As the arid climate of the Matebeleland region in Zimbabwe is not particularly suitable for crop production, a majority of rural Zimbabweans in this area rely on livestock production for their livelihoods. These farmers face many challenges, namely access to water and resources to protect and maintain livestock health. Traditionally, small holder farmers in Zimbabwe have depended on skilled veterinary services and NGO personnel for livestock health services such as dehorning, castration, vaccination, dosing and other treatments. Yet, veterinary extension officers are burdened with a zone of coverage that is too expansive to meet the needs of most farmers and animals in their regions. To purchase vaccines or visit the nearest Department of Veterinary Services Doctor, small holder farmers must often travel long distances and pay debilitating amounts of money. To address the gap in services, the Amalima program is training Lead Farmers and Paravets (auxiliary animal health workers) to provide much needed veterinary services to local communities and to increase knowledge about effective livestock management practices in three major areas: disease prevention; supplementary feeding, and improved breeding.
Mr. Putshe Sibanda of Mzila Village is a farmer, husband, father of seven, and Village Savings and Loan (VS&L) group member, but he has now added one more commitment to his already busy schedule: community Paravet. As an owner of 13 cattle, 34 goats and many chickens, Sibanda sought to improve the health of his livestock by participating in Amalima Lead Farmer livestock training.
Sibanda was determined to put what he learned into practice. Armed with his new understanding of improved livestock management practices, he reached out to farmers in his community to train others about animal health. As an Amalima Lead Farmer, Sibanda committed to reaching 10 farmers through a cascading training model– but he easily reached 30 individuals in a matter of weeks. He saw that there was a demand for livestock management training in his community with participants young and old, male and female, wanting to improve their livelihoods by investing in their livestock.
After the success of his initial trainings, Sibanda elected to participate in additional Amalima and Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) training in September 2014 to become a Paravet. These trainings cover both theory and hands-on application of various practices such as disease prevention, identification, and treatment, nutrition (supplementary feeding, pen fattening and feed harvesting), breed improvement, dehorning, and the calving process. Since participating in this training and assuming his new role as a Paravet, Sibanda has worked with over 100 households to treat more than 500 goats, 300 kids, 300 cattle and 1,000 chickens. He treats issues ranging from popped and pulpy kidneys and blocked udders to diarrhea and birthing complications.
Sibanda says he draws his motivation for this work from the potential financial empowerment that livestock production can provide for small holder farmers. Sibanda, as with all Amalima-trained Paravets, does not charge a fee for his services. Even after the countless hours of work he has volunteered, he remains focused on a larger goal for his community: “I want my neighbors to also succeed with their livestock and not suffer,” he says. Sibanda believes in a two-pronged approach to improving animal health and livestock production: training community members on livestock management skills and increasing access to localized veterinary services and vaccines. He sees these inputs as key to increasing livestock herds and, in turn, improving the livelihoods and food security of whole communities.
“Since I started training with Amalima, my goats and cattle are no longer dying,” he said. “I had lots of issues with deaths during and after pregnancy. My survival rate for calves was previously one out of five (20%). As my neighbors began to see that I knew how to care for and vaccinate my animals, they also began to seek my assistance and buy vaccines. They are now aware that it is best to vaccinate for disease prevention, and not for a cure.”
Members of surrounding communities now consult him on a regular basis. Through his training and home-visits, he helps other farmers establish good habits for livestock management. Often, when making a home-visit, he will invite one of his trainees to accompany him to gain valuable hands-on experience. Two of his trainees have started helping other farmers in their communities with livestock issues, further spreading improved animal husbandry practices in the process.
In light of the poor rainfall this season, Sibanda also encouraged farmers to re-plant small-grains and beans in mid-late January. If the crops do not produce food for humans, the stalks and leaves can be used as fodder for animals in upcoming months. In addition, he trains farmers to dig a large storage hole, line it with plastic, and keep grasses and other forage in this cool, dry space to keep feed fresh.
Sibanda’s role as community paravet exceeds that of a trainer and veterinary service provider; he is mobilizing entire communities to practice sustainable livestock management practices. In Mzila village, he has established a communal vaccination and medication supply system. Participating farmers purchase a vial of medication that is suitable to local animals, and Sibanda coordinates with the group to make sure that an appropriate variety is acquired. He also instructs each household on proper storage of the medicine in a cool, dry space. The purchased medication is then part of a communal supply available to all contributors if their animal(s) fall ill, with Sibanda responsible for applying the treatment. Inventory is calculated periodically to determine how and by whom supplies were used, and how they should be replenished. Through this investment, the community is controlling and preventing the spread of disease.
Sibanda is also a dedicated member of the Kancane Kancane VS&L group, which formed after receiving Amalima training in early 2015. He is the only male member and explains his interest in participating because “animals don’t tell us when they are going to be ill, and having savings ensures access to funds for purchasing the appropriate treatment. I want to start teaching and promoting VS&L to men, particularly to encourage saving for vaccines.”
As a Paravet and community mobilizer, Mr. Sibanda is leading the way with his sights planted firmly on a future where resilient communities are earning their livelihoods by practicing smart, livestock management.