Livestock Family Farming in the Caribbean - The Jamaican experience with meat goat production
In most Caribbean countries the concept of family farming is relatively new with most farmers because many are not familiar with the term. However, efforts are underway to change this because family farms are in fact the predominant farming system in most of the countries. A survey of livestock farms across the region will clearly show that the vast majority use 'predominantly family labor'. This is true not only for small holdings with a few animals, but also for relatively large holdings. The importance of the livestock family farm is not well recognized in many countries despite the fact that for many commodities, such as poultry meat, eggs, and goat and sheep meat, family farms are the predominant producers of these commodities. Despite the prevalence of livestock family farms across the region and their importance to food and nutrition security, the sector faces many challenges. More attention is necessary if the sector is to survive and continue to provide animal protein for the people of the Caribbean. Some of the major challenges include land tenure and land usage issues, lack of adequate support services, lack of extension services, environmental challenges and lack of policy direction.
The European Union funded and the FAO implemented a recent, two year project with the overall objective of reducing poverty and enhancing food security for vulnerable groups through the improved availability of safe, affordable, and nutritious food for the rural population and urban poor. Under the direction of this project, the FAO and the Government of Jamaica decided to focus on a market driven strategy for increased small ruminant production while targeting family farms. The project sought to enhance small ruminant production among clusters of farmers in selected communities by the demonstration and adoption of best practices and innovation in husbandry, breeding, housing, and nutrition of goats.
The strategy to achieve the objectives of the project revolved around establishing a close working relationship with the Jamaica Goat Farmers' Association (JGFA) to ensure wide coverage and sustainability of the project. Specific activities that were implemented with the Association members included the following:
- Providing training in leadership and group dynamics for the executive members of the Association
- Setting up of clusters of small ruminant family farmers
- Establishing of 9 small ruminant demonstration units at strategic locations across the country
- Training of farmers in improved small ruminant management practices
- Establishing fodder banks, pastures, and forage delivery systems
- Establishing model goat breeding units
- Setting up of livestock waste management systems including the use of on-farm vermi-compost units
- Introducing and training of extension officers and selected farmers in artificial insemination techniques for goats
- Introducing record keeping to support improved efficiency and decision making
The clusters supported group training of family farmers in all aspects of small ruminant husbandry and management. At the cluster sites, farmers received hands-on training in areas such as feeding and nutrition of goats and sheep, planting and maintenance of protein and fodder banks, animal identification techniques, record keeping, basic housing requirements, preventative health care for goats and selection and preparation of animals for breeding.
The FAO and the Caribbean Agriculture Research Development Institute (CARDI) jointly implemented activities and provided technical and operational support for the project in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture. The Jamaica Goat Farmers Association was the main institutional stakeholder and beneficiary of this component of the project.
The cluster concept was chosen to interact with the stakeholders so that farmers, who lived in a community and were familiar with each other, could learn together, exchange ideas and information, as well as see practical and useful demonstration of best practices in their own communities. Farmers could visit the demonstrations sites as often as they wished and were encouraged to interact with the lead farmer, who managed the unit, bearing in mind that the farmers managing these sites were selected as leaders based on their wide knowledge of goat rearing, their years of experience as successful farmers, and their willingness to share information, including best practices, with their peers.
- Eight hundred and forty five goat farmers were trained at the training events completed during the life of the project.
- Twelve training resource materials were produced and distributed to the members of the Jamaica Goat Farmers' Association, these included brochures on 'Assisted Breeding Technologies' and 'Preparing For The Breeding Season And After'.
- A training video on artificial insemination in goats was produced for further training
- Fourteen extension officers and farmers were trained, certified, and equipped to deliver artificial insemination services to goat farmers across the country; this services has since been in great demand by the farmers who have been convinced that artificial insemination is a useful tool for enhancing goat breeding and improving productivity. (The first cohort of animal inseminated by the certified inseminators had a 60% conception rate.)
- Nine demonstration units were established and stocked with animals selected locally
- Cultivation of protein and fodder banks was implemented at the demonstration sites and these banks were maintained and used by farmers
- Vermi-compost pits were constructed at the demonstration sites, breeder units, and used for the stocking of the pits with California red worms in order to create compost from goat manure and other farm waste.
- Four goat breeding sites were established and mandated to provide breeding stock to members of the clusters; since their establishment several farmers, who are cluster members, have benefited by receiving young breeding animals at a reduced cost.
- Database software, mainly for the keeping of breeding records, has been distributed and used in the breeding sites.
Some of the main lessons learned from this project are the following:
- Strong livestock farmers' organizations can be effective in introducing small ruminant farmers to best practices and innovation.
- Livestock Farmers' Associations play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of livestock projects and the adoption of best practices by farmers.
- The cluster concept brings communities together and provides a forum where farmers can learn new techniques and share information with each other; this concept also fosters better relationship among farmers who would not normally interact with each other.
- National and regional organizations with similar mandates can collaborate effectively to build synergies while recognizing their particular strengths and areas of weakness.
Livestock production Officer
FAO Sub-regional office for the Caribbean (FAO-SLC) Barbados