The importance of a good goat
Saturday 22 April 1995
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)
Life & Style blogs
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
- 1 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 2 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 3 Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow
- 4 Richard Dawkins says 'date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse' on Twitter
- 5 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...
£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...
£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...