Dairy Goat Development by Women

The highlands of Ethiopia are under immense pressure from a rapidly expanding human population attempting to survive in a degrading environment. Soil erosion is severe because cultivation has been extended to the margins of arable land. Farms are small (0.25 to 0.5 ha/family) and getting smaller, due to the population pressure. Opportunities for farmers to improve the well-being of their families are limited. In the face of these obstacles, however, the British agency, FARM Africa, is proving that women-directed goat projects have potential for improving the situation.

There are about 20 million goats in Ethiopia. Most are managed by pastoralists in the lowlands, but they are also widely kept on small farms in the highlands of the south, east and arid north of the country. In the highlands it is often the very poorest members of society that keep goats, for milk and cash. Surprisingly, little effort has been made to develop goat production. Indeed, in Ethiopia, goats are commonly but innaccurately blamed for the environmental degradation caused by people.

FARM Africa started the Dairy Goat Development Project in Ethiopia in 1988 with funding from the Overseas Development Administration (ODA). The goal of the project is to increase the income and nutrition of families in the highlands by improving the productivity of goats managed by women. Intensified goat production fits well into the existing farming system and culture. Women are the project focus because they traditionally look after goats. Though women have been neglected in the development process in Ethiopia, they are responsive to new ideas, responsible in implemention and ensure that benefits reach the whole family.

FARM Africa is implementing the project in a collaborative way. With a small staff, FARM Africa works through the Ministry of Agriculture and international and national non-governmental organizations. Breeding flocks have been established at a university and an agricultural college. In this way, the project attempts to maximize the impact of limited resources, and initiate goat production activities in several key institutions to reinforce the sustainability of the project.

Goat Distribution

Once a suitable community is chosen to participate in the project, the poorest women of that community are selected to receive two goats on credit. The women are organized into small groups of 15 to 30 with an elected committee and a constitution. Credit may be repaid in cash or kind. Repayment in kind, passing on a weaned kid to a new family, is more practical in areas where cash is limited and is more manageable for the women.

There is a chronic shortage of livestock feed in the highlands so women must plant forage crops before they receive goats. Forage strategies used so far include backyard trees, grass strips and forage strips on the edges of fields or intercropped with maize or sorghum.

Once the goats are allocated, women are trained in forage development, health care and general goat management. Extension staff are trained to use a simple education package of flip charts and notes. Once the participant's management techniques have improved sufficiently, she may also receive a crossbred goat (Anglo-Nubian x local) which has a much higher milk production capacity than the local breed. Women are obtaining 1.0 to 2.5 liters per day from the crossbred goats, and have observed fast-growing kids. Some women have started selling milk and are earning the equivalent of the average daily wage.

Barefoot Vets

Ethiopia, like many African countries, suffers from a critical shortage of trained, mobile and equipped veterinary staff. Most farmers in Ethiopia have little access to basic veterinary services and the resulting loss in livestock production can be high. The vast majority (80% to 90%) of important livestock diseases can be controlled through vaccination and the use of anthelmintics and acaricides. These drugs can be properly administered by trained farmers. Although it took time to persuade the authorities to allow the training of women farmers to do this, women have been trained on a pilot basis and are highly effective.

Each goat group selects two women to be trained as paravets. The women attend a 5-to 7-day training course in their village. The training focuses on practical skills and confidence building. The women learn to examine a sick goat, use anthelmintics and acaricides, dress wounds, trim feet and castrate. They are also trained to keep simple pictorial records.

At the end of the course there is a small ceremony where trainees receive a basic veterinary kit and a backpack sprayer. They also receive a certificate and publicly commit themselves to serving the women's goat group. For every treatment they give, the paravets charge a small mark-up on the price of the drug as an incentive.

The paravet program is supervised by the local Ministry veterinary officer to whom difficult cases are referred. A follow-up course is organized after three months to allow feedback and trouble-shooting. On the whole the paravets have performed very well, though a few have dropped out due to family problems or pregnancy. Most return after a short period.

The Payoff

An important impact of the Dairy Goat Development Project has been the strengthening of the autonomous women's organizations. They meet regularly and most have started to save a small amount of money. The savings may be used to help a member in need, to purchase goats or veterinary drugs or for a group activity. In addition to managing savings they also organize credit repayment and member recruitment.

The project now works with 1,200 families in four regions of Ethiopia. In addition to the direct benefits of milk and money, women are gaining confidence in their abilities to manage their own affairs and not only help each other, but also help new families. The FARM Africa Dairy Goat Development Project has shown what can be done through simple technology and local organizations to improve the welfare of some of the poorest people in Ethiopia.


Dr. Christie Peacock
The Old Manor
Ubley, Near Bristol
Avon, BS18 6 PJ, UK
Phone: 0761.462733
Fax: 0761.462082