|A dairy farmer par excellence|
|Thursday, 09 February 2012 00:00|
"I had to quit my job to focus on my passion - dairy farming - and I had to make a tough decision that meant relocating from the bright lights of the city to the farm," said Mr Lovemore Mugabe as he supervised the afternoon milking session of his 350 dairy cows.
Located about 50km west of Hwedza Centre, Magure Farm has lived to become a testimony of hard work and perseverance. It is a clear example of what a Zimbabwean can do when presented with an opportunity.
In the past, dairy farming was an elitist activity restricted mostly to white farmers, people like Mr Mugabe have helped to disabuse this thinking that large- scale dairy farming is for the rich.
Mr Mugabe's decision to leave a thriving transport business has not led him to a dead end but has helped in improving his social and economic life in a big way.
Starting with less than 20 commercial dairy cows in 2002, Mr Mugabe has grown to establish a herd of 900 cattle with a total of 350 cows going under the milk shed, 400 being heifers and the remainder comprising dry cows.
He got the Magure Farm under the land redistribution programme, moving from a small plot in the same area.
Immediately he sought to improve the operations at the farm as an example to other farmers in the area.
"I started by improving the working conditions of my workers because one will never be successful with a hostile workforce. I took everything within my stride since money was not readily available.
"I took the opportunity because dairy farming is my passion. This is now my everyday life. That's why I relocated with my family from Marondera to this farm. At first it was difficult convincing my wife and children but they are now solidly behind me. This business does not need ‘cellphone farmers'.
"I started small but picked up over the years. From a small herd of 13, my herd has grown to over 900 cattle. The herd consists of Holsteins and Jerseys and milking short cows."
Mr Mugabe said business was affected during the hyperinflationary period and only started picking up in 2010. He said "cellphone farming" was not ideal for any type of farming.
"The business requires the presence of the farmer for proper monitoring of animals and milking otherwise the investment will be lost.
"Mind you, dairy farming is a capital-intensive project. Just like any other businesses you need to be seriously involved with the entire production line otherwise you will not survive for long.
"That is all it takes to be a successful farmer. In fact, this is true for any field one might be in," Mr Mugabe said.
His "never-say-die" attitude has rewarded him handsomely. For his efforts, Mr Mugabe has already scooped the Nestle Milk Producer of the Year twice, in 2005 and 2010, beating a host of others including established white farmers, in recognition of his hard work.
Mr Mugabe produces 800 000 litres of milk a month.
On the farm, Mr Mugabe does not only focus milk production, he is also into cash crops to feed the nation and capital assets to finance occasional expenditure.
He produces the bulk of the stockfeed on the farm as grazing alone will not bring the desired production quality hence the need for supplementary feeding.
"The animals need good and sufficient food to remain healthy and productive. As such, I always give supplements during the wet season and silage during the drier months.
"I have 103 hectares of maize that we process for silage to feed the livestock, food for the family and workers.
"I have a full complement of workers divided into six categories that include fields, veterinary services, milkmen, herdboys, security and machinery," he said.
Specialisation of duties has enabled his workers to concentrate on their different sections and produce the best results.
"Imagine when you have to milk the cows twice a day, that requires a lot of manpower," he said.
Mr Mugabe said there was no way one could be involved in animal production and have nothing to do with crop productions.
Over the years he has strived to improve the quality of milk from his farm.
For him, maintaining good quality requires maintaining standards within the milk production line.
"The prices of milk are favourable but every farmer must always seek to produce a better quality product. We are getting US$0,45c per litre but there is 25 percent premium for good butter quality. So one can get above US$0,70c if he gets his quality right and if one does not get these premiums, the overheads will bring him down," Mr Mugabe said.
Through the assistance of Nestle Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe was able to expand his byre to milk 24 cows at a time.
He said Nestle was playing a major role in reviving the dairy industry through financing of mechanisation and improvement of farmers' herd.
"We have not set on laurels. We are working together as dairy farmers in the area to ensure that we improve milk production. We always meet to discuss production quality and hygiene.
"To ensure we improve our herd, we always sell heifers amongst ourselves. The aim is to ensure that all dairy farmers in the area have high yield cows," he added.
Just like others dairy farmers, Mr Mugabe's biggest worry is the erratic electricity supply.
He said: "Our biggest worry is the persistent power outages, but I believe this is a national problem. Zesa used to give us schedules for loadshedding but not any more. We used to have four days of power per week but this is now distorted.
"Consequently we have to rely on two high powered generators to power the milking machines and cool storage tanks but at a huge cost. The generators have a capacity of 1000kva."
Mr Mugabe urged other farmers to work together with police to curb stock theft.
Owing to the good rapport with the community, he has not recorded theft over the past eight years.
With the country's dairy herd estimated below 40 000, down from a peak of 192 000 in 1992, it is the work of people like Mr Mugabe that can lead the revival of dairy farming.
According to statistics from the National Association of Dairy Farmers, Zimbabwe's milk production rose from about 3,6 million litres a month to 4,6 million last year.
Capacity utilisation among dairy processors is below 30 percent owing to reduction in farm production.
The Zimbabwean dairy industry is aiming to improve milk production from the current 50 million litres to over 200 million litres annually over the next five years.