Communal farmers in dry Nkayi area are now growing previously unknown fodder crops in their fields in a bid to save their livestock from recurrent droughts.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in 2013 introduced nutritious cattle-feeding legumes to the farmers.
The new fodder crops have come as a major relief and boost to most farmers in the district as drought conditions have greatly reduced the availability of livestock forage - especially during the summer period.
“This year, I planted a hectare each of Mucyna and Sunhemp cattle feed crop. From my own calculations, this crop is enough to feed my cattle and goat herd throughout the year. In order to save the fodder, I mix it with other indigenous fodder species such as Kachnar and bamboo,” said Nqobizitha Masina, a farmer in ward 17, in a recent interview.
Both the Sunhemp and Mucyna plants thrive on extremely dry conditions. Sunhemp is a rapidly growing plant which can produce 12 to 14 tonnes of dry above–ground biomass per hectare. The plant has got tall bright yellow flowers and roots that form numerous lobed nodules.
According to ICRISAT’s field assistant in ward 17, Zenzo Dube, a total number of 60 villagers planted the fodder crop this season. Dube said his organisation had been at the forefront of training as well as encouraging farmers to plant the fodder in their fields in the area.
“Droughts have been impacting negatively on livestock production in this area. Villagers have been either forced to dispose their beasts at ridiculous prices or relocate their animals in record numbers to other areas” said Dube.
Dube said a lot of farmers in the area had lost their animals due to poisoning by grazing stunted prussic acid-producing plants during drought periods.
Most farmers who spoke to The Zimbabwean said the fodder had improved the quality of their livestock because of its nutritional value.
“When there is drought, I feed my cattle each with one kilogram of mucyna after every two days. I mix this with other indigenous species. Farmers who feed their cattle with this supplementary fodder are now fetching lucrative prices for animals on the market,” said another farmer.