Petros Zivengwa Features Writer
Clouds waft again and again, their silver hue transforming light as it filters through the film of the silhouetted horizon, giving the Eastern Highlands a unique view.
Honde Valley is one of the premier tourist destinations in Zimbabwe, with a wide range of species difficult to find in most parts of Africa except in neighbouring Mozambique.
A drive into this fertile valley from the high mountain of Nyanga passes through Mutarazi and Mutororo Falls (Zimbabwe’s highest waterfalls) before one disappears into the lush green vegetation of the valley.
It is breathtaking.
We drove enjoying the scent of pine trees interweaving with climbers at the top, their fine branches crowned by lush green leaves, leaving the ground below dark, sinister and creepy.
Shrubs of different hues and grasses, vast plantations of pine and wattle, perennially flowing rivers, deep ravines and waterfalls are a common sight all the way.
Finally we reached Mr Chitungo’s farm, the man who scooped the 2014 Smallholder Dairy Farmer Award.
The area is fondly known for its red and black fertile soils, multitudes of banana, tea, and timber plantations, which are watered naturally by waters streaming down from the huge mountain range.
The waters flow throughout the year by gradient. Besides, the area is endowed with an assortment of natural resources which make it one of the few places in the country with a huge tourism potential.
While the conditions in the popular Honde Valley favour most horticulture activities, animal husbandry has not been a very successful agricultural activity in the area.
Perhaps owing to the heavy rainfall and unsuitable pastures that cannot support the survival of most breeds of cattle, goats or sheep.
But hold on.
This year, the Zimbabwe Small-Scale Dairy Farmer Award went to this Mr Chitungo, whose homestead on fertile soils, enjoys wet and hot weather of the valley. Mr Chitungo is a subsistence farmer whose passion for animal husbandry started at a tender age.
“I grew up with my parents here who although they were just ordinary peasant farmers, taught me enough to like agriculture,” he said.
“I didn’t do any formal agriculture training, I got to know about livestock farming through workshops that I regularly attended when I left teaching in 2001,” he explained.
Over the years, Mr Chitungo ventured into beef farming and at one point he had 40 cattle, a record by Honde Valley standards.
This gave him the opportunity to draw lessons that beef farming was unprofitable and ventured into dairy farming.
He started it in 2011.
He owns a 3,2-hectare farm with a total of 26 head of cattle among them nine dairy cows, five heifers and two bulls.
He produces 160 litres of milk daily and a monthly average of 2 100 litres.
“My dream is growing the herd to 20 dairy cows to improve production,” he added.
“I enjoyed the privilege of travelling across as a teacher and it was during that time that I realised the comparative advantage that Honde Valley enjoys over other parts of rural areas,” he said.
“Record keeping is an important thing in farming. Most farmers find it hard to make profits because they don’t keep records, which is why they cannot adjust and make their business profitable,” he said.
He said farmers should swallow their pride and learn from others.
“Some students from Magamba Training Centre actually come and have their attachment. I am looking forward to impart my knowledge to many students for the betterment of society and the country,” he said.
Mr Chitungo also produces an average of five tonnes of bananas a week.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development responsible for livestock, Mr Paddy Zhanda applauded Mr Chitungo.
“There are a total of 33 registered smallholder dairy farms, but only 17 of these are functional including that of Mr Chitungo which has proved to be the best across the country,” he said.
“Farmers must learn to take farming as a business and white farmers in the dairy industry should assist our local farmers with knowledge to sustain and improve the dairy industry.”
He admitted that small-scale dairy farming is facing challenges among them shortage of yielding dairy cows, inadequate technical and management skills and poor marketing.
He said that his ministry was working tirelessly to improve the dairy industry.
“My ministry also intends to improve extension delivery services by way of training extension workers in dairy project.
“We are working on a livestock policy which is meant to guide the livestock industry towards efficiency of production and productivity,” he said.
“The smallholder dairy sector in Zimbabwe therefore needs to be supported so that the country graduates from a situation of dairy products insufficiency to self-sufficiency and hence save on the resources outflows,” he added.
Mr Chitungo’s farm is a clear indication of how good farm management can transform livelihoods of people and the country at large.
Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) chairperson Mr Craig Follwell said his organisation sought to promote dairy farming among smallholder farmers.
“Our vision is to promote and expand all sectors of the dairy industry in Zimbabwe, primarily the small-scale sector as major impact has been seen in the increased volume of milk delivered by milk collection centres to the formal market reaching two million litres this year,” he said.
“Increased local production will reduce imports as well as generate income for Government from taxes and create employment in downstream industries,” he added.