While the relationship between crop and livestock production seems obvious to some people, a lot of lessons are hidden in how these commodities are marketed in many African countries. In almost every African country, where there are people’s agriculture markets, the horticulture and field crops market is relatively more consistent and dynamic than the livestock market which is often sporadic. The nature and use of these commodities influences their marketing patterns and structure. For most households meat can be a luxury while tomatoes, leafy vegetables and maize meal are a necessity. In other words, you can go without meat for a week but you need tomatoes and vegetables every day. That means necessities have different market patterns from luxuries.
Cattle as long term investment
Investment in livestock does not just look at monetary value but other benefits such as milk, manure and status. Cattle are mostly used to invest in other long-term ventures such as marriage (for dignity and social acceptance) and education. To show that investment in cattle looks beyond monetary gains, it can take three years for a beast to grow and be sold for $300. While this money can be spent in one day, its other values are considered more than cash. Many farmers narrate their economic growth patterns from horticulture to ending up with cattle as a store of value. It is common to hear a farmer say: “From growing and selling tomatoes I bought chicken, then four goats and now have 10 cattle.” This means cattle are an indicator of success in horticulture farming. Again, the majority of smallholder farmers are more comfortable storing their wealth in cattle than in banks. That is why, among the Shona people of Zimbabwe when one sells a beast s/he says: “Ndaputsa mombe”, which literally means I have destroyed what I had put together over time.
What motivates people to sell or buy livestock?
Many development partners and private companies are directing enormous effort at building livestock auction systems in rural areas. Unfortunately there has not been deep research on what motivates smallholder farmers to sell their livestock such as goats, sheep and cattle. In Zimbabwe, for instance, livestock marketing is heavily influenced by socio-economic and cultural factors. While horticulture crops are more of consumptive commodities, livestock such as cattle are more of an investment. A number of cattle auctions do not function as anticipated because selling livestock is more of a consultative process where decisions are made in circles unlike selling tomatoes. If a beast is sold at a much lower prices, that decision affects the whole family.
There are hidden negative consequences of creating an auction in a rural area. When 400 cattle are bought by external buyers from one community, the money injected in that community often drives up prices of other commodities such as maize and some goods in local shops. Another hidden negative impact relates to reduced collective draught power. The more cattle leave a particular community, the increase in the number of hectares that will be rendered fallow as farmers run out of draught power. Collective marketing of goats and cattle also tends to have numerous unforeseen issues. It is sometimes better to facilitate individual marketing because each person has his/her individual needs which can be met at different times, taking all social and other factors into account.
Rarely is every farmer willing and ready to sell cattle in a community. Livestock auctions sometimes create a bandwagon effect where farmers sell their goats and cattle only to realize that the community has run out of livestock and favourable breeds – draining wealth which has taken generations to build. However, a critical market dimension that is waiting to be explored in many smallholder farming communities is that for breeding stock as opposed to slaughter. Although many rural areas have diverse breeds and phenotypes of local chickens, goats, sheep, cattle and other livestock, marketing is still to be aligned to different breeds or phenotypes so that superior breeds or phenotypes command higher prices. In crops, superior breeds of maize, tomatoes, potatoes and different types of fruits attract different prices in the market. On the other hand, size and weight still determine price in goats, cattle and other livestock. The majority of smallholder farmers are still to be adequately knowledgeable about classifying and categorizing their livestock breeds and phenotypes.
Addressing depletion in livestock breeds and using livestock as collateral
Livestock are adaptable to particular areas but, when buying for keeping, most people depend on guesswork to the effect that a farmer thinks a goat from Mwenezi will obviously survive in Guruve. There hasn’t been as much research on linking livestock breeds to environment and market. The effect of environment on meat or milk quality has not been researched upon as well. To what extent does cold affect milk yield and quality?
Most rural communities are losing their best livestock breeds due to the absence of incentives for the best local breeders. The decision is left to a household whether to sell a beast and, since buyers select the best beast, that is how the best breeds disappear. One way of saving local breeds is using cattle as collateral so that a farmer does not have to sell a whole nice breed just to buy fertilizer or pay school fees. The farmer can be enabled to access income for covering these needs without disposing of a whole beast. It is important to start recognizing livestock as a form of wealth that can be used as collateral. While buildings and land leases are being used as collateral, there is no suitable collateral for smallholder farmers whose notion of wealth is tied to livestock. Many farmers sell their cattle in desperation yet they could be assisted through collateralizing their livestock. It takes 3 years for a farmer to grow a beast yet someone can buy it for $300 and goes away to make three times profit.
Lack of livestock market intelligence
Horticulture markets ensure farmers communicate regularly through frequent participation. Unfortunately that is not happening to livestock producers due to the erratic nature of livestock marketing. Rather than farmers continuing to sell whole beasts, there is need for livestock valuation mechanisms which provide options for unbundling value. For instance, convening a market where other input providers such as seed companies and those selling farming implements bring their items to cattle sales will enable farmers to see the number and value of items that a beast can buy rather than just resorting to cash payment. For example a farmer can see that his beast can afford him 10 bags of fertilizer, a sprayer, a plough and 4 x50kg seed. This unbundling of value can be more satisfying than receiving $300 from a buyer who goes away to make more.
The role of advocacy and lobbying
There is also need for vigorous lobbying by livestock farmers so that buyers are seen upgrading pastures, deep tanks and other assets as social corporate responsibility. Lobbying and advocacy can also result in cattle sales happening over at least three days rather than just one day. A longer sale period provides room for farmers to negotiate and make informed decisions unlike selling in a hurry, within four hours of the auction. Farmers must have enough room to consider other factors before deciding to sell. Ambushing farmers is not a sustainable marketing strategy. On the other hand, destocking efforts are not advising farmers how they can keep their money for better returns after destocking. It is not helpful for a farmer to destock and buy a house at a growth point like Lupane or Muzarabani where properties are entirely valueless due to absence of title deeds.
Destocking has to be more controlled and implemented as a last resort because by destocking you are depleting wealth that has taken years to build. Perhaps destocking can be linked with horticulture which is a rapid money-spinner. The synergy between horticulture and livestock is not apparent to many people yet it’s very important. Farmers who destock would rather invest in horticulture which can provide the capacity to restock one step at a time. It can also enable farmers to buy livestock feed and other inputs.
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