Heard of free-range chickens? How about free-range goats?
In Northern Nigeria, goats are predominantly raised under extensive production systems, which means the animals are left to roam freely for part or all of their production life cycle, mostly fending for themselves with little supervision. This type of production system may sound ideal to some but is actually characterised by a low level of livestock productivity.
Low productivity levels are mostly due to poor nutrition, poor breeding practices, and little access to veterinary assistance. There is also little demand for goat products within rural communities where cow’s milk is the drink of choice.
Due to low productivity levels and lack of demand, smallholder farmers have yet to generate meaningful incomes from goat farming. But the potential is there. When farmed and managed well, goats can be an important source of food and income for rural households.
The RFS Nigeria project, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is working to improve the access to and productivity of livestock, especially amongst women farmers. These efforts are part of RFS Nigeria’s work to promote off-farm livelihood activities in seven targeted states – Adamawa, Gombe, Benue, Nasarawa, Katsina, Kano and Jigawa in Nigeria. By promoting dairy goat value chains in these states, the RFS project is hoping to boost women’s incomes and improve household access to nutritious food.
Between June and August of this year, with the support of local women’s groups, the RFS project trained over 1,000 women from seventy communities on dairy goat farming and production. These women were also provided with the goats for rearing in all the seven states.
The training that took place in Gombe State was attended by 30 women. Technical advisor to the project, Dr Garba Saleh said the training was being organised to enhance knowledge on dairy goats, including goat rearing, feeding, hygiene and health, in order to improve their reproductive capacity.
Dr Saleh placed a strong focus on keeping animal health records in order to track the development of each goat, right from the time of acquisition. “Without records,” he said, “a farmer would not know if she was making profits or not. So, in dairy animals like goats, the most important thing is to keep records of the quantity of milk. Every day, a farmer must record how much milk she collects from a particular animal. This way, she will quickly see if the animal is unproductive, and then she can work out how to change that.”
Other important developments to record, said Dr Saleh, include the number of kids reproduced each time, feed records, veterinary records, and drugs or medical records to keep tabs on sickness and medicine efficacy.
Celina Sanusi, a beneficiary of the training in Gombe State, was eager to learn how to improve the health of her goats: “I prefer goats because they reproduce twice in one year. If I take care of my goat and it reproduces, I am able to give that goat to another women—all women benefit.” Through the training, Celina learned when and where to go for veterinary services and was introduced to new treatments available when her goats got sick.
During the training, the women were taught about the nutritious benefits of goat’s milk, which contains higher amounts of calcium and magnesium than cow’s milk. Through dairy goat production, the women will be able to increase their access to nutritious food for themselves, and their children, improving nutrition outcomes for the entire community. Moreover, the women are able to earn additional income through goat milk sales to local markets.
The training was a train-the-trainer course, said Project Officer Jonathan Maina, with the goal of empowering these representatives to go back to their communities and train other women. Mr Maina further explained that the ultimate goal of the livelihood initiative was to ensure that every member of the group owned goats by the end of the project. As the goats reproduce, and the heard grows, the women are able to give the gift of a goat to another woman within their community.
Group learning opportunities like these – providing women with the opportunity to learn, share knowledge and apply new skills – can contribute to simple and inexpensive interventions that give rise to remarkable improvements in the economic empowerment of women.
The initiative’s multiplier effect – empowering women to help other women – is a gift that hopefully keeps on giving.
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