Eastern Cape feedlots helping rural farmers level up

"Now everybody wins because we have secured an offtake agreement for the feedlot, not just for individuals. This helps even those who can’t clinch deals on their own,” says a feedlot manager who hails an Eastern Cape provincial programme as a success

Qumbu farmers in the Eastern Cape tending to their cattle. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Qumbu farmers in the Eastern Cape tending to their cattle. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

A government programme gone right. This is how livestock farmers in rural parts of the Eastern Cape experience the feedlots that have given them a shot at improving the quality of their livestock and bringing their farming businesses back to life.

Through its livestock development programme, the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform stepped in a few years ago to assist struggling farmers. Many of these farmers had suffered major losses at that stage due to drought, veld fires, feed shortages and rundown feedlots.

Today, multiple feedlots are bearing fruit that have local farmers relieved.

Farmers of the Mhlontlo municipal area are among the ones reaping the benefits, thanks to the custom feedlot in the village of Mdeni outside Qumbu. The department has invested R2 million to build the feedlot in the 2017-2018 financial year.

Sinalo Sigwasele, an animal field officer at the feedlot, says it has helped many villagers in Qumbu improve the quality of their livestock. “The feedlot has not only helped Qumbu residents by improving the condition of their livestock but has also given the youth employment opportunities because they assist in looking after and feeding the livestock.”

Generating market access and revenue

The facility is helping livestock owners get their cattle in a good condition for the market. When it was first launched, farmers paid R850 to fatten their cattle for 120 days. The amount has since increased to R1 200.

Sigwasele tells Food For Mzansi that the condition of the cattle improves so much, that some farmers even take their cattle back before the 120-day period is over.

The feedlot also hosts regular market days where owners can sell their livestock to local abattoirs. From December last year to date, the feedlot has already sold over 30 cattle to abattoirs, bringing in much-needed revenue for farmers and livestock owners.

Another employee, Lwandile Nongcwawula, who has been working at the feedlot from the outset, says, “I have learned so many things about animals, such as how to look after them, how to be able to identify if anything is wrong, and how to maintain a good standard.”

The people of Mdeni and Qumbu are not the only ones who say they appreciate the feedlots.

In the Walter Sisulu municipal area, the department has invested R1.2 million in a custom feedlot. It has since proven to be a boost for business as 86 farmers have collectively sold 300 cattle worth R2.5 million.

According to the chairperson of the feedlot, Nopiece Sefatsa, the department has also supported them with several other resources, including a tractor, fine seed planter, borehole, a multi-purpose structure and other production equipment.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, especially when there was suddenly a shortage of feed.

“The [department] has supported the feedlot with 2 300 40 kg bags of feed amounting to R575 000, so it could keep its doors open for the benefit of livestock owners and farmers. The shortage of feed came after the feedlot lost one of its sponsors, resulting in a 14-month struggle for the farmers of the Joe Gqabi District,” Sefatsa says.

He adds that farmers who prepared their cattle for market were forced to take their livestock elsewhere before the department stepped in.

Chairperson of the Walter Sisulu custom feedlot, Nopiece Sefatsa. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

A big help to small-scale farmers

The feedlot has the capacity to house 300 cattle, which are fed and looked after for a period of 120 days before they are ready for market. Sefatsa says the feedlot is playing a significant role in assisting small-scale farmers and helping them understand the value of their livestock.

“The closure of the feedlot would have been catastrophic for many of the local farmers,” Sefatsa says. “[But] it has professionalised many livestock farmers from the district. It has brought us together. Now everybody wins because we have secured an offtake agreement for the feedlot, not just for individuals. This helps even those who can’t clinch deals on their own.”

Although it is not entirely enough, farmers currently contribute R1 000 each for each sale, and the money goes towards the operational expenses. They have 15 hectares of land which they will now use to grow their own feed so they can scale down on their dependency on government.

“The borehole will save the farmers from paying huge amounts… to the municipality as we will be drawing our own water. We already have water rights. The multi-purpose structure is serving as safe storage for the feed and tools.”

The department is supporting a total of 15 custom feeding centres across the province.

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