Case Study: Tackling Poor Animal Health in Zimbabwe’s Livestock Market System


In Zimbabwe, the beef sector was less competitive than it could have been as a result of a general issue with poor cattle health. The poor health of cattle translated into poor quality meat, limiting the prices that it fetched and the markets it could reach. The problem of animal health was particularly acute in the case of poor livestock farmers, excluding them from higher-value markets.

Improvements in veterinary care were not materializing because there was a coordination failure between multiple market actors. The government Department of Livestock Production and Development (DLPD) had limited coverage to deliver veterinary extension. Drugs firm VETCARE could not see enough demand for its products to invest in extension services. Local animal health workers (para-vets) were poorly trained; they operated within community systems that had limited interaction with public and private actors. Farmers had knowledge about the importance of animal health but did not know how to deal with the issue. Traders and other market chain actors did not see animal health as their problem.

Recognizing the importance of cattle farming to livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe, along with the extreme fragility of the livestock market, Practical Action embarked on a project to improve incomes for farmers by facilitating a positive transformation of the market. The project focused on Guruve district in Mashonaland central province.


In 2005, local farmers, buyers, suppliers of inputs and services, community-based organisations, and relevant government departments were brought together in a series of participatory market mapping workshops, to identify key opportunities and constraints in the livestock market chain. Guruve is a typical example of the significance of livestock farming in rural Zimbabwe: of the district’s 20,000 households, 80% keep cattle with a total number of 169,500 animals in 2005.

Identifying an increasing demand for better quality animals, carcasses and meat. Market actors discussed their market system and its blockages, and the issue of animal health in particular. Farmers participated in the process through ‘Market Opportunity Groups’, which continue to meet on a quarterly basis. These groups are made up of four or five lead farmers who represent other farmers at regular meetings with buyers to negotiate prices and discuss livestock purchasing logistics. This increased collaboration has led to developments benefiting both farmers and buyers, such as pre-arranged market days. VETCARE and Agriseeds emerged as two key private companies that saw opportunities in working with the farmers. (VETCARE is the name we have used for the large national veterinary products company, as permission to use their real name has not been obtained)

Practical Action recognized that this sub-sector had significant potential for a positive market transformation that could produce higher, more consistent and more sustainable incomes for farmers and other market chain actors. Such a market would increase farmers’ access to competitively priced inputs and services, increase capacity of farmers to develop commercially beneficial relationships with buyers and persuade government to implement more enabling policies to support further market change.

Over the course of two-and-half years, the project brought stakeholders together in a process that was intended to identify what blockages were hindering the development of a competitive, fair and effective market before facilitating new approaches to addressing those obstacles in a way that would benefit all. To this end, Practical Action embarked on a series of participatory market mapping workshops, involving farmers, buyers, suppliers of inputs and services, local Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and relevant government departments. The aim of these workshops was to identify key opportunities and constraints in the existing livestock market chain and address the role that each actor could play in tackling blockages in the system. Involving all actors in the process of systemic market change proved to be an effective approach, inspiring a number of practical innovations to mitigate market blockages and leading to significant and sustainable improvements to incomes.


  • Poor farmers, buyers of livestock, private enterprise and government departments can collaborate for mutual benefit if the right incentives exist and are collectively identified.
  • Viable and sustainable markets can develop even in a challenging external environment when all actors in a market chain recognise the potential for enhanced profits. This process can be stimulated through a participatory approach and dialogue between all stakeholders.
  • Market opportunity groups are an effective tool for addressing actors’ interests and constraints, especially if driven by participants themselves.
  • Resource constraints on government departments and extension services can be a catalyst for collaboration with other agents, leading to innovations in the delivery of cost-effective services.
  • The development of community-based actors in the market chain has been a particularly effective solution to the problem of improving access to livestock healthcare which has brought mutual benefits to all market actors.
  • Community-based actors, specifically local para-vets, can be an effective mechanism for the distribution of important inputs (drugs, training and advice) which are critical in improving competitiveness and incomes.
  • Access to feeds in the dry season plays a critical role in animal health and productivity of livestock. Improving the availability of alternative fodder has a positive impact on incomes and therefore encourages farmers’ interest in caring for their livestock.
  • At the start of the project, relationships between the market actors were characterized by mistrust and lack of confidence in the benefits that would be derived from collaboration. Mistrust started to disappear and relationships improved as all actors in the market began to derive tangible benefits from the project.
  • Transforming relationships is key in the pursuit of more efficient market chains that benefit the poor. The PMSD approach has been instrumental in creating an environment of trust and optimism among participants. A main driver in the process was the buyers’ early commitment to pay more for larger, healthier animals


Through a process of discussion and information sharing, the Department of Livestock Production and Development, drug firm VETCARE, local para-vets and farmers agreed to develop a new arrangement: VETCARE and the DLPD co-invested in a training programme for local para-vets. These para-vets in turn raised awareness and delivered much improved veterinary assistance to farmers. Traders and other market chain actors took a keen interest, seeing the cattle and meat that they traded improve in quality, and assisted in the awareness-raising work for good animal health.

Linkages were established with two agribusiness companies - a supplier of seeds for fodder and cattle feed, and a veterinary drugs firm. The latter worked closely with the government’s Department of Livestock Production and Development to train 800 lead farmers to qualify as para-vets. These community-based vets, who each serve around 20 farmers, ensure that services reach poor farmers who would otherwise be unable to access drugs, training and advice.

Including lead farmers and para-vets in the market chain has been an effective solution to the problem of improving access to livestock healthcare, which has brought mutual benefits to all: farmers have seen improvements in incomes by producing healthier cattle; buyers are able to access a higher quality product; para-vets have increased status, role and incomes; and the drugs company has developed its market for drugs and healthcare training.

Joint action plans aimed at tackling blockages in the system have been drawn up by stakeholders involved in the market mapping workshops, and are being taken forward by an Interest Forum consisting of farmers, buyers, policy makers and para-vets, which is facilitated by the Lower Guruve Development Association.

By starting new commercial relationships between farmers and suppliers of veterinary drugs and a new public-private partnership to train skilled farmers as para-vets, the project increased the uptake of veterinary services among an estimated 20,000 farmers.

These services improved the quality of cattle for sale and thus the price of cattle from the region. This has resulted with cattle prices increasing by at least 8% in real terms between 2005 and 2008, leading to improved incomes for 20,000 livestock farmers and their families – over 100,000 people in total. In addition, the prevalence of livestock disease reduced by 20%, and the number of cattle being sold for slaughter doubled during the same period. This approach is now being replicated in four other districts in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland Central Province.

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