The problem

Climate crisis threatening traditional livelihoods

In Zambia, and across much of Africa, cattle have been at the heart of both culture and economy for over a thousand years. 

For generations, traditional cattle-raising communities thrived in marginal lands. They grazed their animals across natural rangelands, leaving grazing areas to recover and regenerate as they moved. 

But in recent years, climate change has disrupted fragile ecosystems. Cattle-raising communities have faced increasing difficulties, as heat, drought and erratic rainfall become more frequent. Even Africa’s tough indigenous cattle breeds struggle in the new conditions. 

As herds weaken, animal disease has become more frequent, and production has declined. Many farmers can’t access scarce veterinary services. When major disease breaks out, they risk losing their entire herds. Today, half of all animals owned by traditional cattle farmers in Zambia will die before they are sold. Those that survive are in a poor state.

When production is poor, markets lose interest. The only option for most farmers is to sell to informal traders. Prices are as low as a third of what they should be, so farmers only sell when they must. With such poor returns, they have nothing to spend to improve their remaining herds, and there is little point anyway. 

The result is a livelihood of extremely low input, poor productivity, low output, and poor pricing. In Zambia, as many as 51% of smallholder owned cattle die before they reach market. In the targeted communities, official figures show that around ninety per cent of people live in poverty.

Farmers face a difficult future. Traditional cattle communities are now amongst the very poorest groups in Africa. With no better alternatives, people turn to unsustainable livelihoods, clearing land for slash-and-burn cropping or charcoal burning, accelerating degradation of rangelands, forests, and soils. Whole regions risk ecological collapse, making these communities ever-more vulnerable.

Our activities

Mafisa does five things to achieve our mission


Mafisa provides low-cost animal health services including dipping and vaccination. Mafisa also provides advice and support on preventive health and reproduction management. Services are accompanied by frequent training, both formal and informal.

Farmers are trained in how to spot the signs of trouble, and on how to respond to sickness and emergencies. Mafisa centres have critical care supplies ready to deal with the most common problems.

Cattle loans

Mafisa cattle lending replicates the traditional mafisa system, which is a form of agricultural finance based on contracting out the management of animals. 

Mafisa allocates cattle to group members through a management contract. During the period of the contract, farmers look after the animals and keep the milk, while Mafisa provides free and compulsory health services. As long as they bring the animals for health services and ensure good management, farmers will keep the animals for four to five years and receive some of the offspring.

Farmer organisation

Mafisa organises farmers into groups, which are the focus for local management, provision of equipment and infrastructure, and training. Mafisa stipulates criteria for group membership, ensuring participation of women, youth and the poorest.

Regenerative grazing

Africa’s traditional pastoral communities live in the continent’s most fragile, climate-impacted environments, which offer few alternative sustainable livelihood opportunities. Although poor grazing practices also threaten environmental degradation, climate-smart regenerative grazing can drive the restoration of rangelands and improvement of animal health, and avert the risk of desertification. Mafisa works with communities to promote the adoption of improved rangeland management.


Farmers in remote areas are often unable to access fair market prices, with middlemen dominating the value chain. Mafisa has partnered with Zambeef PLC, the largest player in the Zambian beef market, to ensure that remote farmers sell their animals directly for a fair market price.