Political turmoil threatens beef herd

Gift Phiri

ZIMBABWE’S commercial beef herd, which until three-and-a-half years ago earned more than R14 billion annually from exports, is on the verge of extinction as a result of the country’s p

olitical turmoil.


The national herd, bred over a period of 110 years for survival in Zimbabwe’s harsh conditions, stood at 1,4 million animals in 2000 when President Robert Mugabe launched his fast track land reform programme.


“By the middle of this year only 210 000 beef cattle survived,” Paul d’Hotman, Cattle Producers’ Association chief executive, said. “At the last count there were fewer than 125 000 animals, but the number will be lower by now. The entire national herd is on the road to extinction and the whole gene pool is being wiped out.”


The looming disappearance of one of Zimbabwe’s most valuable assets is the most dramatic illustration yet of the meltdown that is occurring in a country with one of the world’s highest inflation rate and the fastest-declining economy.


Dirk Odendaal was one of Zimbabwe’s top beef farmers until two years ago when he was given 48 hours to quit his 2 015 hectare farm and homestead with his herd of 1 200 pedigree cross Brahman-Charolet cattle that he had bred over 22 years.


“It was impossible to get such a large number of animals off the farm in that time,” he said. “It was heartbreaking.”


Odendaal, whose farm, Condor “A”, lies 250km south of Harare in Masvingo province, said that in the first few hours many of his cattle were stolen as settlers opened gates and broke down fences.


“There was a complete breakdown of law and order and no police backup,” he said. “Thieves were coming from all over.” Odendaal, who bought his farm in 1981, said about 300 of his cattle were stolen.