For three consecutive years the skies have not been generous in Chipinge and neither has the sun been merciful.
Once seething rivers – from Save to the smallest – have shrivelled to ghostly figures of past selves.
The once frothing waters have disappeared and the rivers are now mere sand serpents. Irrigation schemes, rain-fed fields and livestock have been decimated.
Prayers have not worked. Appeals to spirit mediums have not worked. Cicadas cling precariously on Mopane tree trunks and even their shrill cries for clemency have yielded no rains.
On riverbeds, open land, valleys and little everywhere else, bones of dead livestock are scattered, telling a life story of drought.
Everyone has given up. Only goats, that resilient species, are still on their feet.
As the effects of Climate Change continue to be felt across the country, farmers in Chipinge have not been spared as they are left grappling to come up with ways of surviving.
Not only has the successive dry spells that hit the country in the past three years decimated their crops, it has also destroyed their livestock leaving some families with nothing to show for years of hard work.
The district is blessed with some of the best soils for crop production in Manicaland province, but being susceptible to droughts, irrigation becomes a major necessity.
While government has been trying to ensure that irrigation schemes are functional to improve productivity, there remains some low hanging fruits that are yet to be explored fully to improve the livelihoods of communities.
Goat breeding has been one of those fruits that can rescue many farmers and move them from poverty to prosperity.
Minister of State for Manicaland Province Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba recently highlighted the need for farmers in the district to take up goat rearing as a business.
She said Chipinge could leverage its development on goat production which was low on capital, and a high income venture that many could afford.
“Chipinge is one of the richest districts in Manicaland, we can grow everything. We also have the best conditions to rear goats as an income generating project not just for household nutrition. But there is need to improve the breed of goats we have here. We want to see an increase in production of Boer goats because we they have a good market,” she said.
Although uptake has been low, goat production in the context of climate change comes in quite handy in that the goats are animals which are more adaptable to the environment where there are inadequate rains and a proliferation of diseases.
For now, not many farmers have taken up goat production on a large scale but the motivation is there.
Goats withstand drought conditions much better and can survive on shrubs and need less manpower for tending to, making them a better choice than high-maintenance livestock like cows.
Cattle ranchers like Taguta in the Middle Sabi are taking it up and already the project is growing and promises to become big if they persist at it.
Despite challenges faced since its inception in 2015, the farm now boasts of 160 goats.
If all goes well, according to farm manager Tinashe Taguta, they might reach 5 000 goats in the next five years.
While the numbers are small for a producer of Taguta’s magnitude, it brings to the fore the need for extensive research into goat breeding to ensure increased productivity.
There are different breeds of goats used for commercial goat farming in Zimbabwe including the Boer, Mashona (indigenous breed), Matabele (indigenous breed) and Kalahari.
According to experts, the Boer goat is the superior breed as they grow fast, have a good bone structure, heavy weight, large body size and are adaptable to a wide range of pastures.
However, Boer goats are expensive to buy and to keep thus many farmers in Zimbabwe cross breed it with the local indigenous breeds.
He encouraged the cross breeding of the local goats with the Boer and Kalahari breeds to improve quality and maintain the resistance to diseases.
“We want the Department of Livestock to understand what the farmers want so that Government can come in and assist where there is need. With regards to improving goat breeds, we need to have breeding centres in all provinces. This will be in line with our devolution thrust. We need to grow our economy and these goats can help us,” he said.
While there is no doubt that several challenges must be overcome for rural goat keeping to develop into viable small-scale production, it is clear that opportunities exist for communal goat farmers to develop from keeping goats for household food security to becoming commercial small-scale goat producers that contribute meaningfully to the economy of the district and the province.