Drought has left many farmers relying on crop cultivation vulnerable to hunger. Now some villagers in the Midlands Province's Shurugwi communal lands are venturing into dairy farming.
Like their counterparts across the country, villagers in Shurugwi live mostly on food crops they grow themselves.
The area falls under region three of the five agro-ecological, or natural, regions into which the country is divided and receives an average annual rainfall of 725 millimetres, less than that of regions one and two.
But this year rainfall is way down, and the outlook for crop harvests is disappointing. Villagers fearing recurring seasons of hunger have spurred many to try dairy farming under the Shurugwi Dairy Cooperative, based at Tongogara Business Centre .
The cooperative’s secretary Lazarus Chiuswa says the project started back in 2001 after the villagers were taught about dairy farming by the state-owned Agricultural and Rural Development Authority.
But Chiuswa says owing to various problems, including the national economic meltdown, the cooperative only became fully functional in July 2011 after receiving assistance from the NGO Swedish Cooperative Centre.
“When we experienced economic problems, a donor organization came to our rescue. They chipped in with assistance of basically gadgets to do with milk-processing, milk-storage and so forth. So they did that and they also helped us with the procurement of dairy cows. It was a combination of cows and heifers,” said Chiuswa.
The Shurugwi Dairy Cooperative has 160 members drawn from 10 of Shurugwi’s 24 wards. Sixty of the members benefited from the Swedish Cooperative Centre’s donation of 60 dairy cows and heifers.
Most cooperative members who did not receive the donation currently milk their own indigenous cows.
Everyday members send their milk to Tongogara, where the milk is processed and sold. They receive money from the sales of the milk at the end of each month.
Chiuswa says the cooperative has helped improve the lives of its members but is quick to add that the project continues to face numerous problems, including the fact that some members do not own any cattle and inadequate funding means there isn’t enough transport.
Juliet Chiwundura is a worker with the agriculture ministry’s Agricultural Technical and Extension Services and works with the Shurugwi Dairy Cooperative.
Chiwundura says dairy farming is not as expensive and difficult as most people think.
She says villagers in most parts of Zimbabwe, except for those in natural regions three and four, which have a hot climate, can venture into dairy farming, adding that it may bring them more income than crop farming.
Fombo Shumba, who is the vice chairperson of the Shurugwi Dairy Cooperative, says the cooperative has been very helpful to its 35 female members, some of whom are single mothers and widows.
The Ministry of Agriculture says there are currently 222 registered dairy farmers in Zimbabwe with the national dairy herd standing at about 26,000 cows"
Fifty-five year-old Nelia Muposhiwa agrees, saying the cooperative has improved her life.
“Like most people, I was used to growing traditional food crops like maize and small grains, but I decided to also get into dairy farming. My family milks twice a day and we take the milk to the processing centre. The dairy project has improved my life a lot. I no longer have problems paying school fees for my grandchildren as I get money from the sale of the milk at the end of the month,” said Muphoswa.
The Shurugwi Dairy Cooperative processes an average of 110 litres of milk per day. Both fresh and sour milk is sold to individuals and schools in the area.
While dairy production also suffers in droughts, as cows need to eat in order to produce milk, the cooperative is an example of how some villagers are seeking to improve their livelihoods through diversified farming.
Looking at milk production nationwide, the agriculture ministry says milk output in the first two months of 2013 is up compared to the same period last year and should reach 70 million litres by the end of the year, though that still is short of the national demand of 120 million litres per year.
The Ministry of Agriculture says there are currently 222 registered dairy farmers in Zimbabwe with the national dairy herd standing at about 26,000 cows.
Like other sectors, dairy farming has suffered a decline in the wake of the land reform programme.