7 years of harvest for Mat South fodder farmers

FARMERS operating at an irrigation scheme in Insiza District have ventured into a lucrative deal of producing the lucerne fodder which they are selling throughout the country, a development which will help boost livestock production. Artherstone Irrigation Scheme is one of the large-scale producers of fodder in Matabeleland South Province. Fodder production has been identified as one of the major ways to boost the national herd as it will help ensure that farmers have access to highly nutritive stock feed at affordable costs.

Lucerne is a resilient perennial legume that is grown for grazing and hay forage in many countries around the world. It is high in protein which makes it ideal stock feed. It is planted once in seven years and during the course of the time farmers will be harvesting it every four weeks. President Mnangagwa launched the Presidential Livestock Scheme as part of efforts to grow the livestock sub sector. Under the scheme, farmers are receiving legume seeds, fertilisers and forage sorghum among other inputs.

The scheme falls under Livestock Growth Plan, which is part of the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy that is expected to turn agriculture into an US$8,2 billion industry by 2025 and contributes towards the achievement of Vision 2030. According to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, livestock is an important source of income for two thirds of rural households and contributes significantly to inclusive growth of the agriculture sector and the economy as well as food and nutrition security. Plans are underway to earn significant foreign currency for the country through livestock.

According to the plan, beef production is expected to grow from 50 000 tonnes to 90 000 tonnes per year. The transformation of the livestock sector through the Livestock Growth Plan is premised on improved animal nutrition and development of pastures. Distribution of inputs under the Presidential Livestock Scheme is set to boost creation of forage banks for improved animal nutrition. Priority is being given to the hardest hit southern drier areas with the highest drought- related cattle deaths.

In order to augment Government’s efforts, irrigation holders have been urged to put a portion of their land under fodder production. A farmer at Artherstone Irrigation scheme, Mr Zenzo Jele said they have a total of 25 hectares under lucerne. They also have potatoes and maize at the scheme. He said they planted the lucerne at end of 2020 and they harvest it after every four weeks. Artherstone Irrigation scheme had been lying idle for about a decade as the farmers were struggling to irrigate all the land due to resource constraints. In 2020 they partnered a South African based investor CapeZim which assisted with resources to ensure that the land is fully utilised.

“We are focusing mainly on production of lucerne at the irrigation although we also have other crops as well. We have recorded good sales from lucerne as we have commercial farmers coming with haulage trucks from as far as Harare to buy it in bulk. We also sell to local farmers. “Last year we recorded most of the business as from July up until towards the end of the year,” he said. “Lucerne is an ideal plant as it doesn’t require much treatment and it uses little water. It’s planted once in seven years and during the course of the time we will just be harvesting it so there is no hassle of having to buy seeds frequently.”

Mr Jele said they were in the process of storing most of the lucerne in preparation for the time when it’s in high demand. He said a few clients were coming in to buy it at the moment as farmers have grazing for their animals. Mr Jele said it is their desire to put more land under lucerne. “This is our second year producing lucerne and from the overwhelming response we have been getting from clients it’s our desire to increase the hectarage,” Mr Jele said. Another farmer operating at the irrigation scheme, Mr Malachi Nkomo said their fodder production project was in line with Government efforts to develop the livestock sector.

He said Government launched several schemes in Matabeleland South Province where it had handed over livestock to farmers and such fodder production projects will help ensure that farmers have food for their animals. Mr Nkomo said they do not want to focus on producing fodder only, but they also want to expand to other crops as well. He said they also have maize, potatoes and onions. Mr Nkomo said their target was to develop Artherstone Irrigation until it becomes a bread basket of the province and a renowned supplier of food across the nation.

“Lucerne production is one of the best projects I have come across. Matabeleland South is a cattle area and this project will help to maintain the herd. People shouldn’t sit and watch as their animals deteriorate but they can come to our irrigation to buy fodder at an affordable cost. I for one know that no animal of mine will die of hunger hence forth,” he said. In an interview, Matabeleland South acting provincial agricultural officer Mr Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu said fodder production was critical in preserving the provincial herd. He said Artherstone Irrigation Scheme was one of the large scale producers of fodder in the province.

“Our thrust is to push fodder production in big irrigations across the province. Our target is to have at least 20 percent of arable land in all irrigations under fodder production so that farmers can support their animals during the dry season instead of relying on crop residue which is low in nutrients. If every farmer can have fodder plots, then we won’t experience poverty deaths in the province. We will also experience high value in the market,” he said.

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