By Emeldah Takaona
On March 30, the Government of Zimbabwe announced a nation-wide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. People were instructed to stay home, and to only go out to buy groceries or medicine. Police set up roadblocks throughout the country, only allowing essential workers with a permit to travel.
This situation created a dilemma for USAID’s Feed the Future Zimbabwe-Livestock Development (FTFZ-LD) beneficiary, Franscisca Paramu, a 69-year-old widow and beef-dairy farmer from Gweru in central Zimbabwe faced a dilemma. “While I was appreciative of the move to curb the spread of the virus, I was worried about the impact this interruption would have on my dairy business.” Paramu is a part of USAID’s Feed the Future Zimbabwe-Livestock Development (FTFZ-LD) program and was determined to continue her business.
Recognizing the agriculture sector was considered an essential service, Paramu, along with other FTFZ-LD farmers and milk aggregators, took the initiative to organize the necessary travel permits through Dairibord Zimbabwe Limited. With her travel document in hand, Parmu could pass through police roadblocks to deliver milk, providing her with a steady income and helping maintain Zimbabwe’s food supply during the crisis.
While the FTFZ-LD project staff had to suspend field activities during the lockdown, they continued sending important messages on critical agronomic and animal husbandry practices via mobile phone and WhatsApp groups set up for this purpose. These best practices included routine cattle dipping, hygienic milking, supplement feeding, fodder harvesting, and conservation, as well as important health tips and safety guidelines for milk delivery. Lead farmers and milk aggregators spread the information to their apprentices and producer groups.
Farmers are excited to be a part of these groups, which allow them to tap into technical and marketing advice from the staff members. “I am pleased to be a part of the WhatsApp group because of the assistance and support I get from the Feed the Future staff and the other farmers. I don’t feel alone during this pandemic,” said Francisca Paramu.
Project staff also continue to work closely with village milk aggregators by using cell phones to ensure uninterrupted milk deliveries. Currently, there are 78 farmers -- 48 of them are women -- in the three districts collectively delivering 500 liters of milk every other day.
“Through their innovation and persistence, Franscisca Paramu, along with the other FTFZ-LD livestock farmers, are ensuring the income from their enterprises is not lost because of COVID-19 and that they can continue on their journey to self-reliance,” says Art Brown, USAID/Zimbabwe Mission Director.
In 2019, the Feed the Future Zimbabwe-Livestock Development project reached over 4,000 smallholder livestock farmers, whose average annual household net income increased significantly. The average net income for beef producing households increased by 45 percent to US $986 a year, while the average net income for dairy producing households increased by 35 percent to US $2,589 a year.
The Feed the Future Zimbabwe-Livestock Development program is increasing incomes and food security for thousands of dairy smallholder producers, improving hygiene and nutrition, and building the capacity of local organizations.