Friday, June 21, 2024

Sandveld ranchers back plan to rebuild national cattle herd

There is really no question on whether the beef cattle herd in Botswana has gotten smaller; it is really just a question of how much smaller it has gotten to date.

While the figures of the cattle stock changes each passing year, stakeholders have now committed to ensuring that days when the production level either remains flat or goes down remain in the past. 

With the national cattle stock estimated to have dropped from 3 million to 1.7 million in the last decade, farmers across the country are now beginning to see the need to back up the plan by government to reverse the downward trend. 

 This past week, ranchers gathered in the Sandveld area where amongst other things made pledges to aid government in the bid to increase national cattle population. 

Sandveld Farmers Association Secretary Tebogo Direng said they intend to embark on an exercise of tracing down abandoned farms in the Sandveld to see whether they can facilitate for these farms to be leased out to individuals with interest in cattle farming.

“We will be trying to identify a number of farms that are idling and not being used towards livestock production,” she said.

Direng highlighted that a lot can and should be done to ensure that the cattle population returns to its glory days.

“We want more of our farmers to start keeping records, we want more of our farmers to have their farms EU compliant because we cannot see whether we are progressing or not when we do not have records,” said Direng.

She also said there is need for government to play a part in helping farmers to test for fertility.

“A lot of people who farm in the Sandveld are not young people, they are in their later years in life and there is no succession , so in this case cattle is left unattended which in most cases end up dying,” added Direng.

She further said there has never been a conducted research to establish how drought is affecting animals adding that even though it is overlooked, it has proven to be one contributing factor towards decline in cattle population.

“Part of being an Association is that we are trying to show government that when it comes to subsidy, livestock farming always gets the least subsidy compared to the horticulture sector,” stated Direng.

The rancher also apportioned the decline in cattle population to institutions whose policies are not flexible towards the livestock sector.

“The running cost of farm has gone up as you know that diesel prices have escalated, the cost of feeds has also gone up but we have institutions that do not necessarily take that into consideration,” 

“When there is drought, these financial institutions like CEDA expect you to pay and that puts farmers under pressure and some ultimately having their farms being repossessed,” said Direng.

She said in as much as government came up with an instrument to restrict importation of certain horticulture produce there is need to do an almost similar thing to encourage more people to venture into cattle farming.

“We have been informed that there is a new market from the UAE and we all know that it is going to require a lot of cattle including to satisfy some of the already existing markets but it will be difficult for farmers because the numbers are low,” she said.

Recently Chief scientific officer responsible for ruminant animals in the Ministry of Agriculture Tshwaragano Kopano said that the national cattle population which currently stands at 1.7 million is posing a threat to the country’s ambition of supplying and satisfying global beef markets.

“The reason behind low numbers are multi-faceted but one of them is that 80% of our livestock are in the hands of small-scale farmers while 20% is on commercial farmers,” he said.

Kopano highlighted that the challenge comes with keeping animals in rangelands where there is predation and little control for breeding lower supplementation which improves animal fertility.

“The numbers are quite worrisome give that the country depends on cattle export so if we have low numbers then we have low numbers to slaughter and export,” added Kopano.

He stated that the cattle population has declined dramatically as compared to the last 15 years when the population was 3 million.

“Government is using the artificial insemination program to improve the situation and I must say that we are currently upgrading our national insemination laboratory to include embryo transfer, to increase the number of semen straws that we produce and even the numbers that we import from outside,” he said. 

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