Agriculture remains the single largest source of income and livelihoods for rural households in the developing world, normally providing more than 50% of household income.
Nearly three-quarters of the extremely poor people, about 1 billion people live in rural areas, according to a World Bank report, and 90% of them are small-scale farmers depending directly on agriculture as part of their livelihoods.
However, in most developing countries, rural agrarian populations continue to expand while land for sustainable agricultural production is not expanding at the same rate. One of the suggested strategies essential in raising rural income and food security is diversification into livestock and increasing livestock productivity because a large share of the rural poor communal farmers already keep livestock and mainly cattle as contributors to their livelihoods.
However, despite these benefits, communal farmers in rural areas face many challenges that constrain them from generating income from their livestock. These challenges include lack of access to land and water, lack of access to marketing channels, smaller herd size, risks associated with animal diseases, draught and theft.
Various studies have found that lack of access to formal marketing channels as well as high transaction costs associated with marketing were the main factors restricting communal farmers from participating in the vibrant formal market where they could earn a higher income.
However, while the establishment of efficient marketing channels can certainly assist communal farmers to earn a higher income, it can also be argued that higher income will not be attainable if farmers are unable to expand their holdings or herds, which could potentially assist them in earning a higher income.
More specifically, farmers residing close to the conservation park faces an added challenge such as livestock predation due to wildlife that escape from the park into the communal grazing area where they mingle with livestock. This is especially true in the Zambezi and part of the Omaheke regions. While livestock remains the major source of livelihoods of communal farmers in these areas, these challenges can undermine this very source of their livelihoods. Studies have also shown that while most of the literature argues that in traditional or communal areas cattle ownership is often of greater importance for cultural reasons, as well as an asset signalling social status, there is no real evidence in this regard. In fact, poor farmers living in rural areas keep livestock mainly as a way of generating income (market benefits) rather than gaining social status or cultural reasons (nonmarket benefits).
This implies for government to invest in a strategy that has the potential to raise rural income. One such strategy could be diversification into livestock and increasing productivity because a large share of the rural poor keeps livestock and mainly cattle as the contributors to their livelihoods.
However, challenges such as lack of well-functioning markets, livestock predation as well as theft pose major challenges to the farmers in realizing the benefits that cattle farming can offer. More specifically, formal marketing channels offer the best cattle prices, the right selling time, cattle breeds and the right age at which to sell the cattle, of which all these factors have the potential to give the highest returns.
Lack of access to formal markets could be due to lack of government involvement in establishing efficient marketing channels, lack of extension services, poor roads and infrastructure.
Without an efficient game-proof sense and lack of a compensation scheme, the costs of owning livestock outweigh the benefits of farmers. Measures to protect against livestock predation and wildlife-livestock disease transmission will greatly reduce livestock losses and in turn, enhance the welfare of this group of farmers.
Simply put, communal farmers need all the help they can get if they are to advance to commercial levels of farming. - firstname.lastname@example.org