Crop livestock integration - the way to go for Zimbabwe
1 Opinion: Crop-livestock integration – Eddington Gororo
Integration of Ruminant Livestock in Arable Cropping Systems in
By Eddington Gororo
Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe
In this opinion piece, the author argues that crops and ruminant livestock must
complement each other in Zimbabwe’s agricultural system. The role that
ruminant livestock in general and cattle in particular, play in the crop-livestock
farming system is discussed. Major constraints faced in livestock development,
the food-feed debate, and aspects relating to the choice between ruminants
and non-ruminants in the farm system are further highlighted. Finally, aspects
of harmonizing the intensity level of cattle production when integrating it into
a given arable system are explored.
1. The 21st
Century livestock Development Dilemma
A few years ago Zimbabwe embarked on a land reform exercise that was meant
to redress the colonial land ownership imbalances and empower the indigenous
black people of the country. As the exercise was fast-tracked, the livestock and
wildlife components were given secondary priority in planning, at the expense
of other farming enterprises. As a result, the national breeding herd
(representing several decades of breeding excellence) went through the
abattoirs as the former farmer packed his bags, while funding in adaptive
research to come up with appropriate technical packages for livestock
production and development to suit what was on the ground dwindled by the
day. It then became a nightmare for the over-zealous new farmer to take the
system of animal production used by the large-scale commercial farmer of the
last century onto his small 21st
century farm. It became uneconomic and even
2 Opinion: Crop-livestock integration – Eddington Gororo
unsustainable. This further contributed to the continued decline in the national
It was after the realization of this anomaly that the government then decided
to prioritise the livestock component in agricultural development by setting up
a Livestock Production and Development Department in the Ministry of
Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development (MAMID) and more
recently a deputy ministerial portfolio responsible for livestock issues within
the ministry. This is quite commendable and shows that the government is
committed to agriculture as one of the pillars of economy.
The farmer today faces a number of challenges, among them food supply,
climate change, land tenure and farm size limitations. It is quite predictable
that with the now smaller farming units, there will be increasing intensification
and a shift within ruminant production systems, especially from extensive to
intensive rearing and systems combining livestock with arable cropping. The
farmer will definitely need a combination of the right animal (genetics), feed
resources and production system with clear goals. The principal aim should
therefore be improved feeding and nutrition, in which the objective is
maximum use of the available feed resources, notably crop residues and low
quality roughages, and also various leguminous forages as supplements.
Therefore, this article seeks to suggest integration as a possible approach to
the sustainable development of ruminant stock in the country. Integration
leads to diversified land use to provide greater ecological and economic
resilience and a better return from marginal land and crop waste resources.
2. Role of the ruminants animal
The benefits of crop animal interactions are significant, and integrated systems
have had positive impacts on the development of sustainable agriculture, even
on the former large-scale commercial farms. The following are some of the
roles played by ruminant livestock in the integrated modern farm system.
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1. Livestock diversify the farming operation by making use of marginal land
and crop residues and waste products, thus cushioning the family against
2. Livestock provide valuable inputs to the crops at comparatively lower costs;
that is, draught power for cultivation, tending crops and transport (inputs
and crop output) and manure for soil condition.
3. Fodder crop (forage legumes – sirratro, velvet bean, lablab bean – and
grasses such as Katambora Rhodes, etc) production improves the crop
rotation system and helps reduce soil erosion.
4. Ruminant livestock provide an alternative means of marketing cereal and
legume grains by taking advantage of superior or otherwise higher meat
prices (marketing the grains through livestock).
5. Because they increase in number and individual size, livestock such as
cattle, sheep and goats constitute a form of profitable investment or saving
to be drawn on in times of need (e.g., during a drought year or other crop
failure). During good years, surplus income from crops is invested in
livestock and when a drought comes cattle are sold to buy food for the
household. Families who own cattle and indeed any other livestock have a
comparatively better chance of surviving difficult times.
6. Direct food production for the family – animal meat contains protein of
superior quality. Livestock are therefore important as a source of household
food and nutrition security and dietary diversity
7. Livestock are a source of income
8. Livestock convert non-marketable by-products and waste products of crops
(feed grade wheat, barley, crop residues) into marketable products (milk,
goat, mutton and beef)
4 Opinion: Crop-livestock integration – Eddington Gororo
3. Constraints to the Zimbabwean livestock thrust
3.1. Socio-economic and policy related constraints
3.1.1. Investment in livestock: Lack of financing of livestock farms for
putting up infrastructure, purchase of breeding animals and
veterinary supplies and feed resources. As a result, growth of the
livestock industry has been slow.
3.1.2. Recurrent expenditure: There is lower recurrent expenditure on
government livestock services such as extension and veterinary
services. More numerous staff on the ground has therefore tended
to be less effective due to inadequate operating budgets. Compared
to crops for instance, livestock gets a lower share of the budget in
relation to its output within the economy.
3.1.3. Investment in research: Post-land and agricultural reforms no
adaptive technical packages into which to channel government and
donor investment in livestock were formulated. Investment in
research has generally produced high rates of return, but its long
term. Focusing research on commodities is no longer enough and
should be focused to crop-animal systems especially in cognizance
of the fact that most areas are based on dryland farming.
Opportunities for increasing productivity through research and
development are enormous and merits high priority. Research in
farming systems involving crops and livestock in holistic terms is
weak. The inclusion of animals into cropping systems needs greater
emphasis, to include the development of methodologies to
understand the effects of interactions between sub-systems
3.1.4. Poor infrastructure: in terms of road networks, electricity,
markets and cold facilities make commercial production difficult.
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3.1.5.Brain drain: The government should be commended for doing a
lot to arrest the export of valuable skills to other countries.
However the highly trained research and development staff on the
ground is under-employed. This is due to inadequate government
support, lack of incentives and performance recognition. Hence
they will remain under qualified and inexperienced.
3.1.6. Poor technology application: Inadequate, inappropriate and
inefficient use of available technologies at farm level is a major
limitation to increased production from animals. Technology
application is particularly weak and is related to a combination of
poorly formulated development peogrammes that often preclude
strong inter-disciplinary team effort and concerted on-farm
3.2. Technical constraints
3.2.1. Feed and nutrition: Due to seasonality and poor soils there is
inadequate feed for all year round productivity. Hence there is need
for conservation and storage. Increased intensification and
efficiency in use of available feeds represents a most important
strategy. It is the principal constraint among the non-genetic
factors, which affect productivity. With ruminants, the food
resources are very much underutilized.
3.2.2. Breed selection: Farmers are not choosing breeds based on the
available resources and their management ability but on genetic
performance of the breeds or because they heard somewhere that a
certain breed is good. There is need to match the animal (genetics)
to the environment (farm size, nutrition, management, production
6 Opinion: Crop-livestock integration – Eddington Gororo
3.2.3. Health and disease: Most important diseases reducing animal
productivity and causing major economic losses in Zimbabwe are
Foot and Mouth, Anthrax, Blackleg, tick borne diseases such as
Redwater (Babesiasis), January disease (Theileriosis) and
Heartwater (Anaplasmosis) and internal and external parasites –
ticks, liver fluke, tapeworms, wireworm, etc.
3.2.4. Lack of farm Infrastructure: lack of fencing for proper grazing
management and animal confinement, shortage of dip tanks and
water supplies that dry off in the dry season top the list of
constraints of this nature.
3.2.5. Management: training and skills transfer is still an important
requisite to agricultural development.
3.2.6. Shortage of land: Due to smaller farms, commercial production of
say beef under extensive systems is difficult and uneconomic.
Production in the future will have to be more intensive, efficiently
3.2.7. Production efficiency: The efficiency (feed conversion,
production cycle, environmental impact, etc) and profitability of
ruminant enterprises (sheep, cattle and goats) in the short-term are
lower compared to the non-ruminants (pig, broilers, layer chickens)
and other crop enterprises. This is one reason for the excessive
stress on crops by authorities and other stakeholders.
To address most of these constraints, particularly those of an institutional
nature, livestock development agents must be committed to multi-disciplinary,
systems and sustainable development approach. This is particularly important
for research and development of integrated systems of production in specific
ecosystems. There is also need to formulate tailor made and specific adaptive
research programs that address the real needs of the farmers. A reorientation
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of livestock development programs is required in the country policy framework
to deal with the now more complex, diverse farming systems and challenges
related to viability, land tenure, farm sizes, competing claims on farm
resources, and climate change and variability. Production must both be
economically and environment sustainable.
4. Premises for the successful integration of livestock in arable
In light of the above, it can be said that the livestock thrust cannot be
considered and indeed developed in isolation of other agro enterprises if it is to
be sustainable. I believe it is an organic component of the general social and
economic development of our beloved country. Four propositions for the
successful development of integrated systems of production are highlighted
here, in order of intensity level and degree of independence of the livestock
enterprise. Farmers are advised to start with the first premise until they
mature with time to the highest level.
4.1.1.Ruminant livestock kept as secondary enterprises
The primary and prioritized enterprises are the traditional crops. This obviously
is the starting point. Ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) are expected to
complement or intensify the primary enterprises through the utilization of non-
marketable and waste products of crops; non-marketable, soil-improving catch
crops; rotational fodder crops (e.g. Katambora in tobacco systems) and fallow
land as well as provide manure for soil amelioration.
4.1.2.Harmonious merger of livestock and crops
Here both livestock and crop enterprises are given the same importance and
the merger is well planned and beneficial to both enterprises, especially for
systems based on tobacco and those where organic fertilizers (manure) are
used. The ruminant livestock must be able to match the crop growing profile,
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rotations and commercial background, and contribute to the utilization and
processing of crop waste products (bought in or produced on farm).
4.1.3.An independent ruminant livestock operation
The livestock enterprise here operates as a separate and independent unit. The
livestock arable functions highlighted above (manure, catch crops, rotational
fodder crops, etc.) should be replaced with green manuring, use of inorganic
fertilizers and lime, composting and biomass production for the crop fields.
4.1.4.An ecologically compatible ruminant livestock production
Every serious and sustainability conscious farmer must make this fact their
ultimate goal by paying attention to stocking levels and intensity of utilization
of available resources, particularly the grazing. A lot of information is available
and has been published on optimum stocking and grazing rates.
In conclusion, the animal enterprise must be able to grow and mature on its
own with a secure foundation on which to develop and exploit all its
ramifications. And the foundation should be the now dominant and traditional
crop enterprises. Rather than fight the crop thrust, let us be part of it; yet
promoting livestock too.