The case for goats in Zimbabwe

Dr. L. Hungwe & T.L Magwiroto

Boer buck. Pic by L. Hungwe

In Zimbabwe, there has been a renewed enthusiasm for goat production by rural, small and large scale-farmers, non-governmental organizations and government agencies around the country.

A number of factors have contributed to this surge in interest. Increased consumer demand, a better consumer awareness of nutrition and the general rise of non-communicable diseases have contributed to this interest. When coupled with specific characteristics of goats themselves, this has created a compelling case for the resurgence of goat production in Zimbabwe.

Goats are small ruminants, so their feed requirements are correspondingly lower. They are about 70% browsers hence they can be raised on cheap source of feed. They are well adapted to varied climatic regions and can be raised in both the hot and dry regions and the wet, cool parts of the country. Goats can do well on rocky, bushy ground which is not ideal for other agricultural activities. They are highly divisible compared to cattle, and require less start-up capital hence they have been termed the ‘poor man’s cow’.

Worldwide, between 1990 and 2008 goat numbers have increased by an average of between 1 to 4% per annum from 590.1M to 861.5M animals. The top 5 goat meat producers in the world are China (1.8million metric tonnes produced annually), India (0.5), Nigeria (0.3), Pakistan (0.3) and Bangladesh (0.2). The world over goat meat production has increased from 2.65MT in 1990 to 4.93MT in 2008. In Africa goat meat production has increased from 0.66M MT in 2000 to 1.3million MT in 2012, a 40% increase.

In Zimbabwe the goat population is estimated to be about 3M animals in 2011. However the numbers have been declining. 52% of Zimbabwean households have less than 8 goats and only 18% of households have more than 20 goats.  Masvingo has the highest number of goats; but the biggest markets of goats are in Bulawayo and Harare. Goat markets are poorly organized and are largely informal. The goat market peaks during festive seasons such as Ramadan, Christmas and Easters holidays.

Research has shown that goats are raised for meat, as a source of income, milk, skin, manure, traditional and religious social functions, and social status. They are also grown for fibre (Mohair and Cashmere) and for the purpose of offering them as gifts. The demand for goat meat in Zimbabwe and goat milk cannot be met. Some authorities claim that there is a shortfall of 400 slaughter stock in Harare and Bulawayo alone every week.

Goat meat is very tasty and nutritious with a specific flavour and aroma.  It has less calories, fats and cholesterol than both beef and chicken, making it ideal for individuals who are concerned with their waistline and heart diseases..  

Goat milk is very nutritious and has a number of health benefits and its popularity is increasing. Supply is low: only 2% of the milk produced globally comes from goats. It is highly digestible and is suitable for invalids, infants and orphaned children. Individuals who suffer from lactose intolerance are able to digest goat milk much better than cow milk.  It is cheaper to process because it does not require to be homogenized. Goat milk is processed into high-end market products such as cheese, butter, ice cream, and yogurt. These products have high buttermilk content and a rich consistency which is very appealing. People around the world are becoming more and more health conscious, hence the increased demand for goats. 

In Zimbabwe local demand has not been met with increased production for both breeding and slaughter stock. This has led to the importation of breeding stock primarily from South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Namibia exports around 250 000 goats to South Africa, about 50% of this goes to KwaZulu Natal, mostly live animals. Imports have been a drain on our foreign currency reserves but have been necessitated by the lack of quality breeding stock in the country.

Goat producers have taken a special interest in the production of three imported meat breeds namely the Boer, Kalahari Red and Savanna goat.  Locally the Matabele has been traded far and wide from Matabeleland regions. Each of these breed of goats has its own unique characteristics which has attracted producers. A few farmers have taken interest in milk goats especially the Saanen and the Toggenberg.

Whilst goat populations have been increasing elsewhere in the developing world, in Zimbabwe numbers have been decreasing. This has been due to a number of factors. Farmers have complained about high mortalities (especially kid mortality), low off-take rates, poor animal quality and low producer prices. Goat traders have raised issues around poorly organized facilities and infrastructure at goat markets. The traders also lack market information about pricing and grading systems. On the other hand abattoir operators and retailers complain about high processing costs, inconsistent product supply in terms volume and well finished quality slaughter stock. 

Other challenges faced in the value chain include: decrease in the number of dedicated breeders since the land reform, diseases such as foot and mouth, and increased demand due to reduced production of other sources of red meat such as beef. Energetic enterprising farmers around the country have seen this gap and have been working hard to occupy the space and rewards have been handsome.  

In the next installment we look closely at the different breeds available in Zimbabwe and other social economic issues around goat production.

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2 thoughts on “The case for goats in Zimbabwe

    1. Well, thanks for the feedback. But our aim is not to write an academic paper, but more a synthesis and analysis reflecting our combined experience in the field. But obviously acknowledging source is good writing practice, and we will bear that in mind.

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