Max Mukawise talks to Salt about his pioneering new company in Zimbabwe that aims to halt inbreeding among the country’s diminishing cattle stock.
What gave you the idea for Makera and why did you think the company was necessary?
In the early 2000s the commercial cattle herd in Zimbabwe diminished greatly. The future sources of beef lay in the rural areas under the control of communal farmers. To get standards back to where they were under the old system needed interventions in the rural areas to improve quality and management of animals.
Myself and my partner Petrus Eramus were both in the animal health industry, and both accountants by training. Petrus is a third generation cattle farmer. A herd of animals was up for sale and we thought we should buy it and run the company together alongside his family herd.
How big is the problem of cattle interbreeding and what complications does it cause?
The problem of inbreeding is massive in the rural areas, as the farmers have never been advised that it is detrimental to their farming efforts.
As with humans, there are complications with inbreeding that cause genetic abnormalities, which in cattle can be seen through stunted growth and low rates of conception.
Interestingly, there is a word in the vernacular for inbreeding, which makes it easy to inform the rural farmers of its devastating effects and the need to curb it.
What were the biggest obstacles in setting up Makera?
One of the biggest obstacles was mistrust within the cattle community at large. Zimbabwe was going through a land reform process and some of the farmers that lost their land accused us of selling out.
On the other side what we were proposing was new to government and they also took convincing to understand the genuine nature of our plan. I must, however, state that we are now working very closely with all sectors in the cattle industry, especially government.
How many cattle do you have? How many do you plan to grow to over the next five years?
We currently sit on over 200 pedigree animals, but do not see that figure growing to more than 500 over the next five years, as we also use other pedigree farmers to source bulls.
It should be noted that at present we provide training and bulls to farmers that collectively own in excess of 100,000 cattle and this is expected to grow to well over 1,000,000 in the next five years.
What big plans do you have for Makera?
We believe that the future of the cattle industry lies with the smallholder farmers and as such are engaging with all players in the livestock sector to ensure that we get our message across loud and clear.
Do you plan to expand into any other livestock/ or livestock services?
We are currently involved in the breeding, training and animal health fields. We have a close association with a cattle internet marketing company RLMS, which has developed a new way of marketing rural cattle by way of internet sales. Apart from this I see our expansion as being geographical, taking the project national and expanding further into Africa.
What drives you?
I always tell my children “ there are seven billion people on this planet, what makes you special?.
I am driven by the fact that I want to leave a lasting impression on the people we work with. Starting out in the business I did not have any idea what development impact was, but working with rural farmers has given me a sense of fulfilment. Doing something about the problem and not just talking about it.
However, I never forget that profit is what drives business. It’s just a question of keeping it ethical.
If there was one thing you could do to make the world a better place, what would it be?
Ensure that every African livestock farmer regards his animals as a small business venture. This will result in Africa becoming a powerhouse in the global meat sector, whilst empowering millions of people.
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Photo credit: Australian Government from Flickr