In view of climate change, the role that rangelands play in maintaining biodiversity and reducing poverty cannot be ignored because they form the basis of agricultural development and food security alongside enhancing the ecological balance of their environments.
Unfortunately much of Zambia’s rangelands are being depleted mainly due to human activity. For smallholder livestock farmers, this has translated into limited grazing land for their livestock and consequently diminishing nutrition levels most especially during the 7 month dry period of May to November.
Rangeland management is therefore one necessary form of action that is aiding smallholder livestock farmers to improve the nutrition of their livestock during the challenging dry period. This endeavor has involved the establishment of communal grazing systems through which surrounding communities own and operate sizeable rangelands with a view to improve how they are used by the community while also providing grazing land for their livestock.
In Bombwe area of Katete district, smallholder livestock farmers are actively working to establish a sustainable communal grazing system through which they believe they will improve the nutrition and consequently the value of their livestock.
Tayo Phiri is a smallholder livestock farmer in the area. He explained that livestock farmers in Bombwe area began to notice from their available markets, that the value of their livestock depended on the quality of their livestock. As such, Bombwe community gradually accepted the fact that, among other important health interventions, improving the quality of their livestock required proactive efforts towards providing good animal nutrition all year round.
However, like other parts of the country, the natural veld of Katete district has been depleted and so farmers were compelled to find solutions to this predicament.
Tayo exaplined that it was from that standpoint that the community formed Bombwe Communal Rangeland as one way through which farmers could learn how to manage their land sustainably.
“We first raised concerns about our livestock nutrition to the District Fisheries and Livestock offices and then we proceeded to request for land from our chief for us to establish a rangeland so that our livestock could have nutritious grazing land during the dry seasons,” Tayo said.
Bombwe Communal Rangeland is one of similar initiatives that the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock – through its Enhanced Smallholder Livestock Investment Program (E-SLIP) – has supported in a bid to promote sustainable livestock food resources.
Tayo said explained that through E-SLIP, farmers were sensitized on the importance of rangeland management and general natural resource conservation.
Delecina Banda is a member of Bombwe Communal Rangeland group and she said that from the activities being conducted on communal rangeland, farmers were gradually appreciating the need to revamp their existing rangeland as one way of creating affordable livestock nutrition.
“I was motivated to join [Bombwe Communal Rangeland] group because I am a livestock farmer and would like to improve the quality of my livestock,” Delecina said.
Delecina owns cattle, pigs, goats and chickens. She is a 67 year old single mother who jokes that she also takes care of “human livestock” in form of her eleven children whom she fends for through her farming activities. As such she is keen on ensuring that she learns what she can to improve her livestock management skills.
Kafumbwe Veterinary Assistant, Geophrey Hamoonoga, is an extension officer whose work area includes the community of Bombwe. He explained that lack of sufficient grazing land for livestock has been a result of human activity which the community is now attending to.
“Looking at the set-up of Katete, the natural veld were being encroached by cultivation fields and gardens; and as such it reduced the grazing lands for the livestock …it came to the point where animals now have got very limited grazing veld and you can even tell from the body scores of animals. It’s only in the rainy season when you can see animals looking [healthy] but when it is during the dry season, the body scores are very very poor,” Geophrey explained.
“So to supplement animal feeds, we’ve always been training [farmers] to be preserving post-harvest materials like maize stovers and sunflower cakes so that they can supplement their animals as they come from the natural veld grazing,” he added.
However, more efforts were needed. E-SLIP not only empowered farmers with training but also provided Bombwe Communal Rangeland group with seed to reinforce already existing pastures by sowing beyond the marginal lines – technically referred to as over sowing.
“We’ve planted Dolichos lablab and sunhemp…Looking at the soils we have available…and also their nutritive values that’s what made them our pasture of choice,” Geophrey added.
One notable success of this initiative is that some farmers are beginning to adopt what their learning from the rangeland into their own fields.
Delecina is among such farmers. She said that she has since planted a kilogram of velvet beans and a kilogram sun hemp on her own farm.
“What we do at the communal rangeland site to me is just a demo. So I decided to start replicating what I was learning to my own field so that my animals will have easier access to food and won’t stray far from my farm in search of grazing land,” Delecina said.
Through Bombwe Communal Rangeland, farmers are sensitizing their communities on how the success of their farming activities depends on the efficient use of their natural resources. In this way, the group believes that their efforts in over sowing their rangelands will have lasting and positive impact.