LIVESTOCK farmers have implored the Government to draft a commercial ranching policy to ensure farmers get full value for their animals and are treated fairly on the markets.
Currently, only three companies have the lion’s share of the livestock market, which has prejudiced communal and resettled farmers for over a decade.
Farmers, say commercial ranching policy would ensure livestock is graded before going to the markets and sold under set down floor prices, similar to what is tobacco marketing.
In an interview, National Institution of Livestock Farmers Union, chairperson, Sifiso Sibanda said the current state of affairs in the livestock production sector is worrisome.
“We have challenges in that we don’t have a livestock policy in this country. For instance, any animal can be slaughtered whether it is heavily pregnant or a calf, and this is bad,” he said.
“Due to the lack of policy, when it comes to marketing of livestock, there is no clear system.
“You will find that the auctioneer is the buyer, and the abattoir operator who also runs a chain of butcheries. Given such a scenario, you can’t have a fair game of trade”.
Mr Sibanda said the Government should engage the farmers to map out the appropriate ground rules and the structure of the envisaged livestock policy.
He said there should be a commercial ranching policy that sets out clear ground rules relating to trading of pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle among other livestock.
The general view among most farmers, he said, was that animals were supposed to be graded before being sold.
“That grading system should be done by Government officials, so that every farmer takes their livestock to the auction, fully aware of the grades, and the ground rules,” said Mr Sibanda.
“In fact, there must be a floor price for each grade just like what is happening with tobacco. With respect to cattle, the super, choice, ration grades should all be sold at different prices. At the moment, three major companies dominate the livestock market. This is very wrong. The same firms who buy communal livestock and yet in their feedlots, they will be having thousands of animals”.
“So somebody who has over 2000 animals can supply the markets for six months without replenishing their stock. What kind of price can you expect to get from that person, they will give you peanuts”.
Mr Sibanda said a livestock policy would end the misery faced by most livestock farmers across the country.
He said at the moment, buyers simply look at an animal and attach a price, a setup that has seen most people being short-changed by bigger players.
The official added that the government should seriously look into the fifth quota system which was tilted to benefiting those with abattoirs at the expense of the farmers.
“When your animal is slaughtered at the abattoir, you leave the offal, hooves, heads and hides which are classified as the fifth quota. This is not working for us,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said as a result of the current status quo, smallholder farmers were unable to vaccinate livestock or buy stock feeds for other animals, because they are not getting any value and don’t have any value on the markets.
Mr Gift Mbedzi, a livestock farmer in ward 14 Beitbridge, said introducing feedlots to save animals that succumb to starvation was welcome and should be done fairly to benefit all communal farmers.
“It’s a good initiative, but it needs some re-adjustments if it is to benefit ordinary farmers who should be seen as suppliers of cattle,” he said.
“Our system is very different from other countries. For instance, if we look at South Africa, our feedlotters seem to prefer mature oxen while in SA feedlots weaners are the best performers.
As things stand, my view is the current system leaves the farmer with more inputs costs and fewer returns”
He urged the local feedlotters to consider buying weaners as long as they meet the standard weaning weights.
This, he said, will create a shorter business cycle for farmers, considering that currently, for one to get good returns on their investment, they must sell steers of three and half years and above.
“This means for an emerging farmer you must have more start-up capital to cover inputs costs before you can enter the market
But with weaners, a farmer can get a quick return on investment since it takes only 7 – 9months to raise weaners,” said Mr Mbedzi.