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Zimbabwe's beef industry

Zimbabwe's beef industry

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In the 1990s, the number of beef cattle in Zimbabwe exceeded 1.4 million, and it was exported annually to the lucrative European market, especially the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, with exports of US$50 million. Among most beef-producing provinces of Zimbabwe, beef sales account for about 80% of revenue.

Zimbabwe's famed beef industry, which collapsed in the 2000s following outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, is now rebounding.

The Southern African country's global beef exports resumed in 2017, 10 years after they slowed to a crawl when the country's economy tumbled. In addition to the foot-and-mouth disease, the beef industry had been hit by crippling economic sanctions imposed on the country by Western nations, which contributed to hyperinflation, huge foreign debts and obsolete transport fleets. Mismanagement of livestock farms worsened the situation.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who assumed office in November 2017, is now seeking to revive the nation's most strategic asset by actively wooing investors. The country’s top commercial farmers, whose herds of livestock were decimated, are slowly returning.

A joint $48 million cash injection by private investors from Rwanda, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates is revving up the beef industry, which in 2018 also benefitted from a $130 million investment partnership deal between Zimbabwe's state-owned beef processing firm, the CSC, formerly the Cold Storage Commission, which is Zimbabwe's foremost beef processing agency, and the UK-based company Boustead Beef, an international beef processing company. The country's pension fund, the National Social Security Authority, has also pledged to invest $18 million in the CSC.

Innovative breeding technologies, including artificial insemination, have been successfully used on a new breed of beef bulls and heifers, scooping big earnings in the global beef market.

Although new to Zimbabwean farmers, livestock genetics is bolstering the growth of the beef industry. On genetics, through the use of bulls and artificial insemination [AI], we have succeeded in helping rural farmers improve the quality of their herds. AI works by inserting semen straws drawn from rich-quality bulls. This produces offspring that resist pests and diseases better, solves low calving problems and produces species that have healthy grazing attitudes.

The Zimbabwe Agricultural Society, which promotes agricultural development in the country, in 2018 announced plans to use 6,000 high-quality semen straws to inseminate cows and increase the number of herds in the country.

But despite the growth in the beef industry, experts say that the quality of herds is still a worry. The majority of Zimbabwe's cattle herds are in rural communities, not in large-scale commercial farms as in the past, and that inbreeding is compromising quality.

Another problem is that corrupt beef dealers buy up bulls from rural farmers at ridiculously low prices and make huge profits selling to the CSC. The practice shortchanges the rural farmers.

Worse still, the beef industry is grappling with drying weather occasioned by climate change.

To address the problem, experts recommends innovative measures such as "feeding cattle with crop residues that would have been cut in winter. Also, we are currently doing trials on the use of maize stalks and other grasses that would have been cut during the rainy season. These could be used as supplementary feeding for cattle from September through to November."

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