of the women in our district have now been empowered,” Ms Siphathisiwe said. Mlotshwa, Acting District Development Coordinator for Umzingwane Rural District. Advice.
“Women now have the knowledge, skills and equipment to face the challenges posed by climate change.
They have more goats and cattle. We encourage them to raise goats because goats are drought resistant. Women can also use goats to build resilience to drought.
She said the production of fodder by women in the district has also helped to reduce cases of gender-based violence.
“There is a reduction in cases of gender-based violence here because women are empowered and have become independent and no longer dependent on men for everything,” Ms Mlotshwa said.
“There is less physical violence now. The women are now moving forward to empower the girls through their livestock and fodder production projects. Ms. Hleza and members of the Vusani Group now run a successful business.
“If women are empowered, they can cope with climate change and survive on their own.”
Ms. Hleza said all members of the group actively produce and promote the production of fodder crops and small grains to support their business.
The group managed to produce over 58.7 tons of food between 2019 and August 2022 earning the group thousands of dollars.
“Our fodder production business has grown significantly,” said Ms. Hleza. “We sell animal feed to local farmers in other neighborhoods. We now have customers from the Diaspora who buy our bushmeal to help improve the condition of their livestock here. »
At the 2022 Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, she said, the group secured an order for 10 tonnes of animal feed.
“In September, we produced about 2.5 tonnes of animal feed,” Ms Hleza said.
“Life has changed for the better for us. I now have 10 cattle compared to the only three I had in 2019. Some of our members now have 20 cattle, around 30 cattle depending on their capacity and resources.
Their business has helped women unlock their potential and build resilience. They invested their profits in various ways, including acquiring a second grinder, a scotch cart, a digital scale and badges for promotional marketing.
Other members of the group built houses and shops and paid school fees for their children while some bought livestock and other household needs.
Currently, the group has more than 27 goats which are supplemented with bushmeal. In addition to the group’s livestock assets, each farmer has also increased their livestock, improving the number of chickens, goats, donkeys and cattle.
Impressed with the group’s performance and model, councilor Jethro Moyo secured land for the group in a local business center to help the women set up a fodder production plant, outside the village. an individual farm from which they currently operate.
Mr Rodney Mushongachiware, a market linkages specialist for a local development organization, said fodder production is key to improving the food, nutrition and income security of smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.
“Climate change is having devastating effects,” he said. “When women are empowered through such projects, they become more resilient. They can adapt to the changing environment. Helping them secure markets is more important for the survival of their business.
He said the Vusanani Group has now expanded its business to include the production of sorghum samples.
“Diversification is very important. The group has now produced around nine tonnes of sorghum samples. As a country, we must promote the use of small grains. Currently, there is no sample sorghum on the market. This is a first for the country and the group’s income will further improve thanks to this initiative.
Ms. Hleza said her group has so far earned nearly US$1,700 from its sorghum sample processing and value addition business.
Mr. Ntando Mhlanga, a District Development Officer for Women’s Affairs, Community Development and Small and Medium Enterprises, said they are now helping other women in the district to replicate the successful Vusanani Group model.
“Livestock is very important to women in this district,” he said. “We are now using the Vusanani model to help other women in the district produce their own food. Reproduction is in progress and we are satisfied with the adoption.
In South Africa and parts of Botswana, pastoralists are using crossbreeding to improve the resilience of their livestock against the impacts of climate change. Farmers do this with the help of government, development agencies and breeding experts to promote the interbreeding of native and exotic breeds. In these two southern African countries, some farmers also collect rainwater from their roofs to store it underground.
The water is then used for livestock during the lean season. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says disruptions to the livestock sector in Africa due to climate change would have profound effects on the lives and livelihoods of small-scale farmers and pastoralists. – the backbone of the continent’s food production.
It says climate change is also impacting feed and fodder production and pasture and water availability while increasing climate-sensitive diseases and disease vectors.
The implications of impending disruptions to livestock value chains and livelihoods are dire for the continent.
Africa has about 800 million pastoralists. The livestock sector contributes between 30 and 50 percent of the agricultural gross domestic product and supports the food security and livelihoods of about a third of Africa’s population.
And, without adequate coping strategies, pastoralists face a bleak future.
This story was funded by the Women in News SIRI Real Grant project.