Long looked down upon as a source of meat and milk, goats seem to, finally, be having their turn in the sunshine of human affairs.
And the government, which has been running social programmes in the agriculture sector— starting with the Starter-Pack, Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme and, now, Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) — seems to have given other stakeholders a cue in the 2021-22 agricultural season.
In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, incorporated a livestock component in AIP.
Under the programme, 60,000 goats were earmarked for 30,000 farming households in the Shire Valley districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa.
In the 2022-23 agricultural season, the government, which has changed its implementation strategy, will now be targeting farmers in groups or cooperatives.
The government is yet to adopt a position paper on the same.
This is happening at a time the government has been facing pressure to abandon the programme, with Church and Society of Livingstonia Synod of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian leading the chorus of those calling for a stop to the same.
In the 2022-23 National Budget, the government has allocated K106 billion to the AIP, down from K142 billion the previous fiscal year.
The drop is coming at a time some of the AIP beneficiaries that received livestock lost the same to Tropical Storm Ana-induced floods.
A report by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs indicates that over 2,000 cattle and goats were affected by Tropical Storm Ana in the Shire Valley.
The society’s executive director Moses Mkandawire said AIP should be phased out because it has been “draining a lot of resources, including foreign currency”.
However, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Grecian Lungu said the government has no plans to phase out AIP.
“AIP is one of the agricultural programmes that contribute a lot to the generation of forex while promoting food security in the country,” Lungu said.
However, there are indications that AIP components such as that of livestock could go a long way in helping beneficiaries graduate from the programme.
For instance, one of the people that received two goats at Thabwa in Chikwawa District, 38-year-old Ericson Balakasi, said he plans to become one of the first people to graduate from AIP by making the best out of the goats.
“I am fortunate, in the sense that I did not lose goats to floods. I am feeding my goats well because I want them to reproduce so that I can sell the offspring.
“My friends in Mozambique are generating a lot of money through goat sales,” he said.
Already, goat production has been gaining ground in some parts of the country, notably Mzuzu Agricultural Development Division (Mzadd), where livestock production has been billed to increase by six percent for goats.
This is according to Mzadd Chief Animal Health and Livestock Development Officer, Harriet Gausi.
The division has, among other things, benefitted from the Agricultural Sector Wide Approach Support Programme in, for instance, Noah Mkochi Village, where goats are part of the equation.
Even under the National Economic Empowerment Fund (Neff), especially between 2012 and 2014, some people got goats for production and sale.
In November last year, Neef, through its Chief Executive Officer Humphrey Mdyetseni, requested the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) and the Ministry of Finance to have the K9bn disbursed by its predecessor, Malawi Enterprise Development Fund (Medef), written off.
In the 2014 elections campaign, Medef officials distributed goats, cattle and other items.
However, no beneficiary has come forward to claim that they found markets for the goats, let alone generate the much needed income.
Things may be different now, as some stakeholders have been experimenting with the idea of selling goats on auction.
For instance, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), which promotes scientific research for development, has cited auction markets for goats as one of the ways of improving Malawian farmers’ incomes.
The organisation, which has been conducting a pilot study aimed at developing efficient goat value chains in the country, says one of the benefits is increased market prices for goats.
Under the initiative, goat auction sales centres which were owned by medium, small and medium enterprises have been established and equipped with goat sales pens and portable digital weighing scales.
“At initial auction sales, buyers competed for good quality goats, which sold faster. This gave farmers insights into the type of goats the market wants and the price they can expect. Farmers appreciated the transparent price setting and buyers found quality products easily and at reduced transport costs when normally they would spend time and resources searching for goats at farm gates.
“At a recent auction, a goat reached a price of K48,000 ($59), which has never happened before,” said James Makwito, Phalula Extension Planning Area Assistant Veterinary Officer in Balaka District.
And, in a statement, the organisation indicates that there were marked increased in goat prices.
“Amongst the many interventions, goat sale auctions fetched on average a 6 percent higher price than those sold through conventional market sales that often do not pay off the cost of feed. The study was for the CLIM2 project implemented in Southern Malawi, where half the country’s poor people live on farms less than one hectare.
“As part of this project, farmers, traders, butchers, researchers, extension workers and policymakers embarked on a journey of goal setting, knowledge exchange and learning. They selected and tested prototypes of interventions that allowed the value chains to transform and provide higher income, food security and nutrition for smallholder farmers in Southern Malawi. Developing goat production as a viable business hinges on strengthening all the links in the value chain,” the organisation says in a statement.
According to Ministry of Agriculture records, every third household owns goats in the Southern Region, where pressure on land remains high, coupled with the problem of limited alternative sources of income for farmers.
However, owing to the fact that goats are highly prolific at relatively low labour cost, goats are an attractive capital, particularly for women and youths.
“Higher sales of goats at higher prices translated into increased household income and changing lifestyles among farmers in Malawi, while goat meat consumption contributed to improved food and nutrition security.
“Goats are important for the resource-poor to balance grain price fluctuations. Highly variable grain prices impoverish the poorest who are not food self-sufficient. Goat prices, in comparison, are more stable and they are like liquid assets that can be quickly converted to cash, which cushions farmers against grain price fluctuations. However, many still follow traditional principles in raising and selling goats,” the statement reads.
Balaka District Agribusiness Officer Madalitso Ngombe has lauded benefits of the initiative.
“The project has built the confidence of farmers and economically empowered farmers and off-takers such as butchers and vendors through higher profits from goats,” Ngombe said.
The initiative was introduced under CLIM2 project, which is promoting improved feeding, health and husbandry for better goat meat quality to meet market demand and increase sales.
Project implementers have, however, called for the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Industry and Trade, and Ministry of Health and Nutrition to work hand-in-hand with Local Government officials to facilitate business take-off.
Maybe, in the end, goats will take their right place in national affairs.