Livestock tragedy unfolds: 5 000 cattle die as drought and diseases wreak havoc in Zimbabwe

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Close to 5 000 cattle have succumbed to drought and diseases countrywide, with Matabeleland provinces most affected, in the past two-and-a-half weeks, as the El Niño weather phenomenon takes its toll on the national herd.

The Government has since launched an intensive programme under which it is drilling boreholes for humans and livestock in the most affected areas, especially communal areas where dams have dried up.

On Friday, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Dr Anxious Masuka toured Bulilima district’s Ngwana villages in Matabeleland South, where he was told that Ngwana Dam had dried up for the first time since 1987.

Dr Masuka announced the immediate borehole drilling intervention to save the lives of both livestock and people.

“This is part of the tour that we are conducting. What we know is that there are four districts in Matabeleland South that are worst affected and these are Bulilima, Gwanda, part of Beitbridge and Matobo.

“We are here to assess the situation on the ground so that we can recommend to Government the appropriate interventions,” said Dr Masuka.

He said cattle also require supplementary feeding given that the onset of the rains has delayed, hence the need to scale up baling.

In an interview, acting chief director of the Directorate of Veterinary Services Dr Pious Makaya said cattle deaths are mainly due to delayed rains.

“Cattle deaths due to the delayed rains have caused some poverty deaths in the southern region of the country. To date, a total of 4 744 cattle have been reported dead due to poverty countrywide.

“Matabeleland South province is the most affected, accounting for more than 80 percent of the deaths of 1 900 cattle in poverty deaths, followed by Matabeleland North, Masvingo and Midlands provinces, respectively.”

He said no cattle poverty deaths had been recorded in the three Mashonaland provinces and Manicaland.

The first rains, Dr Makaya said, followed by a long dry spell, led to accumulation of mud in the natural watering points.

“This has caused cattle to die because of being stuck in the mud as they look for drinking water. Moreover, cattle in the natural regions 4 and 5 feed on dried tree leaves which would have fallen on the ground. When the first rains came, the leaves decomposed, making them unpalatable and leading to severe starvation of cattle,” said Dr Makaya.

He said soil-borne diseases have also started to claim livestock in these affected areas.

Soil-borne diseases such as anthrax and blackleg, he said, become prevalent due to the delayed rains because cattle ingest the sprouting green grass that is very close to the ground.

Farmers are also being encouraged to grow drought-tolerant fodder plants and crops.

“Due to water shortages, some dip-tanks have limited water for plunge dipping of cattle and the Government will be provided with pour-ons for cattle dipping to control ticks and tick-borne diseases.

“Farmers also continue to benefit from programmes such the Presidential Blitz Tick Grease Scheme, where each rural household is receiving 1kg of tick grease,” he said.

Zimbabwe, like most countries in the region and beyond, is experiencing the weather effects of El Niño, with scientists noting that the phenomenon will fuel high temperatures and low rainfall across the globe.

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