Community projects must promote survival of locals to curb unwarranted poaching of wildlife and overuse of natural resources as a means of survival.
Self-help projects like crafts, permaculture and bee keeping have been introduced by different environment concerned organisations in most rural communities, especially those close to wildlife protected areas.
Some of these projects have become success stories as they have become beneficial to community members and the intended goal of reducing poaching and overuse of natural resources within communities while some of these projects like permaculture gardening, and bee keeping are seasonal in this region chances of being sustainable hang in the balance.
Chidobe is one of the rural communities in Hwange District about 19 kilometres from Victoria Falls City towards Bulawayo.
It is close to Fuller Forestry area dominated by Kalahari sandy soils.
This has resulted in poor harvests especially of maize and poor pastures for livestock. Locals resort to cutting down trees as means of survival.
After realising that goats, because of their adaptive nature, thrive in this communal area and that most households rear them, two ladies Anne Wilkes, a farmer/conservationist and Dr Tracey Manning, a retired veterinarian, teamed up to introduce a goat dairy project named after the community, Chidobe Goat Dairy Project which has a multifaceted approach in promoting survival of the locals as well as the environment.
The goat dairy rearing project, sited on 1,2 hectares was started in June 2021.
It has already fulfilled some of its goals of empowering women through equipping them with skills like herding, milking, and nutrition knowledge of goats and treatments of both diseases and parasites. Women from the community are employed on rotational basis, and given the opportunity to acquire skills.
Male goats (bucks) are vaccinated and dewormed before being loaned for breeding.
The dairy project in the community has promoted use of goat milk even by those households which were skeptical about its consumption.
Most rural communities in Zimbabwe have suffered a major set back in trying to maximise their benefits from livestock kept at household level because of inbreeding, resulting in weaker traits like less milk production, undesirable temperament, less disease resistance, high mortality and stunted growth.
This has given some a splitting headache as they always prioritise livestock as means of survival after crop failure which is common during this era of climate change.
Chidobe Goat Dairy Project, through the expertise of the two ladies who are the founders, has already started promoting crossbreeding through crossing Saanen Milk Breed and the Matabele Breed which is likely to improve goat milk production and other desirable traits.
To maximise, and quicken the improvement of goat breeds, the project also donated some bucks with desirable traits to project participants for crossbreeding purposes as well as roofing material for the goat kraal to reduce stress during rainy or hot seasons.
Besides feeding on leaves of indigenous shrubs like white bauhinia/umathandela/ mupondo common in the area, goats have also enjoyed feeding on pods of indigenous trees like sickle pod/ugagu/mumhangara and monkey bread/ihabahaba/musekesa as well as manketti/umgoma/mungongoma tree fruit peelings which are favoured because of their taste and nutritional value; high protein and calcium content needed for milk production and growth.
Seeds from such tree pods are hard, and small that they pass through the digestive system of the animal undamaged and dispersed as they are passed with the animal droppings, therefore promoting seed dispersal contributing to the improvement of the environment.
The dairy project is located in the periphery of Chidobe community and the rugged terrain is dominated by easily eroded Kalahari sandy soils.
Signs of soil erosion and gully formation are empirical in the fenced project area and this has given advantage to design and demonstrate conservation models like agroforestry, gully reclamation by planting and introducing new varieties of both grass and tree species which used to grow at the place.
The project site has gradually assumed a new ecological supportive appearance even though it was established last year.
New species of insects, plants and reptiles have invaded the fenced area as they have found their preferred habitats consisting mainly of newly established vegetation as compared to the neighbouring overgrazed communal areas.
The project’s water supply is from the previous seasons, collected by a rain water harvesting and conservation model which comprises of a butterfly roof for the main goat housing, water harvesting tank and an overfilling tank.
This is a unique water harvesting model.
To improve pastures and land meant for growing crops by community, the project has worked hand in glove with locals to remove undesirable plant species like senna obtusifolia (sickle pod)/isizambane/chitogondodongo (Nambya) which is a common invasive in Chidobe and surrounding communities.
The plant looks like a groundnut plant, and has encroached most of communal farmers’ fields in this area therefore reducing their productivity, and if eaten by livestock, it can damage the liver.
Going forward, workshops on livestock nutrition, bush fodder and genetics will be held by Chidobe Goat Dairy Project .
Community members will always grasp concepts, and promote conservation of natural resources if conservation programs are interwoven with projects which promote their survival like Chidobe Goat Dairy Project.
l Mahlabezulu Zulu is a conservationist who has worked for various wildlife research, and conservation organisations in Hwange National Park, and Fuller Forestry in Victoria Falls. He can be contacted on 00263(0)713269827/0776196171. Email [email protected]