Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (9) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Constraints and opportunities for increased livestock production in communal areas: A case study of Simbe, Zimbabwe

T Mutibvu, B E Maburutse, D T Mbiriri* and M T Kashangura

Department of Animal Science, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe   ;
* Department of Animal Science, Chonbuk National University, Chonju, 561-756, Korea


A survey was conducted in Simbe communal area of Gokwe south district in Zimbabwe to identify and catalogue constraints and opportunities for livestock production. The study area comprised of wards divided into villages and then households within each village setup. Using the multistage sampling procedure, three wards were randomly selected followed by a random selection of five villages per ward. Four households were randomly selected from each village to participate in the study. Data collection entailed using a semi-structured questionnaire, interviews with key informants as well as focus group discussions. Information collected included: house-hold demographics, production practices, identification of constraints to production and possible solutions, and management practices (feeding, watering, breeding and health provision).

The data were analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 16. Farmers kept a variety of livestock species of which most were indigenous breeds. Chickens were the most common species kept. Although cattle were the second most common species kept, they were more important than all other species in the livelihoods of farmers due to their various roles. Free range extensive production system was the dominant practice. Among challenges faced by farmers the most critical were disease problems, feed and water shortages and inadequate extension service. There were opportunities for improving livestock production in the area including demonstrations on the implementation of proven technologies, augmented by improved extension service provision, deployment of resources and dedicated monitoring systems.

Key words: Diseases, draught power, feed shortages, house-holds, water


Livestock production is an important component of agricultural activities in developing countries. It is the most important agricultural activity in most of the countries in southern Africa (Mamabolo and Webb 2005). Livestock are kept for various uses including draught power, milk, meat, eggs and various cultural uses. They compliment cropping activities through the provision of manure for soil fertility maintenance, draught power for cultivation, transport, cash and food (Powell et al 2004; Peden et al 2009). Livestock play an important role in these farming systems, as they offer opportunities for risk coping, farm diversification and intensification, and provide significant livelihood benefits (Bossio 2009). This brings in another important dimension of integrated crop-livestock farming which is the predominant system of production and subsistence in essentially all communal farming systems.  

Household livestock holdings vary from a few to a hundred heads per household with varying ratios of cattle (Bos taurus), donkeys (Equus asinus), and goats (Capra hircus). These production systems are generally characterised by low productivity. For instance, the productivity of bovines is about 15 kg meat per person per year in developing countries versus 79 kg in the developed world (Jahnke et al 1988). Livestock production in communal areas in sub-Saharan Africa is constrained by a variety of factors. Feed shortages during the dry season constitute the greatest challenge in terms of quantity and quality (Masikati 2010). According to Kassam and co-workers (2009), the main constraint to increasing livestock productivity and output is the lack of adequate supplies of good quality livestock feed in the dry season produced at a competitive cost and without jeopardizing household food security. Together with high incidences of diseases and mortality rates, feed shortages lead to low livestock productivity (Masikati 2010). Unavailability of water is another common constraint. In some areas, water may be available but is of insufficient quality to support healthy growth and performance. Masikati (2010) reported that water constraints were prevalent during the dry season, where animals had to walk distances of up to 14 km per day to access water. Water points are sometimes limited and large numbers of animals use the same points leading to high chances of spreading diseases and land degradation.  

Peeling and Holden (2004) point to the failure of government services to provide veterinary health services. Other factors include poor housing, low soil fertility for forage production and weak market chains for livestock and livestock products. These constraints are, however, within farmers’ capacity to mitigate (Masikati 2010). The aim of this study was therefore to identify and catalogue constraints and opportunities for increasing livestock productivity in communal areas of Zimbabwe.

Materials and Methods

Study site

Simbe communal area is in Gokwe South District, Zimbabwe. The district lies in the northwest part of the country in the Midlands province in agro-ecological region III. The average rainfall in the region ranges between 600 to 650 mm per annum. The rainfall pattern is skewed with most of the rainfall occurring from November to February. December and July are the wettest and driest months, respectively. Simbe is characterized by predominantly sandy soils and the most common land tenure system is communal with a few resettlement schemes in some areas. It is about 20 km north-east of Gokwe town which is the largest town in the district.


Sampling procedure

The area is organised into wards, followed by villages and then households within the village setup. The multistage sampling procedure was used to come up with the participants in the survey. Three wards were randomly selected followed by a random selection of five villages per ward. Four households were randomly selected from each village to participate in the study. Sampling frames for the target population were obtained from the chief, headmen and village heads for each of the; wards, villages and house-holds, respectively.


Data collection and analyses

A semi-structured questionnaire and interviews with key informants were used to collect survey data. The questionnaire was designed to capture information such as: house-hold demographics including sex and age of the respondent; production practices including; species kept, identification of constraints to production and possible solutions, management practices to include; feeding, watering, breeding and health provision. Data were analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 16. Descriptive statistics were generated to represent respondents’ opinions on various aspects of livestock production and these include frequencies, means and standard deviations.

Results and discussion

House-hold demographics

The minimum, mean and maximum ages of the respondents were 21, 45.5 and 87 years respectively. The majority (43%) of the respondents were between 33 to 44 years of age while the least (2.1%) were 81 or older (Figure 1). Ninety percent (90%) of the house-holds were headed by males.


Figure 1. Age distribution of respondents

Livestock species and numbers

All households interviewed kept indigenous chickens. They were ranked first among livestock species kept, contrary to observations by Mlambo et al (2011) where cattle were ranked first followed by chickens. The mean flock size observed was 16.06 (std dev. = 18.59 (Table 1)). A similar mean was observed by Muchadeyi and co-workers (2004) in Rushimga, Zimbabwe.  Muchadeyi and co-workers (2004) also reported an average of 17 birds per household for rural Zimbabwe. Elsewhere, a mean of 18.8 and a range of 6 – 35 per household were reported (Khalafalla et al 2000). Chickens are an important source of protein for rural house-holds. They can also be a source of income as they are easy to sell when need arises compared to larger species like cattle. According to Muchadeyi (2007), they are a form of quick off-takes thus they play a major role in the livelihoods of farmers.  

Cattle were the second most numerous species kept in the study area, with a mean herd size of 8.2 (std dev. = 7.16) as shown in Table 1. Herd size ranged between 3 and 30 beasts per household. Scoones and Wolmer (2000) made similar observations for Chikombedzi, Zimbabwe. This mean deviates  from the 3.6 observed for Masvingo and Sanyati (Ndlovu et al 2004) while Ndebele et al (2007) recorded a mean herd size of 10 for Gwayi, Zimbabwe. Ndlovu and co-workers (2004), however, noted that cattle are the major livestock species in crop-livestock systems. Farmers in the study area derived several benefits from keeping cattle including draught power (96%), milk (90.2%), cultural uses (29.4%) and meat (60.1% (Figure 2)). This is a very common observation across all communal production systems. For instance, Ndebele et al (2007) noted that cattle in Gwayi had numerous functions that they performed including draught power, rituals, milk and meat, manure and social security. These findings confirm observations by Dovie et al (2006) who reported that using animals for ploughing was the most valued benefit as indicated in this study by 96% of the respondents. Svotwa and co-workers (2007) also noted that cattle provided draught power for crop production. According to Jahnke et al (1988), ruminant species are by far the most important livestock species kept in Africa. Other researchers e.g. Mavedzenge et al (2006) and Peeling and Holden (2004) stated that cattle in the communal areas have multiple uses that include acting as a source of draught power, transport, milk, manure and savings among others. In yet another study, it was reported that up to 82% of draught power in the developing world, comes from livestock (Masikati 2010) while in Cambodia, Pen and co-workes (2009) observed that cattle are the most important sources of draught power and transport in the fields as well as the manure for the low input farming system. According to Francis et al (1999), more than 85% of communal area farmers in Zimbabwe use animal draught power for tillage and transport

Goat production was a very important activity in the study area. Flock sizes averaged 7.9 (std dev. = 8.24) per house-hold in this study and this deviates from observations by Mahanjana and Cronjé (2000) who recorded a mean goat flock size of 16 in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. This study showed that goats are an important source of meat (78.4%) and milk (23.5%) (Figure 3) which is comparable to observations by Mamabolo and Webb (2005) who stated that goats primarily produce meat but are also a source of milk. Other livestock species kept by farmers in the area include commercial chickens, pigs, donkeys and various other less popular poultry species like guinea fowl and ducks.


Table 1. Livestock species and numbers kept in Simbe



Std dev.

Indigenous chickens









Commercial chickens


















Guinea fowls




Figure 2. Uses of goats and cattle in communal areas

Feeding and watering

Farmers in the study area indicated that the natural veld was the major source of feed for their livestock (Figure 3) while other species could scavenge around the yard. Commercial chicken (broiler) producers used the intensive system of production where feed was either bought in or formulated based on commercial concentrates. All other poultry species utilized both the yard and natural veld as sources of feed (Figure 3). This was very common especially for house-holds that had no fences around their home-steads. More than 88% of house-holds interviewed reported that their cattle herds grazed on communal rangelands throughout the year and received supplements in winter. In all cases, supplements were in form of crop residues, mainly poor quality maize stalks. These are common practices in almost all communal livestock holdings in Zimbabwe with a few exceptions. For example, a study by Ndebele and co-workers (2007) revealed that all households indicated that their cattle grazed on communal rangelands all year round with no or little supplementation using stover and urea blocks. The observation is supported by Sibanda (1986) and Ndlovu and Sibanda (1991) and Svotwa et al. (2007). Masikati (2010) reported that crop residues are the most common feed source for alleviating feed shortages during the dry season in a study that was conducted in Nkayi district in Zimbabwe. Supplementation is essential since the natural veld undergoes seasonal variation in both the quality and quantity of herbage given the seasonality of rainfall in Zimbabwe (Sibanda 1986). Most crop-livestock production relies directly on rainfall, and adverse changes in quantity and temporal patterns of rainfall are a major risk to production (Masikati 2010).  

Farmers in Simbe communal area relied on various water sources depending on location, season and capacity. The range of water sources included; rivers (perennial - 51% and seasonal – 5.8%); dams/ponds (25.5%), boreholes (9.8%). Less common sources included open and protected wells and springs. Distance to water sources varied with season and was invariably longer in the dry season ranging from 0 to 10 km. This posed challenges to farmers and limited access to water. The maximum distance reported in a study in Nkayi was longer (14 km) than for this study area (10 km) in the dry season (Masikati 2010). These sources of water appeared to be unreliable. Water from dams and rivers got muddy in the rainy season while seasonal rivers, wells and some springs would dry up as the season advanced. Other researchers have reported similar findings in various places. According to Ndebele et al (2007), communal cattle obtained water from rivers, wells and boreholes adding that sources were unreliable especially during the dry season. In a study by Svotwa and co-workers (2007), vegetation and water quality deterioration were assigned the highest rank among problems affecting cattle production in Tanda ward in Manicaland province.

Figure 3. Common sources of feed for communal livestock

Herd health management

The major causes of offspring mortality were diseases and predators (Figure 4). Species most commonly affected were cattle, goats and poultry species like chickens, turkeys and ducks. Various other studies point to diseases as major causes of losses in livestock production. A study by Ndebele et al (2007) revealed that calves were the most vulnerable group, especially during the dry season and beginning of the rainy season. In Namibia, a high incidence of mortalities was reported among piglets and this was attributed to disease challenges (Petrus et al 2011). According to Mwacharo and Drucker (2005), diseases are a major constraint to the improvement of the livestock industry in the tropics as they decrease production and increase morbidity and mortality. It emerged from this study that the use of conventional drugs was sporadic as farmers lacked capacity to identify disease problems in their herds. Vaccinations were not very common (4%) and were only carried out by veterinary officers when major outbreaks occurred. Predation was reported by 33.3% of respondents as the major cause of chick mortality (Figure 4). In all other forms of livestock, additional losses were attributed to unknown causes which farmers described as mysterious.

Figure 4. Major causes of offspring mortality in livestock

Constraints to production

Several challenges were highlighted by farmers as constraints to livestock production. Disease challenges were ranked highest (69.3%) among problems faced by farmers in the study area (Table 2). Feed shortages were the second most popular (52.1%) followed by access to water (39%), extension services (26%) and other (15%) problems.

Livestock health management and extension services

Most of the respondents acknowledged that they were aware that diseases posed the worst threat to herd growth. This appears to be a common observation among communal livestock producers with findings by other researchers generally making similar revelations (Masimba et al 2011) adding that disease challenges are a major constraint to the improvement of the livestock industry in the tropics (Devendra et al 2000). This was attributed to the effect of diseases of reducing production and increasing morbidity and mortality (Mwacharo and Drucker 2005). According to Masikati (2010), the major constraint for cattle production in the smallholder farming systems is the high animal mortality through diseases. In a study carried out by Amenu et al (2011), farmers indicated shortage of feed, shortage of water and livestock diseases as the top ranked constraints for livestock production in Lume district in Ethiopia. Elsewhere in south-east Asia, the farmers in the studied sites rated the lack of feed and disease as the most important constraints to cattle production (Pen et al 2009). Farmers in this study were not always able to identify common disease problems affecting their livestock herds. Contrary to this observation, a study that was conducted in Zhombe communal area of Zimbabwe showed that farmers had a firm understanding of poultry flock health and managed to positively identify diseases affecting poultry flocks (Mlambo et al 2011). 

Table 2. Ranking of common problems faced by farmers


Nature of challenge

Frequency (%)





Feed shortages



Water (access and quality)



Extension services





It was surprising to note that disease challenges were ranked highest among problems faced by communal farmers, especially when the same indicated the presence of the Department of Agricultural Research and Extension (Agritex - 72.5%), the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS - 60.8%) and several Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs’ - 13.7%) staff in the area (Figure 5). Even more perturbing, is the proportion of farmers indicating that Extension services were indeed a problem (Table 2). It is probably due to a myriad of challenges associated with extension support delivery systems in communal areas. For instance, shortage of drugs, lack of transport among other resources, paralyzes extension support delivery e.g. acaricides that are used to control ticks were said to be unavailable on local markets and very expensive in a study conducted in Nkayi District, Zimbabwe (Masikati 2010). Other researchers have reported the collapse of extension support systems. According to Peeling and Holden (2004), with a few exceptions, an overwhelming trend in both rich and poor countries has made government provision of clinical Veterinary Services a thing of the past. In the event that extension staff is available, they are either incapacitated due to lack of equipment, transport and drugs or are too few to be accessible when needed. Petrus et al (2011) stated that the actual causes of mortality in pigs could not be established from the farmers in Etayi, Namibia, because of lack of veterinary service in the area. In the same study lack of extension services was ranked second among constraints to pig production. According to Morton and Matthewman (1996), livestock production extension services have developed around crop production, and remain tied largely to the seasonal nature of cropping adding that such a system is less useful for livestock production. Livestock services and the ministries or departments that are responsible for them, are mainly run by vets, and focus on animal health issues: curative treatment of individual animals, preventive health, and health screening of animal products. 

Some farmers indicated that they resorted to non-conventional disease control practices. Indeed this is not peculiar to this area, although the use of specific indigenous species might be. Masimba and co-workers (2011) reported that rural households in Gutu District reared indigenous poultry and made extensive use of ethnoveterinary medicines in poultry health management practices. These findings are also consistent with observations by Mwale and co-workers (2005) who reported the use of several indigenous plant species in livestock health management in Mushagashe, Zimbabwe.

Figure 5. Organisations assisting livestock producers in Simbe communal area

Feed shortages

Challenges associated with feed availability were reported by 52.1% of the respondents (Table 2). Severity of shortages worsened during the dry season. A common challenge is the seasonal nature of rainfall patterns in Zimbabwe and many parts of Africa leading to seasonal fluctuations in forage quality and quantity. However, population pressure and emerging new markets created by urbanisation have caused an increase in land under cultivation, at the expense of grazing land (Morton and Matthewman 1996) further exacerbating the problem. According to Amenu et al (2011), grazing land is restricted to waste land, roadsides, edges of cropping fields and river banks, as well as fallow land during the wet season and crop residues during the dry season associated with land competition for cropping. Elsewhere, farmers reported a seasonal fluctuation in livestock feed availability with the greatest feed scarcity being felt during the dry season in Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya (Lukuyu et al 2009). The majority (43.1%) of farmers in the study area collected and stored crop residues for use as feed supplements during the dry season (figure 6). About 10% left paddocks close to crop fields for use as graze but this was mainly in response to shortage of grazing land. Lack of knowledge, inadequate extension and sometimes ignorance, leads to serious problems related to feed shortages. It has been reported that the rate of adoption of livestock-related technologies in smallholder crop-livestock systems worldwide is consistently low (Francis and Sibanda 2001). Farmers fail to take advantage of proven technologies aimed at improving feed quality and feed low quality roughage in the form of dried maize stover (Svotwa et al 2007) among other crop residues (Lukuyu et al 2009), yet poor nutrition results in low growth rates and low reproductive performance (Pen et al 2009). Opportunities for improving the nutrition of livestock do exist, for instance, multipurpose legume trees can provide high-quality feed and improve soil fertility (Lenné and Thomas 2006).

Figure 6. Strategies to avert feed shortages

Access to water

Sources of water reported in this study are; rivers, dams/ponds, bore-holes, wells and springs. Similar sources of water for communal livestock were reported by Amenu et al (2011) with the exception of lakes and stand pipes. Challenges associated with watering animals in the study area included; long distances to water sources (40%), steep slope (11.8%) and poor water quality (3.9%) especially following the rains (muddy) or long after (smelly). The longest distance that farmers and herds would walk was 10 km (Figure 8), in comparison to 14 km reported by Masikati (2010) in Nkayi District of Zimbabwe. About 65% of the respondents indicated that they covered between 2 – 5 km to get their herds to water in the dry season compared to 23% in the wet season (Figure 8). Although distances of up to 10 km were encountered, the respondents indicated that this was limited to the dry season. Elsewhere, distances covered were relatively shorter ranging from 5 – 8 km, however cases of water scarcity were reported in Rwanda, Uganda and some parts of Kenya (Lukuyu et al 2009). Svotwa and co-workers (2007) reported similar problems including inadequacy of watering points as the major constraints in a study conducted in Tanda ward in Manicaland province of Zimbabwe. Walking long distances could lead to weight loss while smelly and/muddy water leads to a reduction in intake to the detriment of livestock affected. Charlotte and Mandsen (1998) as well as Lukuyu et al (2009) in similar studies reported that lack of fresh water caused a reduction in feed intake imposing a limit on milk yield and growth rate.

Figure 7. Problems commonly encountered in watering livestock


Figure 8. Variation in distance to water sources between seasons

Breeding and selection

The majority of farmers kept indigenous breeds of livestock including crosses between exotic and indigenous breeds. A few exotic breeds were encountered in very small numbers.  It was interesting, however, to note that communal farmers had some knowledge of selection of animals for breeding purposes. Farmers indicated that they practiced selection of individuals to breed for cattle, goats and chickens (Figure 9). Selection of animals for breeding was based on the size of a particular animal (cattle - 56.9%; goats - 21.2% and chickens - 7.8%) and the performance of the parent (cattle – 7.8%; goats – 2% and chickens – 2%). This probably indicates that farmers are not entirely ignorant of laws of genetic inheritance; however, the low proportions of farmers selecting animals on the basis of performance of parents may be indicative of weak record keeping or absence there-of. Some farmers prefer indigenous breeds because they are tolerant to diseases and utilize feed of low nutrient density to produce good quality meat and perform well even without very sophisticated management (Petrus et al 2011). According to Petrus et al (2011), use of improved breeds in developing countries presents farmers with a major challenge as the breeds require intensive management for them to realize full production potential. Genetic factors do not appear to be a restriction in Africa. Local breeds are able to make the best use of their actual environment, and, with better management, performance can be improved (Jahnke et al 1988).

There seems to be scope for improving the performance of the communal livestock production sector. According to Musemwa et al (2008), the use of locally adapted breeds can help overcome most communal cattle production constraints. Crossbreeding of low-yielding indigenous breeds with high-yielding exotic breeds has been widely acknowledged as a valuable strategy to improve animal productivity (Birthal and Pathasarathy Rao 2002). It appears it would be easy to introduce and promote such practices in areas such as this one since farmers demonstrate some knowledge of breeding and selection, though rudimentary. Up to 25.5% of the respondents even indicated that they castrated animals to control breeding, which is encouraging.

Figure 9. Selection of animals for breeding

Conclusion and recommendations


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Received 17 May 2012; Accepted 2 August 2012; Published 3 September 2012

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