Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dairy Goat Project: Notes From the Field

Over the past week we’ve been traveling around visiting the families that had received a dairy goat  as part of the dairy goat program. The families are scatter over a very wide area surrounding Bwera Town; they are in each of the 16 surround community groups (villages) that make up our local partner organization, Cobra.  So far we’ve made it to six of the groups and have visited close to 100 goat families.

It has been an incredibly moving experience to see how much some of the goat families having improved, and we are blown away by how well Cobra has managed and developed this project. The improvements are especially amazing knowing the dire situations that the families selected to be part of the program come from: all have HIV in the family, most recipients are widowed women that are HIV positive and care for 6 to 14 young children – a very difficult position to be in if you are living in rural Uganda.

To recap, the program began with only three goats in 2005, 11 more were purchased in 2006 with the initial funds raised by selling goat magnets. In 2007 on our return visit we purchased another 50 goats, and through donations another 30 were purchased in 2009. Since that time, the program has grown rapidly thanks to the well-developed breeding program (each of the 16 groups has one robust male dairy goat that has the arduous role of accepting female visitors on a rotational basis). There are now just under 400 families that have one of the project dairy goats, supplying fresh milk daily to approximately 2500 individuals.

The first kid that is born to one of the project dairy is given to a new family that has been identified by the community as a family in need. The second kid is sold by the family (the proceeds are often put toward school fees, to begin the construction of a permanent home, or for the initial input to a small family income-generating project). A family with particular needs is free to apply to Cobra board to sell rather than pass on a kid that would otherwise have been passed on to anther project member. In this way, Cobra carefully balances the task help those families attain some sort of incremental improvement to their health, living conditions, and the opportunities available to the families' children, while at the same time time expanding the program to include new families in need – the organization seems to has navigated these difficult decisions extremely well. 

We were particularly touched to visit the young mother from Katasenda Village that had been in very bad state when we first gave her a goat in 2007. Since our last visit her goat had produced triplets, all of which Cobra had granted her permission to sell. We were proudly shown the three bedroom, permanent brick house that was being constructed with the money from those sales – a stark contrast from  her leaking and dark, one room mud hut that we entered in 2007 to see the piles of leaves on which she slept on with all of her children.

The women who's situation really touched us on our first visit, standing now with her family between her old and new home.

The important breeding aspect of the project also seems to have been well managed (I've recently learned more about the phenotypic characteristics of different varieties of goats than I ever imagined I would). In only one of the groups that we’ve reached so far the male project goat had died two years earlier and had not yet been replaced. As a result, the goat families in this area travel a long distance to have their goats impregnated by the male goat in the neighbouring group. Not surprisingly, many members were instead rendering the services of local male goats. The resulting crossbred goats are smaller and produced only 2-5 cups of milk, compared to the 6-8 cups produced by their purebred dairy goat counterparts. The difference between this and other groups really made us realize how important it is to closely monitor the project in each village. We plan to make one of our goat purchases this year a strong male to regenerate the project in this area.

In part because of the success of the program, and as people begin to realize the nutritional quality of fresh dairy goat milk, the price of a dairy goat has almost doubled in the Bwera and the surrounding villages over the past two years. People from Kenya and Tanzania are also starting to come to the area annually to purchase dairy goats. We were told by many of the goat families that they now sleep with their goat staked to the ground in their bedroom at night for fear of thieves. One family that we went to visit was not at home when we arrived and neither was their goat. We were informed that they had gone for  burial way up in the hills and had taken their goat with them rater than leave it behind unattended.

On a personal level it feels great to spend all day walking from one goat family to the next through winding mountain pathways, peering into a world so completely removed from our own. It is a magical way to deal with all the stress and the emotion of past couple of months and shake off the numbness that invariably settles in. We feel truly humbled.

We hope to reach all of the remaining groups before we leave for Christmas and look forward to doing another major goat buying extravaganza from all of the donations we’ve received for this program over the past year.

Below are some photos from one of first days Pete, Colleen and I spent visiting goat families in Katasenda and Tuyilhondera Villages.

One of the project goats

After recording some details about the goat – the number of kids it had produced, what had been done with those kids, the cups of milk produced daily by the goat, and so on – each goat family posed for a photograph with their goat

A good harvest of g-nuts laid out to dry in front of one of the goat family homes

Surprised goat

One of the goat recipients

A goat family poses in front of their got pen 
Colleen terrifies small children with amazing regularity

This women was able to start a very successful chicken and turkey rearing business after selling two goat kids

Showing us the chicken and turkey coop she had built

Following the maze of paths between goat families

A goat family

Most of the goat families have been given seeds and encourages to grow small home gardens like this onion garden to supplement their very starchy and basic diets
As is true all over Africa, here grandmothers often care for their orphaned grandchildren

Recording the details from each goat family

Peter and the jovial chairperson of Katasenda Group  
An elderly couple, goat recipients, in front of their old home
The same elderly couple in front of their new home, being built through the sale of their goat kids

A man feeds his male project goat, the only one in the area. Group members pay 2000UGX ($1CND) to bring their dairy goat to be bred with the male project goat.

Beautiful smiles

As was true for many of the families we spoke with, this man told us that his family sleeps with the goat in the house at night for fear of thieves
Nat and one of the goat recipients

A women prepares matoke just inside the door of her home

The majority of the dairy goats we visited had either recently given birth to kids or was pregnant.

Pete checks out a goat pen

A grandmother and her young grandchild

Nat shows a family their photo

1 comment:

  1. Best photos yet - I love the look of those goats - what personality! Keep up the great work, you two. I'm so proud of you and wish you all the best.