Livestock Research for Rural Development 17 (12) 2005 Guidelines to authors LRRD News

Citation of this paper

The socio-economic status of smallholder livestock production in Zimbabwe: a diagnostic study

S Chawatama, C Mutisi* and A C Mupawaenda

Institute of Development Studies, University of Zimbabwe, Box MP167, Mt. Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe
*Department of Animal Science, University of Zimbabwe, Box MP167, Mt. Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.


The objectives of this study were to characterise low-input smallholder livestock production systems, diagnose the problems and constraints they face, and identify areas in which gender-sensitive development programmes can best alleviate poverty. These objectives were achieved through an extensive diagnostic survey and use of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques. The studies were carried out in four areas in agro-ecological regions III, IV and V, namely Nharira (Chikomba district, communal farming area), Kezi (Matobo district, communal area) and Sanyati (Kadoma district, resettlement area). The study involved 240 female and male farmers.

A statistical and qualitative analysis of the data showed that the main livestock species kept were cattle, chicken and goats. Donkeys were common in Matobo district. The main motivational factors for livestock and crop production were subsistence, followed by income and, significantly in Chikomba, livestock feed. Women owned more chickens than men in all the districts studied while men owned more cattle.

The main constraints in livestock production included diseases, access to capital, grazing, access to markets, gender imbalances, and draught power. On the other hand, the farmers' needs were mainly marketing, training, animal health and capital.

Keywords: Constraints, production characteristics, smallholder livestock


The global role of animal agriculture in improving the quality of human life has always been emphasised during the 20th century and is expected to be even more important in terms of food supplies in the future. It is well documented that over 900 million people are suffering from under-nourishment partly due to insufficient agricultural production and uneven distribution of cereals and crop production. These facts indicate that the availability of foods of animal origin will play a key role in the nutritional problems in the future.

Agriculture plays a very important role in the economy of Zimbabwe, providing income for about 75 percent of the population and contributing over 40 percent of national earnings from exports (Rukuni and Eicher 1994). The smallholder farming sector comprises at least 70 percent of the national population (Mudhara et al 1995). The importance of livestock is now recognised by governments and agencies concerned with agricultural production and development. For example, animals provide approximately 80 percent of the draught power used for farming in developing countries (Pearson 1993).

The improvement of livestock production will be particularly important in the coming years, in view of the future financial constraints in Zimbabwe's public sector. There will be an increased need to use limited resources effectively. Economic structural adjustment programmes have resulted in farmers having cuts in subsidies, extension, and veterinary services. Any programmes aimed at alleviating poverty through livestock production will have to be based on sound knowledge of the situation in smallholder farming systems, including gender issues, in the context of the prevailing socio-economic conditions.

On the other hand, several studies on the constraints and opportunities in livestock production have been carried out in the past. That they have contributed immensely to the existing body of knowledge cannot be disputed. However, livestock production systems are dynamic. For instance, Zimbabwe has undergone economic structural adjustment programmes over the last decade including agrarian reforms. These have caused macro-economic changes in inflation rates, pricing, and interest rates, directly affecting livestock production. Data collection should therefore be considered not as an event, but an on-going process, which has to be carried out and reviewed all the time.

The overall objective of this study was to characterise the status of smallholder livestock production systems in Zimbabwe in order to generate information that will assist in designing gender-sensitive livestock development programmes aimed at poverty alleviation.

The specific objectives were:


A structured questionnaire was used to obtain further information on livestock production characteristics in the smallholder farming systems of Zimbabwe. The smallholder sector comprises of communal, resettlement and small-scale commercial farming areas.

The questionnaire used gathered the following information:

Household characteristics

The name of respondent, district, farming system, village name, sex; age, level of training attained, farming experience, size of the household, head of household and, household age distribution.

Land use and tenure

Land ownership by gender; size of arable and grazing areas; soil type; crops grown this season and acreage; motivation for crop and livestock production

Livestock production

Gender disaggregated livestock ownership (numbers); species; relative importance of livestock to livelihood; purposes (use) of livestock owned; identify and rank production constraints and solutions; drought coping and mitigtion strategies; management practises; draught power status and needs; marketing; and gender division of labour in livestock production

The descriptions of the study areas are summarised in Table 1. Sixty households were sampled randomly in each district using lists of households supplied by either the Agricultural Extension and Technical Services department, resettlement office or village heads as the sampling frames according to the method proposed by Poate and Daplyn (1993).

Table  1. Description of the study areas and sample sizes used for the diagnostic study




The Nharira smallholder farming area is located in agro-ecological region III and is about 190 km south-east of Harare, in the Chikomba district of Mashonaland East province. Land ownership is communal and farmers do not have proprietary rights to the land.  It is in the 26th poorest district in Zimbabwe (UNDP 1998) in terms of human development.


Kezi and Gulati smallholder farming area are located in agro-ecological region IV and in Matebeleland South province. Land ownership is communal and farmers do not have proprietary rights to the land.  The main agricultural activities include livestock production and drought resistant crops.  They are in the 28th poorest district in Zimbabwe (UNDP 1998) in terms of human development. 


Sanyati resettlement area is located about 250 km west of Harare and lies in Mashonaland West province.  The area lies in Natural Region IV, which receives less than 600 mm annual rainfall.  The average land holding are 5 ha per household arable and grazing area is communal.  It is in the 43rd poorest district in Zimbabwe (UNDP 1998) in terms of human development.

Qualitative data were collected using PRA techniques in selected villages in each area of study. The PRA study assessed the relative importance of livestock production constraints and opportunities.

The PRA tools used included::

The analysis involved 240 households.  The data collected were analysed using the SAS General Linear Models Procedure (SAS 1988). Frequencies, means, and Chi-square tests for association were calculated for the respective characteristics.

Results and Discussion

Household characteristics

The statistical analysis showed that in Chikomba district men headed most of the households (88 %). In Kadoma, the same pattern emerged (73 %) as well as in Matobo. These findings were similar to earlier reports (Chawatama et al 1998) from the smallholder sector. There is the likelihood of gender bias as men would make the important production decisions. There was, however, no statistically significant association between household head and level of training. This would seem to infer that training opportunities are accessible to household members who are not heads.

Other characteristics of the household per district are summarised in Table 2. Most of the respondents were middle aged. There was a relatively larger number of children per household in Chikomba and Kadoma compared to Matobo district. Children contributed significantly to household labour in livestock production. Farming experience was lowest in Kadoma averaging 14.8 years. This was expected, as the area studied is a resettlement, which was recently commissioned unlike communal areas in other districts. There were differences in household sizes, with Kadoma having the largest. The researcher's experience in the villages visited in Kadoma was that most families were members of a religious sect, which encourages polygamous marriages.

Table 2.  Summary of household characteristics per district


District mean




Age of respondent

45.3 2.3

46.9 2.4

52.9 1.9

Number of children in household

7.28 0.5

6.4 0.8

5.0 0.38

Farming experience

18.9 1.4

14.8 1.8

19.7 2.33

Household size

10.0 0.6

14.6 5.3

7.1 0.38

Land holdings

Land holdings varied extensively from area to area. In Nharira communal area, holdings averaged 2.8, 40 hectares in small-scale commercial, 5 hectares in Sanyati resettlement area and 4.8 in Matobo. Indications were that communal areas had the smallest holdings. The PRA studies showed that men owned the main arable fields with women mainly confined to vegetable gardens. Men mainly controlled the main cash crops (cotton in Sanyati and maize in Nharira).

Livestock production

The main motivation for agricultural production in all the three districts was for subsistence (Figure 1). Income was a relatively strong motivational factor in Chikomba. In Kadoma, income and subsistence carried equal weight. An interesting feature in Chikomba was that farmers were also involved in production of livestock feed. This is expected as most of them are involved in the small-scale dairy project introduced by the government through the Dairy Development Programme. They retain most of the grain for stock feed and some produce hay and silage.

Figure 1. Various proportions of motivational factors for livestock and crop production.

The study showed variations in the mean distribution of livestock ownership per district by gender. The general pattern (Table 3) showed that men owned more cattle. These findings are in keeping with earlier reports (Kusina et al 1999). Discussions with women farmers indicated that since cattle provide draught power, they are the entry point to agricultural production. Without cattle, it would be difficult to engage meaningfully in agricultural production.

Table 3. Mean livestock ownership per district disaggregated by gender







































Guinea fowl



































On the other hand, chicken were mainly owned by women (Table 3) compared to men in Matobo district. This district is located in a predominantly cattle ranching region. This means that promoting poultry production there is likely to benefit women more than it is likely to benefit men. The results also indicate that there were more donkeys in Matobo than other areas. This could be due to the fact that donkeys can withstand harsh environmental conditions experienced in marginal areas such as Matobo (agro-ecological region V).

Cattle were the main livestock species in the smallholder agricultural sector because of their multiple uses. Figure 2 illustrates the relative importance of cattle for each district. Indications were that Matobo district engages in cattle marketing more than other areas. PRA studies showed that cattle production is seriously hampered by diseases in Kadoma hence the low sales proportion.

Figure 2. The relative importance of cattle for each district
Drought mitigation strategies

As shown in Figure 3, not all livestock were fed during drought periods. However, cattle received higher priority in all the districts.

Figure 3. A summary of the relative proportions of livestock types fed supplementary feeds during droughts

This could be due to their multiple uses to the livelihood of smallholder farmers. Of the feeds used during periods of nutritional stress (Figure 4), crop stover contributed the bulk of the feeds used. It is interesting to note that smallholder farmers also purchased commercial feeds (> 10 %) in all districts.

Figure 4. The relative proportions and types of feed used during droughts for livestock feed


The majority of women (60 %) said they did not own large animal species like cattle because they lacked capital to purchase them. There was consensus among women that the reason why they could not buy livestock was that men controlled all cash obtained from crop production. This is despite the fact that the men contribute less to labour for crop production.

Cattle diseases were identified as a serious constraint in all districts, particularly Kadoma. Removal of subsidies on drugs has made them unaffordable to smallholder farmers. Tick-borne diseases were the main problem as dipping services were inconsistent.

Markets for livestock and livestock products were also mentioned in all areas as a problem. In situations where markets were available, the producer prices were so low that returns would be very small. Other constraints were draught power shortage (about 50 % overall had none); land sizes for grazing and crop production; livestock rustling and predators.

The study also showed that women are still disadvantaged socially and economically. The following example illustrate this perception:

Recommendations and Conclusions


Chawatama S, Ndlovu L R, Tsimba R, Topps J H and Mutimba J 1998 Socio-economic aspects in draught animal - crop linkages: a diagnostic study of Tsholotsho, Chinyika and Mutoko smallholder farming areas of Zimbabwe. Journal of Applied Science in Southern Africa 4:1. Pp11-18

Kusina J F, Kusina N T and Mhlanga J 1999 Feasibility study of agricultural and household activities they relate to livestock production in Guruve district of Mashonaland Central with emphasis on poultry production. A report for HASP Guruve district, Mashonaland Central Province

Mudhara M, Anandajayasekeram P, Kupfuma B and Mauzhangara E 1995 Impact assessment of cotton research and the enabling environment in Zimbabwe 1970 - 1995. University of Zimbabwe Publications. Harare. Zimbabwe.

Pearson R A 1993 Strategic research on nutrition and management of draught animals. Proceedings of a workshop on Human and Draught Animal Power in Crop Production, Harare, Zimbabwe, 18-22 January 1993.

Poate C D and Daplyn P F 1993 Data for agrarian development. Cambridge University Press. pp 31 - 71.

Rukuni M and Eicher C K 1994 Zimbabwe's agricultural revolution. University of Zimbabwe Publications. Harare. Zimbabwe.

SAS 1998 User's Guide: Statistics, SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC. USA.

UNDP, PRF and IDS 1998 Human development report Zimbabwe. United Nations Development Programme, Poverty Reduction Forum, Institute of Development studies. Zimbabwe

Received 20 May 2005; Accepted 26 September 2005; Published 1 December 2005

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