The brand that trumps all for farmers
TAKE THAT . . . A vet officer brands cattle

TAKE THAT . . . A vet officer brands cattle

Noah Pito Features Correspondent
When asked what he would prefer between a top of the range Mercedes Benz and a span of two oxen, Mr Onismous Mugari of Ansdale Farm, Hurungwe, said he would settle for a span of oxen although a Benz was far more expensive than the two beasts.
In justifying his case, the 48-year-old tobacco farmer said oxen to him were a dependable path towards achieving all that he could aspire for in his life as he could yoke them to till tracts of land which was not the same case with the high-class vehicle.

“It is because I can buy the same car, a bus, a house or whatever, you name it, through yoking the two oxen,” he postulated.

Mr Mugari also enumerated a host of advantages and roles cattle played in our African society, from payment of the bride-price in marriages to important rituals for appeasing the ancestral spirits.

Although Mr Mugari understands and realises the importance of cattle especially in the generation of wealth through agriculture, it is ironic that in Hurungwe most of the people with livelihoods that hinge on tilling the land are not doing enough to ensure security of their beasts.

According to Hurungwe district Agritex officer Mr Kelvin Charewa some farmers in the area sometimes record low yields not because they lack expertise in agriculture but simply because they sometimes end up without draught power after losing their cattle to thieves.

“Stock theft is one of the major drawbacks in the success of agriculture in the area. Some farmers end up stranded after losing their cattle to thieves just when we are towards the onset of the rainy season. Lack of funds to hire draught power becomes the biggest challenge that ends up lowering farmers’ acreage and yields,” he said.

Mr Charewa’s sentiments were echoed by Hurungwe Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Joram Moyo who said although his council periodically auctioned stray cattle – at least once every month – it was not in the best interest of his council to see scores of cattle going under the hammer in the name of stray cattle.

“Auctioning of impounded cattle is sort of a punishment to compel the owners to look after their beasts in future. The farmers should be responsible enough. They should put in place all measures that ensure the security of their beasts. If the beasts are branded, the owner can simply be advised to collect their beasts though after paying a small fine,” he said.

Although Hurungwe district last year registered a decline in cattle rustling as compared to the previous year – mainly due to police awareness campaigns against stock-theft and stakeholders’ collaborating effort – police in the area are still worried about the slow pace at which the community is embracing personal branding.

Branding is meant for quick recovery of stolen and stray beasts.

Officer commanding Police, Hurungwe District, Chief Superintendant Justin Mandizha said although some cattle owners in the area were taking time to accept cattle branding, last year’s figures for stolen cattle stood at 125 compared to 216 for the previous year. Chief Supt Mandizha said the 57 percent drop could be attributed to several factors among them the supporting effort from Hurungwe Rural District Council and other stakeholders.

“Awareness campaigns and routine inspections on food outlets and butcheries could not be the answer alone as Hurungwe Rural District Council, Bussiness Against Stock Theft, including some hotels and abattoirs did a lot in collaborating police effort during the period in question,” he said.

Chief Supt Mandizha lamented the slow rate at which members of the community were implementing personal branding in the area despite albeit being the most effective way of thwarting cattle rustling. He added that it was disturbing that some members of the community were reluctant to part with only $2 to ensure everlasting security for their beasts.

“Although it only requires $2 for someone to acquire a certificate of branding from the Registrar General’s Office, the response has been very slow indeed. May be some of the people are simply conservative and don’t want to embrace new ideas. But people must remember that unbranded beasts remain the thieves’ targets. Personal branding gives a unique identity to one’s animals just the same way a person’s identity card number does.

“If all the members of the community become serious with implementing branding we would not be talking about auctioning of stray cattle by local authorities which also militates against effective agriculture,” he explained.

Hurungwe BAST chairman Mr Aggrey Matashu said the busting of unregistered butcheries and food outlets by Hurungwe Rural District Council and the police had also destroyed a ready market for meat realised from stolen stock.

“Most of the thieves had lucrative markets at illegal settlements like Chikuti and Sanyati. Since council and the police periodically swoops on these areas, some makeshift butcheries and food outlets have since disappeared leaving the thieves grounded,” he said.

Mr Matashu said patrols by police even in flea markets had also exposed some vendors who used to sell meat from cooler boxes under the guise of selling dairy products and fizzy drinks.

Mr Matashu said his committee would soon consider introducing a special fine on cattle owners failing to brand their beasts. According to Chief Supt Mandizha, troublesome spots in Hurungwe include Birimahwe under Chief Nematombo and Mashuma under Chief Nyamhunga.

Police records also show that stock theft in Hurungwe peaks during the period June-November when most people leave their animals to roam free and wild. During this period potential thieves would also have exhausted their cash mostly realised from tobacco sales while the rate slumps during the period December-May when most farmers would be herding and penning up their beasts.  Still there is resistance.

A spirit medium from Chigede Village under Chief Dendera, Stoker Charadzera, said he did not subscribe to cattle branding as it violated certain prescriptions from the ancestral spirits.

He said: “Mombe dzemisha dzinemazita hadziiswe muchiso. Unenge wakutopisa vadzimu nemoto. Hazvibvumirwe nevepasi izvozvo.” (Sacred beasts need not be branded, for by so doing you would be hurting the spirits. It is taboo indeed.)

Another villager, Mr Green Sawaira from Chamba village under the same chief said most people in the area were reluctant to embrace branding as branded beasts ended up developing wounds that took time to heal, a fact readily dismissed by officials from the veterinary department.

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