Earlier this year, Cyclone Idai swept across Mozambique. Its powerful winds and heavy rains led to floods, hundreds of deaths and the destruction of property and crops. About 140 000 people were displaced and, six months later, nearly one million people, including 160 000 children under five, are still facing food shortages and a nutrition crisis.
Idai was not the first cyclone to upend the lives of farmers in Southern Africa, and it won’t be the last. As climate change continues, such storms will become more frequent, as will droughts, with which farmers in Mozambique already struggle. But there is a simple way to boost climate resilience for farmers in vulnerable regions: investment in goat markets.
Goats are a relatively low-maintenance livestock. They do not require much up-front investment in housing or equipment. And they are hardy: goats are much more likely to survive a long dry period than, say, grains. They even eat failed crops.
Like other forms of property, a herd of goats can function as a kind of savings account for farmers, who can purchase more animals when they have cash to spare, and sell some off in times of trouble. The demand for goat meat in Mozambique is booming. Prices are rising and large abattoirs are actively seeking to purchase goats from smallholder farmers.
Yet farmers in Mozambique struggle to take advantage of this opportunity, because of factors such as poor market conditions and stock theft. These are the problems that the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, together with the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique and the Centre for Development Research at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, are endeavouring to solve.
We have launched an initiative to link farmers in Mozambique’s drought-prone Marara district with agricultural extension services and local governments, abattoirs and suppliers. This “innovation platform” — which now includes 60 farmers in six villages — has enabled the development of collaborative solutions suited to local conditions. It works to improve goat markets by providing direction and incentives for agricultural extension services and investments.
Consider livestock theft. In Marara district, farmers were hesitant to invest in more animals, because unknown perpetrators were regularly stealing free-roaming goats. Thanks to the innovation platform, villagers, local government and the police were able to work together to devise a strategy to combat the thefts, centred on erecting roadblocks in strategic locations.
The platform has also facilitated the creation of a more structured goat market that better suits farmers’ needs. Traditionally, goats in central Mozambique have been traded through a single market. But reaching that market often requires farmers to travel a considerable distance with their goats, which lose weight during the journey and fetch lower prices. To avoid the journey, farmers might have to rely on middlemen.
Since the introduction of the innovation platform, abattoirs and farmers have begun working to establish smaller sales points closer to both buyers and sellers. So far, data suggest that farmers who are participating in the scheme have been better able to meet market demand and are earning more for their goats. In fact, some farmers are prepared to expand their production, and are working with abattoirs to establish a quality-based pricing system.
Establishing a structured, well-functioning goat market helps to create a positive feedback loop. If farmers are confident their goats will not be stolen and can sell them at a decent price, they are better able to invest in improving their production system.
Farmers are being trained in how to improve their soil by planting legume crops, the residues of which can be used as goat fodder. Soil analysis helps farmers detect problems. Recognising the benefits of these practices, farmers immediately began increasing crop density, applying manure and rotating crops, thereby increasing yields and producing more feed for healthier goats.
More broadly, the innovation platform has kick-started a process in which farmers support one another to build a stronger market. For example, more successful goat farmers in the Marara district are advising their poorer counterparts on how to get started.
With support from government agencies and development organisations, goat markets could continue to grow, increasing the incomes and resilience of farmers in Marara district and beyond. Such support could include investment in technical extension services for livestock farmers, particularly for women and poor farmers, mediation of price negotiations between buyers and sellers, and the establishment of reliable metrological services.
To enable such progress, it is vital to keep the innovation network alive. As climate change continues, the challenges smallholder farmers face will only grow. Their best chance of weathering them is by acting together. — © Project Syndicate
Sabine Homann-Kee Tui is a social scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics