By Masimba Biriwasha
Goats have a long standing reputation in Zimbabwe. They are regarded as highly troublesome, impatient and naughty domestic animals in comparison to cattle or sheep. It’s almost an oxymoron that we have a month (Mbudzi) named after goats in the Shona language yet many local farmers have such a disdain for goats and as a result consumers are deprived of high quality, safe and affordable goat meat or alternatively think goat meat stinks.
This irony is further buttressed by the fact that we have in Zimbabwe an abundance of grazing land and landscapes that are suitable for goat farming.
And for many Zimbabweans, the goat is essential in fulfilling key social and cultural rites. It will be difficult to find a Zimbabwean who has not had an encounter with a goat in their life.
It is not easy to understand why we pushed the goat so much to the periphery that we do not give enough care and passion to goat farming.
Colonialism seems to have played a part in denting people’s relationship with goats.
I aver that a deliberate effort was made to push the goat to the margins because of its key defining aspect in who we are as a people — one of those traditions that has indeed stood the test of time.
In our current circumstance, goats are of low priority among many farmers. There was very little concern for the husbandry and welfare of goats. This hampered attempts to improve the rearing of goats.
Fortunately, interest in goat farming is increasing in Zimbabwe, hence the need to reimagine the place of the goat in our national consciousness.
Goats are versatile and thrive in environments that are difficult for other livestock. They are multifunctional and produce a wide range of products from fertiliser, meat, milk, pharmaceuticals to leather, among others.
Our unique ecology is highly suited to goat farming. Yet goat meat remains a rarity on the dinner plates of our population.
A highly disorganised supply chain can explain why goats have not been part of Zimbabwe’s food culture. Due to middlemen who reap where they did not sow, goat meat is difficult to find or is too expensive compared to other meat.
In addition, goats are used purely as subsistence animals by peasant farmers further condemning the status of the goat.
Goats are usually kept by small-holder farmers and are frequently found in regions with little resources where other livestock encounter difficulties in surviving.
Goats are important to the subsistence and economic development of peasant farmers because they are cheaper to keep than cattle and provide a constant supply of essential food (both meat and milk) and income throughout the year.
There are very few farmers that are rearing goats at a commercial level. The selective breeding and feeding regimes that meat animals have had to improve their confirmation and yield have never been applied to goats. The goat carcasses are seen as inferior to those of other meat animals.
Re-evaluating the goat’s place in Zimbabwe can help unlock the hidden opportunity which could help in building a collective and shared economy in the next decade.
In effect, goats are the most artistic of all livestock and can be used to adorn our cities in recreational facilities to showcase their beauty. These peri-urban goat farms can potentially add a new angle to urban tourism.
This just goes to show that goats are highly versatile, it’s not just the meat that matters. Goat amusement parks can bring much-needed revenue.
In order to increase our national goat herd, a collective effort is required across the whole goat value chain. In fact, no single farmer can produce enough goats to meet either local or export demand.
All hands should been on deck. Only concerted effort can help to make Zimbabwe occupy its rightful place on the global goat production map.
Most importantly, we need to maximise production capacity at the farm level through fencing, paddocking, penning, feed, veterinary care and access to water. We need to make our farms more efficient, and the goats healthier in order to increase potential yield.
Work is also required at the agricultural policy level to reposition the goat. We need to agree on a national code on how to keep and sell our goats. A national campaign to make goat meat mainstream among consumers can also help to increase the value of the goat. Though less common on the Zimbabwean table, chevon is a delicious change from beef, chicken and pork.
We can also leverage on technology in order to maximise goat production. For instance, genetics and feed technology can help to dynamically transform the goat industry.
Technology can be leveraged on to look after goats in a manner that can dynamically boost goat production and investment in goats by Zimbabweans.
All in all, goats are an opportunity for us to present the best of who we are to the world. It’s an industry that we can build and prove our famed collective brilliance.