The importance of a good goat

COUNTRY MATTERS

It was the sight of sheep giving birth that riveted most visitors. When lambs popped out into the world before their astonished eyes, people felt their £2 entrance fees had been well spent - and there were still tractor rides and a canal walk to be taken, an Easter egg hunt to be entered, and two skewbald donkeys, of incredible furriness and charm, to be fancied.

Yet it was not merely to entertain the public that Richard and Anna Knight staged two open days at Plummers Farm, near Cirencester, over Easter. Their purpose was to raise money for the charity FARM-Africa, which aims to improve agriculture at grass-roots level, and is running numerous projects in East and Southern Africa.

In common with other European farmers who have seen the charity in action, the Knights were fired up by a tour of Ethiopia, and for their open days last weekend they converted part of their farmyard into an African exhibit, with a stylish grass hut, a shed full of native artefacts, and a pair of Anglo-Nubian goats.

Presiding over this little assembly was Patrick Mutia, a burly and jovial Kenyan who ran FARM-Africa's goat-improvement project at Babati, in Tanzania, and is soon to take over similar schemes in his own country. Goats, he explained, are of critical importance in his part of the world. Historically, they have a terrible reputation for roaming the countryside and stripping every leaf in sight; but now, with the introduction of better strains, their position in society has changed.

"Goats are wonderful!" he beamed. "They're far more efficient than cows, and a much better bet if land-holdings are very small. In Tanzania the average is three acres per family, in Kenya it is under three acres, in Ethiopia, only one acre.

"But a good dairy goat is very expensive. It's a family's most important asset. You can't leave it to wander around, because it's too precious. So you keep it tethered, or in a kraal, and feed it on kitchen waste, or rough forage not part of the main crop."

When small local goats are crossed with the big, lop-eared Anglo-Nubians, or prick-eared British Toggenburgs, the milk yield of the offspring increases so dramatically that a single animal can transform one family's economy. (The milk is drunk, or made into yoghurt or cheese, and the surplus can be bartered or sold.) FARM-Africa is therefore encouraging the import of good stock goats, and at the same time teaching women (who do almost all the work) how to look after them.

In another stock-improvement programme, camels are being imported from Pakistan and crossed with the Samburu strains used by the nomads of north Kenya. In Ethiopia much effort is being put into reafforestation and the establishment of tree nurseries, as well as into the conservation of water.

Another small but vital project has been to spread word about a new form of stove - an East African Aga saga. The device is much more efficient than traditional fireplaces of stones, and therefore an important saver of fuel.

The central point about FARM-Africa's schemes is that they are not imposed from outside, but evolved after close consultation with village elders. Hence the importance of men such as Patrick Mutia, who is not only an expert agriculturist, but modestly admits to speaking seven languages or dialects, and so can gain the confidence of even the shyest farmer. One problem, he says, is to persuade Africans to share new knowledge: "If somebody finds out something to his advantage, his natural inclination is to keep it close to his chest."

Another enthusiastic supporter present last weekend was Richard Parry, who farms in Wiltshire and is proposing, this autumn, to drum up support for the charity by riding a trail bike down a route that links all the projects in the Rift Valley. Leaving Massawa in Eritrea on 10 October, he will cross into Kenya on Guy Fawkes' night, and reach Dar es Salaam on 10 December, having covered 5,600km. In each country he will have one companion, associated with the schemes there, but otherwise will be on his own.

What is it that drives people to make that kind of effort? What was it that led the Knights to give up their Easter weekend and raise over £1,000 for the cause? Simply this: that everyone who sees the projects in action comes away moved by their obvious success - but also by the immense amount that still needs to be done.

FARM-Africa is at 9-10 Southampton Place, London W1A 2DA (0171-430 0440)

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz