Profitable goat enterprises lifting poor farmers communities out of poverty. Kenya Learning Route, Case 5

By Elaine Reinke and Silvia Sperandini

Efficient breeding accounts for 30% of goats’ productivity, the rest is appropriate feeding and proper management”, was one of the key messages our “Ruteros” got from the Meru Goat Breeders Association (MGBA) we visited in the Eastern province of Kenya at the last stop of our Learning Route. The case was truly impressive as an example of sustainable development cooperation where a project designed and implemented by FARM-Africa is proving its economic, social and environmental impact eight years after its official closure.

Field visits to producers revealed the success of the project when local smallholder farmers proudly explained how they were able to move from below the poverty line into the middle class of their community thanks to the profitable goat enterprises and services introduced by FARM-Africa.

At the heart of this model is the approach to improve the productivity and economic returns of goats kept by families on small farms through enhancing the management, health and breeding of the animals. Breeding is improved by the genetic upgrade of local goats with a superior exotic breed, the Toggenburg. The result is the Meru Goat, a 75% Toggenburg, which proved to be more adapted to hash environment, to the locally available fodder, more resistant to diseases and more productive, giving 4 liters of milk per day compared to the local breed with 0.5-1 liter. The Meru Goat is a valuable asset, growing faster than local goats and yielding three times the monetary value.
Over two days we spent with the Meru Goat Breeders, the Learning Route participants understood how forming farmer groups has been critical for the sustainability of the project. The role of the association includes the organization and management of all necessary support services and inputs (from veterinary services, breed registration and inspection to quality control and processing milk and milk products), all instrumental to maximizing returns from the goats enterprises.

One of the most discussed issues was the introduction of the zero-grazing approach and its benefits in a context like Meru where the population density is high and land is limited. Farmers confirmed that housing goats in pens keeps these animals secure and healthy, also reducing their exposure to parasites from grazing on common land contaminated by other livestock - which is one of the biggest health problem of goats in Africa.

The case showed that which appropriate technical support, farmers were able to become very efficient breeders, sharing the genetic resources as a community. Associations like MGBA serve as support centers for the adaptation and uptake of new technology (genetic and husbandry improvement) and livestock marketing (guaranteeing high quality standards). Today, the Meru goats are exported to Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. Farmers have gained good knowledge on goat husbandry and forage development, and the high quality manure collected at the goats’ houses is fertilizing a rich vegetable production to generate additional incomes in the Meru Country.

With this case, the Kenya Learning Route on Innovative Livestock Marketing comes to its end, while the good practices and lessons learned will now travel with our “Ruteros” back to Sudan, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Madagascar and the US to benefit other communities and prove once again that livestock really plays a critical role for the livelihood of poor rural families.

PS. Picture of how innovations travel and view the photo story of the route: