As the drought in Zimbabwe bites deep and reports of cattle deaths escalate, the country’s last two herds of irreplaceable pedigree Hereford and Senepol cattle are under severe threat – not directly from the drought, but from a senior government official who has forced the owner off his farm.
If nothing is done by the President of Zimbabwe, his ruling ZANU PF party or the international community – which has provided food aid to the country every year since the inception of the farm invasions in 2000 – the owners, commercial farmer Dave Conolly and his brother, Mike Conolly, will be forced to send both herds, as well as their dairy herd, for slaughter.
Bred over the last 80 years for Zimbabwe’s very specific conditions, the pedigree Hereford herd has a connection to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who visited the country – then Southern Rhodesia – in 1960.
During the Royal tour, the Queen Mother presented the Conollys’ father, Joe Conolly, with the Bulawayo Agricultural Society’s 1,000 guinea floating trophy for the best bull on show at the Bulawayo Show. This was a magnificent Hereford bull, and the family has a treasured photograph of the event.
“Hereford cattle have proved to be ideal for cross-breeding with the indigenous cattle as they have much better food conversion ratios than the indigenous breeds, which significantly improves the productivity of the land,” explained Dave.
The Senepol, a Red Poll/African N’dama cross, is ideal for the low rainfall and drought-prone Matabeleland South province, where Dave’s Centenary farm is located, because it is heat tolerant and resistant to parasites.
Dave and Mike, who is on the adjoining Boxwell farm, set up their Senepol breeding programme in 1996 and it has been highly successful. South Africa’s first breeding stock originated from Zimbabwe.
The significance of these last breeding herds for Zimbabwe – and also for the southern African region – is clearly of no interest to Dr Ray Ndhlukula, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and the cabinet.
Since June 2014, Dave has been embroiled in a fierce legal battle with Ndhlukula, who has been trying to take over Centenary farm, despite reportedly having two other farms in Matabeleland South. These are Wilfred Hope Farm in Marula, and Vlakfontein — otherwise known as Subdivision 2 of Marula Block.
On August 5, 2014 Ndhlukula sent his thugs to evicted Dave’s workers and their families from the farm, rendering them destitute, despite a High Court order to block their evictions.
Although a contempt of court case against Ndhlukula was filed at the High Court, Dave was forced off his farm in September 2014. Since then, neither he nor his farm workers have been able to return to their homes and all of their farming activities have been blocked.
Ndhlukula has also told the police, the District Administrator and members of the Lands Committee to instruct Mike to vacate his Boxwell farm which had been consolidated with Centenary farm for practical purposes and operated as a single unit.
While the Hereford and Senepol herds have been kept on Centenary farm since Boxwell is too small for cattle ranching, the dairy is located on Boxwell.
Since the takeover of Centenary, the Conollys have had to move their Hereford and Senepol cattle to Boxwell and to provide supplementary feed, which is unsustainable.
A further problem they face as the severe drought intensifies is that the dam, which supplies the water for the cattle, pastures and cropping operations using an extensive piping system, is located on Centenary farm, which is under Ndhlukula’s control.
The agricultural situation in Zimbabwe is dire. In October last year it was reported that cattle deaths were escalating, with 7,000 having died in Zimbabwe’s southern provinces.
Maize production for the 2015/16 season is estimated at only 200,000 tonnes, representing a shortfall of around 1.6 million tonnes. The total cost of imports through to June 2017 is estimated at around US$870 million.
Since 2002, USAID has provided more than US$1bn in humanitarian assistance to millions of vulnerable Zimbabweans.
In August 2015, USAID mission director, Stephanie Funk, was quoted as saying that her organisation was providing US$27m to meet the immediate food security needs of hundreds of thousands of rural Zimbabweans.
USAID needs to find a solution to the issue of hunger in Zimbabwe by addressing the “root cause”, Funk said.
In view of Ndhlukula’s ongoing illegal activities, Mike has been forced to book his dairy herd for slaughter on January 29 – a devastating action for a dedicated farmer and for the country.
If nothing is done to resolve the crisis, the pedigree Hereford and Senepol cattle will suffer the same fate.
The Conollys are appealing to the international community, which has saved the Zimbabwean people from mass starvation since 2001, to intervene and save their irreplaceable cattle herds for Zimbabwe’s agricultural future.