Smallholder farmers in Nsanje, Lilongwe and Mzimba pick up community goat breeding initiatives

Farmers in Nsanje (Magoti), Lilongwe (Mkwinda and Mitundu) and Mzimba (Zombwe) have embarked on a community goat breeding program with technical support from LUANAR, Egerton and BOKU Universities; and financial support from USAID and EU. The program is an integration of two projects; the African Goat Improvement Network (AGIN) and ACP S&T Indigenous Livestock Improvement (iLINOVA). Focus group discussion with the farmers showed that farmers practice traditional breeding with communal use of buck, but do not objectively select parent stock in their flock. In fact, marketing forces drive farmers to select large sized animals for sale to fetch more income. Farmers agreed from a joint analysis of the situation that over time the size of the goats have been getting smaller, inbreeding is common due to use of young bucks and no control strategy such as castration was in place. the farmers practices in selecting crop seeds was used as an example to help them understand the need for selection in livestock and the need to develop indigenous goats through selective breeding.

Through the project, farmers were able to describe the characteristics of goats that are of interest and these included, big sizes, high growth rate, twinning rate, good mothering ability and disease resistance. The farmers also expressed interest to be involved in goat selection program. A survey in the study area showed that most farmers in Magoti have flock sizes of 5-30 goats. One farmer however had a flock of about 110 goats. In Zombwe the flock size ranged from 5 to 47 goats. Some farmers also had some Boer bucks, although no appropriate breeding program was in place.

Out of all the farmers sampled in Magoti one farmer had an adult breeding buck. Majority of farmers in Mzimba raised young male goats up to breeding stage. In Lilongwe, one or two bucks grazing with females in their flocks would mate. This suggested that they lacked adequate information on the importance of adult breeding bucks. The farmers were briefed on the need to use adult bucks for breeding and have a community breeding programme with communal breeding bucks. The major contributing factors to the decline in the number of bucks were the festive seasons such as Id Mubarak which comes with very high demand for goats, particularly males. The project reckons that this as a market opportunity for the farmers which needs to be preceded by appropriate breeding programs and realistic targets for sustainability of goat production and contribution to rural livelihoods. Currently, especially in AGIN areas of Nsanje and Mzimba, data recording is taking place to establish selection criteria that will match with farmer based traits and goals, in order to select breeding bucks between 3  and 4 months of age. Farmers agreed to castrate the unselected males and these will grow to slaughter or market weights.

The initiatives are new in Malawi and aim at enhancing productivity of local breeds rather than introducing exotic bucks. Inherently, the innovations are also mitigation to climate change which is a challenge in the pilot regions.

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