Communities in one of the most drought-prone parts of Zimbabwe are ditching farming in favor of cattle raising with support from the United Nations and a local NGO.
Mathafeni village about 600 kilometers southwest of Harare is in one of the driest districts in Zimbabwe, but a solar-powered borehole pumps water into a trough where some cattle are drinking.
The borehole supplies water for a dip tank just a few meters away, which helps reduce the risk of waterborne disease.
As Thembani Khumalo waited for his 12 cattle to finish drinking, he said before the borehole was drilled, his children would have to miss school to take the cattle long distances looking for water.
“We are now taking our herds to the dip tank weekly and diseases like lump skin, which used to affect our livestock can now be controlled. There is a very big difference,” he said.
He said fewer livestock are dying and their healthier cows are fetching better prices at market. He said buyers used to offer around $200, but now a beast can fetch up to $600.
At every borehole, there is also a fodder garden to ensure livestock in the region have enough food throughout the year.
The Mathafeni diptank and borehole were rehabilitated by a local NGO called LEAD Trust and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Southern Africa is still feeling the impact of El Nino-induced drought conditions. Subsistence farmers here have not been able to harvest enough to eat during the past two planting cycles. An estimated four million Zimbabweans are currently food insecure.
Low rainfall in the Lupane district makes people there especially vulnerable, said LEAD Trust district program manager Lucia Mwanyisa.
“We want these farmers to earn a better living from the livestock. If each animal or a third of that is sold at $500 an animal, that is a lot of money," she said. "Not many families harvest. If they do, maybe it is only for consumption.”
Mwanyisa said the solar-powered borehole has had other benefits too.
“The water component has made life easy for the women," she added. "So using hand pumping is now a thing of the past. So women are no longer spending much time at the watering points. They used to spend four, five hours just to water a herd of about 50 animals. Some were using deep wells to water their animals.”
Dorcas Sibanda owns six cattle. She said "I can now do other house chores while cattle are drinking from the trough. Plus I no longer disturb my children’s learning. They can take their time at school without hurrying home to help."
The FAO is pursuing 72 other similar projects in the Lupane district with funding from the European Union to help communities weather drought and other shocks.