IN a recent newspaper report, President Emmerson Mnangagwa made some insightful remarks about the potential of goat farming to building a new, shared and uplifting economy in Zimbabwe.
By masimba Biriwasha
Goat farming has long been detested, ignored and underrated despite its capacity to be a multi-billion-dollar industry in Zimbabwe. It is indeed the country’s undiscovered gold mine.
While commissioning the Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) Goat Genetics and Artificial Insemination Centre, Mnangagwa was quoted as saying: “The goat breeding project and attendant value addition interventions will go a long way towards ensuring broad-based empowerment, wealth creation and lifting millions out of poverty within our society. As such, the project must be deployed towards the realisation of robust and vibrant rural industry systems supported by livestock production and related development of modern animal handling facilities.”
The Goat Genetics and Artificial Insemination Centre is indeed a welcome development. Getting a grip on genetics is a key ingredient in sustainable and successful goat farming.
Of all the things that can kill a goat enterprise is buying wrong genetics. That’s why it’s important to get the right genetics at the beginning. We still have a lot to learn about our local breeds.
Our local breeds have not been subjected to adequate scientific scrutiny. But a lot of work still has to be done to unlock the potential and promise of goat farming that can uplift millions of our people from poverty.
With a national goat herd of approximately four million, Zimbabwe is barely on the map of goat-producing countries.
The good news though is that we are richly blessed with abundant land and favourable climatic conditions that can be leveraged to boost our national herd to 25 million by year 2025, if we can only take care of some basics.
Most farmers have a long-enduring love and hate relationship with goats.
They are seen as troublesome animals that are guaranteed to bring problems including invading into neighbours’ fields.
Very little attention is given to goats which explains the 65% pre-weaning mortality rate.
Goats live in unbearable conditions that compromise their health with pneumonia being a leading killer.
In fact, exposure to rain, cold, starvation, diseases, unclean environments, internal parasites and predation are among the factors that cause the high mortality rate.
Middlemen and the farmers only regard goats as an object for transaction.
Farmers seem to only care for their goats when they exchange them for money.
Middlemen literally make a killing out of goats in urban markets. None of these players have goats at heart.
No one is concerned about fixing the gaps in the supply chain that will enable bringing goats to the market in a fairer and transparent manner.
At the same time, none of these players have ventured further to unlock the full value and multiple functions of a goat.
There is also currently an ongoing frenzy about mixing local goat breed with foreign breeds such as Boer, Red Kalahari, and Savannah, among others.
While there is no fundamental problem with cross breeding, the matter is presented like a quick fix.
However, it does not address the core of why our local Mashona and Matabele breeds have progressively grown smaller due to inbreeding.
The Mashona and Matebele breeds have been reported to be hardy and prolific, requiring less inputs than their exotic counterparts.
Despite their high profligacy and adaptability, high reproductive wastage under traditional systems of management remains a limitation to increased local goat productivity.
This loss in production has been attributed to a number of constraints namely poor nutrition, poor health care and low management input.
The general health of goats is affected by a fluctuating plane of nutrition and insufficient foraging time.
In addition, the pens in which the goats are housed are poorly constructed, and as a result, they expose the animals to wind, cold, predators and rainwater.
Record keeping is non-existent, leading to serious avoidable losses.
Without taking care of the basics, farmers can import all loads of exotic breeds to no avail. There is also a danger that we will end up wiping out our hardier, tastier and adaptable local breeds at the altar of increasing carcass weight through cross breeding.
If Zimbabwe is to make any inroads into goat farming, some attitudes need to change mainly at the farmer level and then across the whole goat value chain.
Farmers need to undergo a dynamic mental shift to recognise that goats are not a pestilence.
It can be easy to look after goats especially if you take care of some basics including boundary fencing, paddocking, penning and water supply in addition to consistent and constant veterinary checks.
We need to build and foster a new paradigm of next generation goat farming in Zimbabwe, a paradigm that blends some progressive traditional ways and modern, science and technology-driven ways of keeping goats.
We need a process of raising and caring for goats that treats the entire process with respect, love and gratitude that is beneficial to goats being raised for food and sustainability.
If we can do this as a collective, our herd can surely grow to 25 million by year 2025, and open up a new source of wealth in our rich and blessed country.
Masimba Biriwasha is operations lead at Goat Order Co, www.goatorders.co.zw a digital start-up whose mission is to boost next generation goat production and value addition in Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity. You can reach him at +263774462007