Happy Cows Make Happy Milk and Happy Milk Makes Happy People
This season’s hay harvest is stacked high and fodder is tied in bales at Mathias Chuma’s homestead in Binga District, Zimbabwe. For the first time, Chuma and his family are using hay and fodder they grew, gathered and processed themselves to feed their five cows and 34 goats through the dry season. In this area, most livestock depend on finding wild grasses and pods on communal grazing areas for their nutrition. However, heavy use of grazing lands in this dry and fragile landscape, with only weak arrangements for collective grazing land management and recovery, is contributing to land degradation and depleting grazing resources over time. The USAID-funded Amalima Loko activity advises farmers on how to grow fodder crops and produce low-cost homemade feeds to reduce pressure on these grazing lands, to improve livestock condition and ensure livestock survival through the dry season and to increase availability of animal-source foods including milk and meat for local diets.
Earlier in the year, Chuma was given fodder crop seeds by government extension services but was unsure how best to cultivate and use them as dolichos lablab (hyacinth bean) and sunn hemp were new crops to him. This led him to work with Amalima Loko, where he participated in trainings on cultivation and processing for fodder crops and learned about optimal feeding mixes for livestock nutrition. He also joined a “look and learn” visit organized by the activity to see other smallholder farmers where fodder crops are already being grown and processed.
He planted 0.5 hectares each of sunn hemp and lablab and, as the dry season progresses, is now reaping the rewards. By the end of the growing season, Chuma had harvested 550 bales (3,850 kilograms) of the new fodder crops. Now, in the dry season, he feeds each of his cows four kilograms of fodder daily. He has also been able to sell surplus fodder to other smallholder farmers in his community, having sold 70 bales at $3 each, and is using the $210 profit to help pay for his children’s education.
“I was a bit skeptical growing fodder for the first time,” Chuma said. “However, now that I am feeding my cattle and goats, I have realized that I have been missing out on an easy way to keep my livestock healthy and in good condition. I do not have to worry about my livestock perishing from drought. The fodder is enough to take my livestock to the next rainy season.”
From the outset, Chuma noticed an immediate increase in milk production from his cows—milk that his family consumes in addition to their normal dry season diet. His wife, Josephine Chuma, attests to how their family is benefitting from this:
“Since we started feeding the cows with fodder, we have been consuming more milk than before because the cows are producing more,” she said. “The milking period has also extended. There is enough for us to use and we still leave ample for the calves to suckle.”
Inspired by their success, other local farmers are now also interested in producing fodder for themselves next year. Chuma is sharing his experiences with other farmers and hopes that if they produce their own fodder, his community will become more resilient, with meat and milk production increasing and pressure on local grazing lands reducing. Together, the Chuma family and their neighbors are transforming the landscape in Binga District, increasing agricultural production, promoting sustainability of local natural resources and contributing to a brighter and future for their families and community.