Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development
Until recently, eking out a living was a huge struggle for Chiweshe Chirevo, who lives in the parched Zimbabwean town of Buhera, in Manicaland Province. With little arable land to speak of and insufficient rains to nourish soil that more closely approximates sand, meeting the nutritional and household needs for his nine-member family was a significant challenge.
To get by, he did some basic subsistence farming of maize, millet and sorghum, and would earn a little money by drying and selling limestone on credit, which he would exchange for more grains. However, getting any protein in his family’s diet – particularly meat – was rare.
As beef and dairy cattle have difficulty surviving and getting adequate nourishment in such an arid environment, Chiweshe and other smallholders in the area also regularly keep goats.
However, Chiweshe found it hard to maintain his herd, as he often had no choice but to sell these few assets that he had when times got tough. “I obtained my first goats in 1989 and once had as many as 20. However, I had to sell them all off over time in order to pay the school fees for my seven children, while others died of disease.”
Although 97% of Zimbabwe’s national goat herd is owned by smallholders, farmers rarely work together to leverage economies of scale. As they do not treat their goats as assets that require adequate care, feeding and shelter, they are often viewed as scavengers. When farmers are forced to sell their underweight animals at the farm gate, they cannot fetch a good market price, and they typically miss out on the many benefits these animals can provide as a key source for valuable milk, meat and fertilizer.
But, through the Zimbabwe Livestock for Accelerated Recovery and Improved Resiliency (ZRR) program, made possible by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Chiweshe and his neighbors are learning how to manage and market their goat herds collectively to improve their livelihoods. The program provides farmers with training on goat husbandry and health management, and trains Community Livestock Workers on preventative and curative animal health techniques.
Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, ZRR is assisting 2,000 farmers, who collaborate through 10 marketing groups of 200 farmers each. Farmers like Chiweshe receive three female goats, and are ultimately required to pass three female kids onto their neighbors, with one buck provided to service the breeding needs of each village’s goats.
To qualify for the program, ZRR requires that all the recipients already have other goats, and be willing to build a raised goat structure with one or two other families, with whom they can pen their animals together. Penning the animals in at night on a raised structure prevents them from being attacked by other wild animals, facilitates collection of their manure for fertilizer, and also helps to minimize an issue goats often face of foot rot, by providing them with a dry shelter.
“When the program started, I had 10 goats and received another three. I started taking better care of them and proactively working to breed them, which has already enabled me to pass on the three goats I was required to, sell 16 at the market, and still have 12 left over for future breeding and growth,” Chiweshe explained. Prior to ZRR, Chiweshe says he never thought about the importance of disease prevention, even though five of his animals previously died from preventable illnesses. “Through the program, I realized that buying the products required to dip and spray my animals was an important investment in my livelihood. I saw how spraying made the ticks on my animals disappear, and then I was convinced.”
As a result of their new shelter, disease prevention efforts, and providing them with appropriate feed, Chiweshe says his goats now appear markedly healthier, with their coats free of lice. ZRR also trained him how to keep detailed records of goat births and sales for the first time. Moreover, since he started spraying and vaccinating his animals, none of them have died.
But, most importantly, times are simply a bit easier than they once were. He says he’s now able to pay all of his children’s school fees without issue, and the family now even slaughters a goat once every two months to enjoy some meat over the course of several weeks, which they used to only eat once or twice a year on special holidays. And he’s even started building a new, sturdier home to accommodate his large family, which he’s constructing as funds permit, brick by brick.
The support he received through ZRR has also allowed him to dream about the future, and to think about how he might expand into owning some local cattle one day. “I used to think that taking care of my family, by nature, had to be a struggle. But now, the program has convinced me – made me believe – that I can be a business man. And if I want to succeed, I must invest in what I do in order to grow.”