Wisdom Mababe, a farmer from Mumbwa in the Central Province spoke to Chris Burgess and Albertus van Wyk, about the beef cattle sector of his mixed farming operation.
In Africa, and globally, the trend is for people to move to the urban areas in search of a better life, which is generally not found in the urban slums that surround many of the world’s metros. But in Zambia 60% of the people live in the country. Zambian farmer, Wisdom Mababe says Zambians see farming as a better way to live and work than their counterparts in other African countries.
“Real life is on the farm,” says Wisdom, “you breathe fresh air, you don’t have the noise and disturbances of city life, you can focus on what you want to do. And, farming keeps you humble.”
Wisdom’s commercial herd of 411 cows, is mostly Brahman-type crosses. He started his herd with Angoni type cattle, and bred his cows to Boran, and then to Brahman.
“I wanted to put some weight onto my animals, so I started crossing with Simmentaler bulls. Well-known Zambian farmer, Dave Gordon, from Central Province cross breeds Boran to Simmentaler, and he told me that the Simmentaler can take the heat and the fairly punishing conditions.”
“There are no real predator problems here,” he says. “The National Park (Kafue) is about 30km from here and we once had a lion here, but it soon went back to the park. However, we have to safeguard against livestock theft by taking precautions. No one can just drive onto my farm; whoever does this, I will charge with trespass.”
He has a strict rule that there should be no unnecessary movement on the farm, a restriction that aims to limit thieves casing the joint, or in this case, the farm.
Wisdom explains the major problem of detecting stock thieves who live in the neighbourhood and make small kraals against the boundary fence.
“They can steal an animal and slaughter immediately in these kraals. By the time you get there, it’s too late.”
He believes fencing is an important tool in managing stock; fences keep diseases out by keeping animals from neighbouring herds out, and make it possible to rotate the grazing. “It also discourages thieves.”
The herd as a growth platform
Wisdom sees his cattle herd as an investment for retirement. Many farmers see the investment value in cattle; raising heifers to point-of-calf, for example, is probably a safer investment for a farmer than the stock market, about which farmers generally know too little. The rule is to keep cycling the investment; grow the numbers and keep the highest value animal (in-calf heifers) group a decent size.
Once the steers are minimally fed for weight gain, he sells them at 250kg to Zambeef ; they take care of loading and transporting. Wisdom puts the money he gets from selling steers back into his herd.
“I buy in cows and heifers to build up my herd which I want to grow to 1 000 breeding cows. It’s easier to run cattle at retirement age than to plant crops.”
Consumer demand for mutton, makes sheep another worthwhile investment, says Wisdom, although he is currently not selling animals while he grows his flock.
“I’ve increased the size of my flock from 40 ewes to 100 ewes. With sheep there is that bonus – once in a while I can slaughter an animal for home consumption.”
A 200-strong flock of goats has grown from a start-up group of 60 animals. The goats graze on the veld and go onto maize stover after the harvest, but for quick bursts only. Wisdom markets his goats to the Congolese, at the border.
“I can get US$150 to US$200 for a goat. It’s good business,” he says.
The park rangers of the nearby National Park keep the game inside the reserve, says Wisdom, so he doesn’t generally have game wandering onto his farm. But the proximity of the park is a reminder to Wisdom of the business potential of game farming, something which interests him. He’s followed the industry in South Africa where game ranchers are making a healthy profit on their operations.
“I have about 3 600ha which could be ranched for game, but I’m also looking at an option to access a game area of 40 000ha.”
According to the law in Zambia, all game belongs to the state. Undaunted, Wisdom says the state can have ownership as long as it allows business to utilise the resource and do the business that the Zambian economy needs.
“The critical thing is to have access to land where you can do business.”
The Mababes live in a house in town – in Mumbwa – while their farm house is still under construction. Agricultural advisors repeatedly stress the importance of putting money into infrastructure essentials, before tackling the house. Farmers in Australia and New Zealand have lived in modified containers while they worked on getting their businesses up and running.
Wisdom drives out to his farm every day and spends the weekend there. He is married with six children, four sons and two daughters. “They want to farm, and one of my sons is doing animal science at university.”
A farmer can do no better than to hand on to his children his own passion for the business of farming. With access to new technologies and advanced farming methods, young farmers can only progress, says Wisdom.
“But they must be tenacious and resilient and determined to overcome problems. And they must have that passion to drive them forward.”