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Sustainable Livelihoods: Livestock Production  

The Limpopo River basin is covered extensively by natural vegetation or by a natural vegetation-cropland mosaic. Most of the natural vegetation located outside of conservation areas is used for livestock grazing. There are two distinct livestock production systems in the basin: “freehold and commercial livestock production and mixed crops or livestock systems under communal management” (FAO 2004).

Nearly half of the land area located in the basin in South Africa and Zimbabwe is classified as commercial farmland used for cattle ranching (FAO 2004). Some cattle ranchers are switching to game farming due to the increased potential for profit through tourism and safaris. Improved pastures are limited to dairy cattle grazing and are not prevalent in the basin. Overall, communal management is the main land use among the four basin states in terms of the number of people involved. Cattle herd sizes are often small estimated at less than 10 in Zimbabwe and 4-10 in Mozambique. The herd numbers are generally higher in Botswana. As communal grazing is normally uncontrolled, it is not conducive to environmental management as it can lead to overgrazing and land degradation if not managed correctly.  


In Botswana, in 1995, 53 % of agricultural households in the Limpopo River basin owned cattle and 84 % owned goats. Commercial farming is limited to freehold farms located along the Limpopo River and in the leasehold of the Tribal Grazing Land Policy areas where the traditional system dominates. The commercial system is more advanced than the traditional system in its management techniques and farm inputs, resulting in better production performance (FAO 2004). Communal grazing is mostly located in the Hardveld regions in the east and accounts for 86 % of the country’s cattle, goat and sheep populations (49% of the country’s cattle are located on 25 % of its land).

Table: Average number of livestock on a commercial farm and communal (traditional) farm in Botswana.

Livestock production





1 000







Source: FAO 2004


The contributions of livestock to the national economy of Mozambique are small relative to its potential, accounting for only 5 % at its peak livestock numbers in 1980/81. Despite the small contributions to the national economy, livestock play an important role in smallholder farming systems. Around 12 million of the 80 million ha of land in the basin in Mozambique is designated as natural pastureland. The national cattle herd declined dramatically during the war and has been recovering every since (FAO 2004).

South Africa

In South Africa, output of livestock commodities (milk, eggs, meat, skins etc.) account for 25 % of the national agricultural domestic product and animal products contribute 45 %. A study conducted in 2002 (GOSA-StatsSA 2002) found that 17,6 % of farming operations in the Limpopo Province kept beef cattle, 0,7 % kept dairy cattle, 2,9% kept donkeys, 22,7 % kept goats, 6,1 % kept pigs and 33,8 % kept poultry. 

A woman tends to her livestock in Venda, South Africa.
Source: Genthe 2003
( click to enlarge )


The low rainfall in the Limpopo River basin in Zimbabwe makes livestock production a more viable option than crop production. Cattle are the most valuable livestock due to their high sale price, draught power and as an asset to household income security.  Goats, sheep and poultry are other common livestock in the basin and are valued as a source of meat and cash. Donkeys are mostly reserved as draught animals.

Livestock ownership is often skewed by gender with men having control of the more important animals such as cattle and goats and women controlling poultry. Similarly, ownership is skewed within communities with a few members of the community owning the majority of the livestock. Communal grazing areas in the basin are often low-or zero-input systems and as a result are susceptible to overgrazing and degradation (FAO 2004).

Livestock near Chokwé, Mozambique.
Source: Qwist-Hoffmann 2010
( click to enlarge )



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