Western Province has the second largest cattle population in Zambia. In 1982 this exceeded 400,000 for the first time since records were first kept in the 1920s. The rate of growth of the herd (after offtake) has accelerated in recent years to 5.0 percent per annum between 1980 and 1984, the most rapid of any province. The Western Province cattle population represents some 24.5 percent of the country's communally herded cattle and the offtake accounts for 23.4 percent from this sub-sector (NG, 1984; 3). Cattle are particularly important in the monetized rural economy of the province, the value of commercial cattle sales being four times that of official crop sales (Abrahams, 1978, 1).
Cattle have been increasingly regarded as an important resource which should contribute to the `development' of both the province and the nation. However, cattle development measures have not been particularly successful, and despite foreign assistance such initiatives faced major problems as the country adjusts to its difficult economic circumstances. While prospects for cattle development are bleak, the evolving crisis may provide an opportunity for re-orienting as well as re-organizing livestock development initiatives.
This paper reviews the economic and political development of Western Province, and considers the role of cattle in the rural economy. The contribution of cattle in the area's development experience is then considered, with particular attention to cattle development initiatives since independence. The paper concludes with a discussion of the problems which are currently faced in achieving an economically and ecologically viable approach to cattle development approach.