Earlier this year, Cyclone Idai swept across Mozambique. Its powerful winds and heavy rains led to massive floods, hundreds of deaths and the large-scale destruction of crops and property, displacing about 140,000 people. Six months later, nearly 1 million people — including 160,000 children aged five or younger — still face food shortages and a nutrition crisis.
Idai was not the first cyclone to upend the lives of farmers in southern Africa and it will not be the last. As climate change continues, such storms will become more frequent and intense, as will droughts, with which farmers in Mozambique already struggle.
However, 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. They are hardy: Goats are much more likely to survive a long dry period than, for example, grains. They even eat failed crops.
Similar to other forms of property, a herd of goats can function as a kind of savings account for farmers, who purchase more animals when they have cash to spare and sell some off in hard times.
This is particularly true in Mozambique, where demand for goat meat is booming, prices are rising and large abattoirs seek to purchase goats from smallholder farmers.
Yet, farmers in Mozambique struggle to take advantage of this opportunity due to factors such as poor market conditions and rampant theft. These are the problems that my colleagues and I at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics — together with the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique and the Center for Development Research at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna — are aiming to resolve.
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 of farming goods.
This “innovation platform” — which includes 60 farmers in six villages — has enabled the development of collaborative solutions that are 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 animals, as unknown perpetrators were stealing free-roaming goats. Thanks to the innovation platform, villagers, local government and police could collaborate on a strategy to combat the thefts, centered 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.
A skinny goat is worth less money to the abattoir, so it fetches a lower price for the farmer. To avoid the journey, farmers might have to rely on unscrupulous intermediaries.
Since the introduction of the innovation platform, abattoirs and farmers have begun working to establish new, smaller sales points, closer to both buyers and sellers.
So far, our data suggest that farmers who are participating in the innovation platform have been better able to meet market demand and are earning more for their goats. Some farmers are even expanding 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 that their goats will not be stolen and can be sold at a decent price, they are better able to invest in improving their production system.
The innovation platform is helping with this, too. For starters, we have trained farmers how to improve their soil by expanding legume crops, the residues of which can be used as goat fodder.
Recognizing the benefits of these practices, farmers began increasing crop density, applying manure and rotating crops, thereby increasing yields and producing more feed for healthier goats.
We have also trialed on-farm soil analyses that can help farmers detect soil health problems and devise their own solutions — for example, growing more legumes, or adding manure and compost.
More broadly, the innovation platform has launched a process by which farmers support one another to build a stronger market. For example, the more successful goat farmers in the Marara District are advising poorer counterparts on how to get started.
With support from government agencies and development organizations, 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 that smallholder farmers face will only grow. Their best chance of weathering them is by acting together.
The work described here was carried out with the assistance of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems and funded by the Austrian Development Agency.
Sabine Homann-Kee Tui is a senior social scientist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
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