“Just the thought of a drought and its effects made me shudder as the one we experienced during the 2014-2015 season left a trail of destruction among farmers. How were we expected to cope with another drought, made worse by the El Niño, as we were still reeling from the effects of the previous one”, said What Mhlaba, a smallholder farmer from Zimbabwe’s Chipinge District.
Mhlaba’s fears were realised as Southern Africa was hit by one of the worst El Niño events ever recorded. The drought has decimated crop yields, reduced pastures and left countries in the region facing a severe crisis.
However, for Mhlaba – and 8 000 other smallholder farmers – a USD 2 million project, funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and implemented by FAO, is softening the effects of the drought. The project is part of the broad food insecurity response plan that was developed by the Government, United Nations and other key humanitarian and development partners in Zimbabwe.
“We were still to get feed for the animals to push us through to the next season and when we received reports that the current season was to be even worse, we were utterly devastated and feared that the few emaciated livestock would end like this”, he said as he showed the remains of the only one of his six animals that succumbed to the drought.
“Hope was restored when this drought mitigation was introduced, allowing us to buy animal feed at subsidized prices. The nutritious feed did wonders for the animals. We were told that the feed had all components required by our animals”, adds Mhlaba.
“Through this project, FAO and the Government are enabling livestock farmers to access stock feed and supporting crop farmers with drought-tolerant small grain and legume seeds at affordable prices in drought-affected areas”, said David Phiri, FAO Representative to Zimbabwe.
“With the assistance of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, FAO is also responding to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak affecting some parts of the country. These projects will safeguard the livelihoods of the communities that primarily depend on cattle in times of drought”, he added.
The project started in November 2015 and covers the hard-hit southern districts of Mangwe, Matobo, Beitbridge, Gwanda, Chivi, Chipinge and Chiredzi.
Mr Mhlaba noted that the situation was so dire that farmers had to sell some of their animals for as little as USD 20, which is 15 times less than the average price. The smallholder farmer, who has five cattle remaining, said the animals responded quickly to the survival feed, and this gave him hope.
“I was watching helplessly as my cattle could not stand on their own, waiting for death, but surprisingly, they recovered a few days after giving them the survival feed. It was a relief as many in this area had lost their cattle”, added Mhlaba.
To ensure that farmers get the most from their animals in the market, farmers were trained in pen feeding of cattle and animal grading as a drought mitigation strategy. Pen fattening ensures that farmers get higher prices for livestock as they destock to maintain smaller, more manageable herds.
By March 2016, the project had distributed 3 400 tonnes of animal feed and 128 tonnes of seeds at subsidized prices to 8 000 drought-affected smallholder farmers.
Through Livestock Development Associations, the project is addressing issues beyond the project life. From the proceeds received from the sale of the subsidized animal feed and seeds, the project has established a drought mitigation revolving fund in each district, which is supervised by FAO and the Government’s Livestock Production Department.
Some of the proceeds have been used to procure additional stock feed as well as rehabilitate water points for both human and livestock consumption.
One of the key principles guiding the use of these revolving funds is that the farmers themselves are in the driver’s seat to determine what is most needed and where funds should be directed. It is estimated that the total value of the district-level revolving funds stands at some USD 500 000.