“MULTIPLY, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”
This famous quote, taken off Charles Darwin’s scientific literary work ‘‘The Origins of the Species’’, has seemingly had a positive effect on the lives of a number of sugarcane farmers in the Lowveld.
A plunge in the price of raw sugar on the international market has brought with it untold suffering to some local sugarcane farmers who were expecting their produce to fetch high prices.
The farmers, however, found themselves in deep trouble after the drop in prices saw Tongaat Hullet, the sole buyer of raw sugar in the country, paying them less than expected prices.
As a result of the pay cut, some farm owners and their workers had a miserable festive season.
The majority of the workers were not given their wages whilst the farmers grappled to service their debts and even to send their children back to school. The over-dependence on sugarcane sales alone has had a devastating effect on most of the farmers.
However, whilst some farmers are crying foul and battling lawsuits that were fuelled by the non-servicing of loans, a smaller section of the farming community has not been severely affected by the current state of affairs.
Some had diversified their operations and ventured into cattle-fattening projects. These farmers simply sold their cattle and settled their loans.
The Lowveld sugarcane farmers that are smiling all the way to the bank had not “put all their eggs in one basket.”
Since the announcement of the low prices of sugar, there has been an increase in the number of Lowveld farmers who are turning to cattle fattening as an alternative source of income.
With the rate at which the farmers are venturing into this area, the Lowveld, and in particular Chiredzi, will soon become the hub of cattle fattening.
The farmers have the advantage of being nearer to molasses that are produced by Tongaat Hullet.
Mr Faster Gono, of Abundance Life Farm in Hippo Valley, is one of the pioneers of cattle fattening in Chiredzi.
“I always tell farmers here in Chiredzi that they must never rely on sugar cane alone. The farmers learnt the hard way when sugar prices went down. Since I have been fattening cattle for a long time now, I am helping my neighbours start their own projects,” Mr Gono said.
The farmer sells at least 10 fattened cattle every month and on average, the beasts fetch a minimum of US$1 000 on the market.
Recently, he sold 15 cattle and channelled more than US$10 000 towards school fees and salaries for his 10 workers.
One of the farmers that recently ventured into cattle fattening is Mrs Winnie Mhunduru.
“I learnt the hard way. All these years, we have been relying on sugarcane but after the current crisis, we decided to start a cattle-fattening project. With cattle, a farmer never goes wrong,” Mrs Mhunduru said.
When The Sunday Mail In-Depth visited her farm last week, workers were busy constructing perimeter fences and feeding lots.
“I am starting off with eight bulls, but my main target is to have at least 20 cattle before the end of this month. Cattle fattening is big business and I am expecting to get as much as US$1 300 per bull after three months of fattening,” Mrs Mhunduru said as she stroked one of her bulls nicknamed Hogan.
By the end of the year, she is looking at keeping more than 70 cattle at her homestead.
One of the advantages of cattle fattening is that the project does not require much land.
All that is required is a simple shed, a perimeter fence and feeding and drinking troughs.
According to the farmers, they buy cattle from surrounding villagers for prices usually around US$150, fatten them for three months before taking them to abattoirs and butcheries for sale.
The beasts are dosed to prevent such diseases as botulism and black quarter.
A beast can be brought in for fattening weighing an average of0 200 to 250kg. After two months the beast would have gained 120kg depending on its type.
Thereafter, it will be ready for sale.
A cattle-fattening project can run throughout the year with the farmer selling his cattle on a monthly basis.
Most farmers prefer to fatten cattle between the ages of 18-24 months.
“There has always been a ready market for beef. The people I supply can take up to 80 cattle per month. My aim is to keep up to 200 cattle at this farm,” Mr Gono said.
Beef is currently being sold at US$4,30 per kilogramme. The price is at times influenced by the supply of other competing animal proteins such as pork and chicken.
Prices are, however, determined by grade.
Cattle fattening is also gaining momentum in Marula, Mangwe district in Matabeleland South province where resettled farmers are embarking on a project that was initiated by the Mangwe Farmers’ Association in conjunction with Grills Bulawayo Abattoirs.
Source: Sunday Mail
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