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close this bookThe Courier N 123 Sept - October 1990 - Dossier Higher Education - Country Reports: Barbados - (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
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View the documentJamaica: developing sheep and goat farming

Jamaica: developing sheep and goat farming

Jamaicans cannot live by rum alone; at least part of their income derives from their goat herds. One Jamaican farmer in three owns goats, and the country as a whole boasts a total of some 250 000 heads. (Sheep on the other hand are rare, with only 2000 or so on the island). Goat meat is in high demand: curried goat (reportedly delicious) is a national dish, and cuts fetch the same sort of retail prices locally as beef or pork. Neither the sheep-meat nor the goat-meat produced locally is sufficient for local consumption, however, and 20-30 % of both types of meat are at present being imported. The EEC-funded Sheep and Goat Project, initiated in 1987 and set to run until 1995 or so, has its objectives to reduce these imports, permit better use of skins, upgrade small farmers’ incomes, and generally improve the sector’s economy.

Jamaica’s goats are bred principally for meat, with only a few (Anglo-Nubians in particular) kept for dairy purposes. Goat-owning farmers usually work very small acreages (two acres or so, often including rocky lands), and the goats rarely constitute the farmers’ principal source of income. Jamaica has only one state farm, Hounslow, producing milk which is processed by Dairy Industries Jamaica Ltd. Of the island’s total herd, some 185 000 are breeding does, producing, on average, four to five kids over two years, with the kids sold at about 10 months.

Farmers associations formed

The Sheep and Goat Project covers the whole country and, through a network of local associations, a maximum of farmers are involved. The associations (often built around existing “ micro initiatives “ involving goat rearing in one way or another) are designed to be as self-reliant as possible, dealing with their own administrative matters and development with a minimum of outside help. They consist of between 15 and 60 members and cover an area of some seven miles in diameter. Bigger groupings are impractical: transport is scarce, and the farmers, who are often very poor, have to walk, sometimes barefoot, to association meetings. When the groups are formed, five or six members are elected as an “executive” and standard statutes are adopted. A stock of basic medicines, worth some Jam. $ 1000 is given to them, and one of their responsibilities will be to manage the stock in common to their best advantage.

By the end of November 1989 some 49 associations of this kind had been established in the island, with a total membership of 1418. Numbers were growing rapidly, and in April 1989 a National Association was formed, with each local association sending a delegate with voting power commensurate with his or her association.

A key element in the project has been Hounslow Farm, a state farm created in 1983 from a nucleus of 70 dairy goats imported from Canada. Hounslow Farm’s role is to produce improved breeding stock for farmers and to provide training facilities. The farm now has 200 breeding does and, despite a considerable shortage of both funds and equipment, the animals are kept in reasonable health.

Practical help

The Jamaican breeders receive practical assistance in a number of forms. Firstly, there is the batch of medicines mentioned earlier, which the Association buys wholesale and sells to its members at a mark-up of some 30 %. The medicines include vitamins, disinfectant sprays, an antibiotic, drugs for use against external parasites, syrups and syringes. Field days are organised during which the medicines are delivered and their use demonstrated. This kind of assistance is perhaps the most useful that the project provides, because the vast majority of Jamaica’s goat breeders have never before treated their animals, nor made use of the services of vets. Now, through the associations, they have easy access to medicines, in appropriately small quantities, at reasonable prices.

A further initiative has been the tattooing programme, the object of which was to permit individual goats’ performances to be monitored, such is already the practice at Hounslow. Farmers have shown great interest in this possibility, though not always, it has to be said, for the intended purpose, but rather because tattooing helps in the battle against goat stealing, which is a major problem on the island.

A recent survey conducted within the project showed that only 13% of Jamaica’s farmers owned a goat-house, even of the most elementary kind. It seemed useful, therefore, to devise a simple house, suitable for humid conditions (with a slatted floor, for example) and made with inexpensive materials, whose construction could be demonstrated to farmers by means of a scaled-down model, since farmers often found plans difficult to decipher.

A further area in which the project sought to make progress was nutrition. The south coast of Jamaica, in particular, experiences a shortage of fodder during the dry season (January to April), and the hope had been to devise means of providing adequate supplies of feedstuffs year round. Experiments are being carried out with storing some of the rainy season’s excess grass in small containers, but more experimentation is needed to find the optimum solution to the dry-season shortfall.

Finally, the project provides for the demonstration of proper slaughter and skinning methods, and training in leathercraft has been on offer. The latter took the form of two 3-week courses which were attended by association nominees. Those who had attended the course were asked in turn to train the other members of their association.

An objective about to be achieved is the publication of a three-monthly newsletter, “ Jamaica Sheep and Goat News”, which will carry technical articles, news about local developments in the field, advertisements and space for members to write of their own experiences or preoccupations.

Though the project is, by the admission of those running it, “still far from perfect”, its structure is well established and the goat farmers are well able to manage it themselves. Priority areas for future assistance include animal nutrition, the development of small-scale goat milk production and the reshaping of the tanning and leathercraft businesses. But, with its wide impact on Jamaica’s farming population, the project is already achieving many of the objectives it set itself.