Goats: Challenges for increased productivity and improved livelihoods

C. Devendra

The author is with the International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya. He can be contacted at 130A Jalan Awan Jawa, 58200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: +603 783 9307. Fax: +603 783 7935. E-mail: cdev@pc.jaring.my.

Outlook on Agriculture Vol. 28, No. 4, 215–226 (1999)

Population size and distribution

Interactions with the environment

The poverty scenario

Gender issues

Goat production systems

Contribution to human nutrition

Economic contribution

Targeting poverty and the poor

Post-production systems

Opportunities for research and development


Notes and references

Dr Canagasaby Devendra has a PhD and DSc from the University of Nottingham, UK. His specialization is in animal nutrition and animal production systems, central to which is integrated natural resource management. He has previously worked with the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), and was Senior Programme Officer responsible for the Animal Production Systems of Asia with the Canadian International Development Research Centre. He has carried out consultancies for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, UNDP, FAO and USAID. In 1989, he received the International Dairy Production award from the American Dairy Science Association. He has served as a member of the Sub-committee on Animal Nutrition for the National Research Council (USA) and Strategic Planning Task Force for ILRI, with whom he now serves as a Senior Associate. He has recently led two important ILRI assessments in Asia, on research priorities for improving livestock production in cropanimal systems in rainfed agro-ecoregional zones of South-east Asia and South Asia, and currently coordinates a project on cropanimal systems involving five countries in SE Asia. He is the author of seven books and approximately 375 publications, most of which have been published internationally.

In animal production systems, the value of a species increases in relation to its adaptation, capacity to make socioeconomic contributions, capacity to fill market opportunities, and potential for increasing productivity. In the case of goats, their role and potential contribution to increased productivity are impeded by controversy about their destructive habits, poor understanding of their attributes, functional values, and links to the poverty focus, which together have not helped their contribution to improving natural resource management. Research and development efforts that can significantly improve productivity from goats can simultaneously enhance the livelihoods of the poor. Resource allocation by national programmes and donor agencies to research and development projects on these animals is generally poor. In the search for efficiency in the improved use of the available animal genetic resources, more enlightened thinking is necessary about the role that goats could play. This must be backed by more resources and the use of interdisciplinary systems in priority agroecological zones to increase their productivity, and by so doing, this will enhance the livelihoods of the poor, and protect the environment.

An increased contribution to animal production from goats is justified by the presence of 94% of the 674 million total world population of the species being found in the developing countries characterized by inadequate food supply and the need for increased food security for the poor. The challenges to improve their contribution include more efficient use of a bewildering number of potentially important breeds in appropriate production systems that match more efficient use of the available natural resources. The direct benefits to be had include higher productivity, poverty alleviation, improved livelihoods, sustainable agriculture and environmental protection. However, better use of the available breeds and increased productivity are constrained by controversy, false perceptions, biases, and inadequate official support and resource use. Potential productivity is also constrained by poor understanding of the many valuable biological attributes and functional values of goats, and of strategies for improved natural resource management in target environments.

The purpose of this article is to emphasize the importance of the species and the need for its improvement, and to dispel doubts about its role and functions. More importantly, it encourages enlightened thinking and wider recognition of the potential of the goat for a greater future contribution to increased food production, thereby improving the livelihoods of the poor, promoting sustainable agriculture, and protecting the environment in developing countries.

Population size and distribution

The world population of goats is 674 millions, of which 94% are found in the developing countries.1 Africa and Asia account for about 81% of the total population in the developing countries, including a bewildering variety of breeds. The largest populations are found in Asia, notably in India, Pakistan and China. In Africa, the largest concentrations are found in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. They are distributed in extremes of climates: from tropical desert, characterized by temperature extremes (0°–53°C) such as in the Thar, Sahel and Negev deserts, with insignificant rainfall and sparse vegetation; high altitude montane areas up to 2,500 m such as the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region; and the wet tropics with high temperature, humidity, rainfall (3,000–5,500 mm) and abundant vegetative cover, such as those in many parts of South-east Asia. But, the preferred environments are the arid and semiarid regions. In one such region, Rajasthan, India, for example, goats account for about 16% of the total national population, and in Bangladesh, with its wet and humid environment, the goat population accounts for about 29% of the total grazing ruminants (buffaloes, cattle, goats and sheep). It is also relevant to note that in Asia, 55% of the total population of small ruminants is found in rainfed areas.2

There exists a variety of breeds that are useful for meat, milk, fibre and skins. Out of a world total of 351 goat breeds, Asia has about 146 of these indigenous breeds, and 59 others are found in Africa (Table 1). In Asia, 66% of all the breeds are found in India, Pakistan and China. Breed improvement has generally failed to focus on selection for increased individual performance. Consequently, there is genetic erosion and a generally low level of production. It is important to draw attention to the presence of several potentially important ‘improver breeds’, and Table 2 identifies these together with their countries of origin. Without their use, the full potential productivity of goats will not be reached. Many of these breeds have been introduced into countries to improve the productivity of indigenous goats. These include Jamnapari, Barbari, Black Bengal, Malabar and Kashmiri in India; Ma'tou in China; Zaraiby in Egypt; Black Bedouin in Israel; West African Dwarf in Nigeria; Maradi in Niger; Kamori in Pakistan; Mubende in Uganda; Boer in South Africa; and Criollo in Latin America and the Caribbean (see for example Figures 1 and 2).

Table 1. Number of goat and sheep breeds recorded in the FAO Global Databank.

Number of breeds

Species Recorded With population size data At risk* % risk
Global 351 207 44 16.5
Asia 126 96 6 6.3
Global 920 656 119 18.1
Asia 226 155 15 9.7

* Estimated from breeds with available population data.
FAO, Rome.

Table 2. Potentially important 'improver breeds' in the developing countries.
Speciality Breeds Country of origin
Meat Boer S Africa; subtropical, dry
Fijian Fiji; tropical, humid
Katjang Indonesia; tropical, humid
Ma'tou China; subtropical, humid
Sirohi India; tropical, dry
Sudan Desert Sudan; tropical, very dry
Milk Barbari India; tropical, dry
Beetal India; tropical, dry
Black Bedouin Israel, Egypt; tropical, very dry
Damascus Syria, Lebanon; subtropical, dry
Dera Din Panah Pakistan; tropical, dry
Jamnapari India; tropical, dry
Kamori Pakistan; tropical, dry
Malabar India; tropical, humid
Nubian Sudan; tropical, dry
Zaraiby Egypt; tropical, dry
Prolificacy Barbari  
Black Bengal India; tropical, dry
Criollo S America; tropical, subtropical, dry
Sudan Desert  
West African Dwarf W Africa; tropical, humid
Pashmina (cashmere)  Kashmiri C Asia; high mountains, cold
Skins Black Bengal  
Maradi (Red Sokoto) Niger and Nigeria; tropical, humid
Mubende Uganda; tropical, humid

Source: C. Devendra and M. Burns, Goat Production in the Tropics, revised ed, Technical Communication Bureaux of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, UK, 1983.

Figure 1. 'Improver' Kamori goat breed in Pakistan.

Figure 2. ‘Improver’ Barbari goat in India.

Interactions with the environment

The species forms a staple element in the more dry and harsh environments, notably the semi-arid and arid agroecological zones (AEZs), where goats reign supreme (Figures 3 and 4). Here, the value of the species increases with the decreasing quality of available feeds and grazing. Goats are however also found in other AEZs, such as in the humid areas. Together with wide adaptation across various AEZs, and several unique attributes (eg high digestive efficiency for coarse roughages, water metabolism, more tolerance to tannins, and disease resistance), they also provide for food security and survival, thus making a significant, but underestimated socioeconomic contribution. Increased digestive efficiency of coarse roughages, as well as tolerance for deleterious substances in feeds, for example, are higher in goats than in sheep.3 Likewise, there is evidence of a genetic variation in resistance to helminths in goats.4

Figure 3. Goats in harsh and fragile environments in Rajasthan, India.

Figure 4. Subsistence milk production from Alpine goats in semi-arid parts of Peru.

The controversy surrounding the goat is associated with several interactions with the environment, and alleged resource degradation. Such criticisms are not unique, and can apply to other herbivores, but with goats, the allegations are more severe because of their unique mouth parts, selection of feeds, ability to adapt to varying forage quality, and capacity to use coarse grazing and shrubs to advantage (Figure 5). The evidence for environmental damage stems from two interactive forces. One is their sheer ability to thrive in harsh environments and to be productive on meagre feeds. In the semi-arid environments where there is a critical shortage of feeds, and mixed grazing of herbivores is common, there is consistent preferential and differential selection.5 Sheep select diets generally intermediate between those of cattle (dominated by Gramineae—60%—but rejecting woody species—1%) and goats (dominated by woody species—43% but rejecting Gramineae—10%). It is also pertinent to note that research in continuous and rotational grazing, stocking rate and animal ratio under rangeland conditions in South Africa concluded that stocking rate had the main effect on production, and that sheep had a greater potential for range degradation than cattle or goats.6 Mixed grazing is therefore an important tool to increase the total output of animal products per unit area, and brings about its effects through the increased efficiency of use of the available biomass, provided there is an appropriate mix and number of different animal species.

Figure 5. Jamnapari and Barbari goats browsing in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Environmental degradation is also associated with the ownership of goats by landless pastoralists and transhumants who live in poverty and are able to survive only because of the goats. Survival for these poorest of the poor takes precedence over environmental protection in circumstances where they perceive that inefficient use of natural resources and resource degradation is unimportant if their immediate needs and subsistence living are not assured. Such situations are not uncommon, especially in the more marginal areas of Asia (eg Pakistan, India and China), Africa (eg Tanzania and Sudan) and Latin America (eg Mexico and Peru).

On the positive side, goats have been used to clear bush in many of the trypanotolerant parts of Africa, and are similarly and potentially important in the use of tree and shrub savannah regions in the world.7 An even more significant example of a beneficial crop–goat interaction is to be found in the practice of folding. Migrating flocks of goats and sheep are often used overnight to fertilize cropland, and the crop farmers often pay relatively high prices, or give cereals in return for this service. In northern India, this means for example, 2,000–3,000 goats and sheep folded on 0.2 ha of land returning US$1 per 100 animals per night, or 60–80 kg of grain (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Folding of crop area by goats and sheep in Andhra Pradesh, India.

In many parts of South-east Asia, integration with perennial tree crops, such as coconuts and oil palm, reduces the cost of weeding, improves soil fertility, increases crop yields and productivity per hectare, and hence, socioeconomic benefits to small farmers.8 In the Philippines for example, the integration of goats and sheep with coconuts over three years increased the income of farmers by between US$127 and 229.9 Likewise, the establishment of leguminous hedgerows to reduce soil erosion improves soil fertility and nutrient availability for crops, eg maize and black pepper provide forage for goats in a zero grazing system,10 all helping to generate a mean annual income of US$1354 per 0.5 ha, equivalent to a mean internal rate of return of 38.7% (Table 3).

Table 3. Cost and return analysis of SALT (sloping agricultural land technology) in Davao del Sur, Philippines from 19911993 (US$).
Components 1991 1992 1993
Cash Income
- Crop+ 154.6 130.0 128.5
- Goats++ 3,351.5 3,505.4 3,178.4
- Value added items+++ 1,516.8 1,516.8 1,516.8
Total returns 5,022.7 5,152.2 4,862.9
- Materials 2,402.6 1,381.7 1,593.0
- Non-cash items 1,754.3 1,830.5 2,014.9
Total costs 4,157.0 3,212.2 3,607.9
Net profits 865.8 1,940.1 1,255.1
Returns on investments (%) 20.8 60.4 34.8

+ Maize, citrus, black pepper and miscellaneous crops.

++ Live animals, goat meat and goat milk.
+++ New births, replacements and goat dung.
G.A. Laquihon, G. Suico and W.A. Laquihan, ‘Integration of SALT management of crop–livestock in slopeland areas: the case of "super" SALT (sloping agriculture land technology)’, Proceedings of International Workshop on Sustainable CropLivestock Integration in Sloping Lands of Asia, Davao, Philippines, 1997.

In many parts of Africa, the risk of uncertain weather conditions encourages farmers to rear more livestock. This, however, makes matters worse if feed supplies are inadequate. Alley farming systems that use food or forage crops between hedges of multipurpose trees, such as Leucaena and Gliricidia, for mulch and/or forage, provide an alternative approach which has been successfully developed, especially in Nigeria. This technology improves soil fertility, increases crop yields, and overcomes animal feed shortages, as well as providing fuel for households. A recent review of the role of alley farming in African livestock production11 gave the following highlights:

Table 4. Present value gross margins from three alternative farming systems in southwest Nigeria (naira/ha/year) over a 9 year period.
  Traditional farming Alley farming with fallow Continuous alley farming
Cropping only 16,325 16,324 21,255
Cropping allowing for soil nutrient loss 16,176 16,204 21,070
Crops and livestock 16,176 18,794 23,749
Crops and livestock with terminal tree clearing costs 16,074 18,489 23,444
US$1 = naira 25 (1998).
L. Reynolds and M.A. Jabbar, 'The role of alley farming in African livestock production', Outlook on Agriculture, Vol 23, 1994, pp 106–114.

Damage to the environment is inevitable so long as there is no control over stock numbers and grazing, especially in very extensive systems, where feeds are very scarce and goats have to search for feed over large areas. In most situations, goat numbers are not reconciled with feed availability, feed production and use, and environmental damage follows. Where no-one takes direct responsibility for such predictable damage, man has often conveniently sought refuge in the scapegoat. Specialists in land use and economic development are often far too prone to exaggerating the destructive habits of goats, even though overpopulation, mismanagement of natural resources, inadequate feed production and conservation, overstocking and forest fires may be the prime causes.

The poverty scenario


In the developing world, the highest incidence of poverty is encountered in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the absolute numbers of poor have increased. Based on the head-count index defining the percentage of the population below the poverty line, about 33% of the population of all developing countries12 is affected. The incidence of poverty is highest in rural areas, and this is reflected in the very high percentage of rural poor as a percentage of total poor, which for India and Indonesia in Asia, for example, is about 79–91%, and for Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya in Africa, is between 80–96%. The World Bank defines poverty as the inability to attain a minimum standard of living. In economic terms, the measure of poverty is US$275 per caput for the extremely poor, equivalent to US$31.23 per person per month.13

Poorest of the poor

Some characteristics of very poor people and rural poverty are: that they have low incomes, are usually crop-oriented but often own goats and sheep; they have no access or very limited access to resources, especially land, which is invariably marginal; are involved in a variety of income-generating activities; face geographic isolation; continuously experience hunger, fight for survival, but can adapt to hardship; resist change and are unable to use new technology; are sensitive to risk, and reduce this by diversification of meagre resources. The majority are not interested in prescriptions and extension materials, and use core family labour, including women and children, to herd the goats. The key elements in all the available descriptions and definitions of poor people and poverty are survival, subsistence, low income and illiteracy.14 Poverty amongst the rural poor is characteristic of small farmers, the landless, transhumants and nomadic pastoralists, women, indigenous tribal groups and displaced persons.

Benefits to the rural poor

Poor farmers own and raise goats with several objectives in mind—contributing to meet their material, cultural and recreational needs:

Material—Meat, milk, leather, fibre, horn, fertilizer (dung and urine), and as pack animals in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. Meat and milk are valuable to human nutrition, and several by products are used in handicrafts.

Cultural—Ownership is identified with wealth, food security, survival and prestige. Value as experimental animals, eg milk fat synthesis.

Recreational—Sport and national shows.

The benefits of ownership include income generation, food production, security and survival, employment, fertilizer, utilization of crop residues, social values and recreation. For many of the rural poor, and especially the landless, the ownership of goats provides the means for survival as food and cash income; the latter also enables diversification of incomes. Detailed socioeconomic surveys on 900 farm families in Rajasthan, studying the relationship between types of goat-keeping families, size of landholdings and ownership of other ruminants, indicated that the highest proportion (44%) of the population of farmers (earning less than $24 per caput a year and with no land) owned most goats, followed by 32% of farmers having 0.2–0.4 ha land, decreasing to 24% of the farmers with 0.7 to more than 2 ha of land.15 In the Mymensingh district of Bangladesh, long-term detailed socioeconomic surveys indicated that the poor farmers who represented 39% of the households and had 0–0.5 ha of land, owned the largest number (44%) of goats. The farmers with more than 2 ha of land tended to own a large proportion of cows and bullocks (57%).

My extensive field visits across continents show that, especially in marginal areas, goats provide the basic insurance for agricultural activities, food and economic security, and stable households. Recent visits to Hunan and Yunnan Provinces of central China, for example, reveal that although cattle and buffalo are reared for beef and draught, it is the goat population that provides for the uncertainty and the continuity of effort required under adverse weather conditions. Additionally, in common-property pastoral farming, poor farmers carry extra goats and sheep as insurance against drought. Being vulnerable, these groups merit special attention and policy support for poverty alleviation, and the role and contribution of goats is an important means for achieving this.

These data together indicate that the ownership of goats increases as land gets scarcer, and confirm the view that the poorest people find food and financial security in the ownership of these animals. Even more pertinent is the fact that for these same reasons, ownership provides a most important means of survival in harsh environments.

Gender issues

Women are generally the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable of the victims of extreme poverty. For these reasons, women and children are the ones primarily concerned with the ownership and management of goats throughout the developing countries (see Figures 7, 8 and 9). This is the case in the Altiplano regions of Latin America, most sub-Saharan countries, the Indian subcontinent and South-east Asia. During droughts and migrations, women take on the added responsibility of collecting supplementary fodders for the animals.

Figure 7. Harvesting mixed fodders to feed goats in Nepal.

In Upper Volta, Mossi, Fulani and Rimalbe, women own the goats and consider them an investment. Mossi women in particular view them as an insurance against famine. In Mali, a survey of five villages among the Marka, Peuth Rimaibe and Cuerga ethnic groups showed that goats and sheep were mostly owned by women, either through inheritance, or through purchase with income from selling agricultural produce. Ownership represents prestige and security to the women in case of divorce or seasonal migration of their husbands, and allows them to meet family and social obligations, such as the purchase of clothes, care of sick children and ceremonial costs.16

Figure 8. Jackfruit leaves (Artocarpus heterophyllus) for feeding goats in Vietnam.

In Indonesia, socioeconomic surveys indicated that the women's share of involvement in rearing small ruminants increased as more animals were reared. Additionally, literate women were more involved in the physical activities of management (herding, grass cutting, feeding, watering and health control) than in decision making (planning and marketing), probably because of their perception concerning the animals' needs. Illiterate women by comparison, involved their husbands in all activities, as well as in the decision making process.17

Figure 9. Management of stall-fed goats in Bogor, Indonesia.

Goats make a significant contribution to the maintenance of household stability, even for distressed women. In Bangladesh, goats distributed to such women provided more security, and more importantly additional income of between US$38.5 and 134.0.18 This is based on monitored returns from 11 such women, two years after each had been provided with an initial investment of a doe costing about US$11. Experiences of other non-governmental organizations also suggest that, parallel to the redistribution of goats, the recovery of loan money from women was very much higher than from men, suggesting much commitment and a powerful development opportunity. It is not surprising therefore, that in Bangladesh, credit for purchasing goats, specifically for women, is being increasingly encouraged.

The conclusions from the various studies, as well as from extensive field observations, suggest that the distribution of goats resembles that of extending rural credit, except that for women the benefits are direct, and perhaps more permanent. These include improved household nutrition and alleviation of hunger, better livelihoods, more effective utilization of unpaid family labour, more stable households, and increased self-reliance.

Goat production systems

Goat production systems throughout the developing countries are divided into three categories, as follows:

  1. Extensive systems.

  2. Systems using biomass from:

  3. Systems integrated with the crops, such as coconuts or oil palm.

Amongst these, extensive systems predominate in which goats, usually with sheep, are constantly on the move in search of feed. In the semiarid and arid areas, critical feed and water shortages in these harsh environments have resulted in two main types of migratory systems: (i) nomadism, and (ii) transhumance. Both these systems are practised by the shepherds, and represent highly rational adaptations of human life to a severe and adverse environment. It is a natural response of a traditional livelihood under extreme limitations in a stressful environment. During the height of summer and very high temperatures (30–40°C), in all about 4–6 months, animal movements of between 10–15 km per day are commonplace, motivated by the search for grazing, as well as wage-earning opportunities. In the Indian subcontinent, it is estimated that between 30 and 40% of the total small ruminant population is continually on the move. These movements are spectacular, are a way of life, and involve whole households trekking along well defined routes with men accompanying large flocks of between 1,200 and 3,000 animals. Kids are often placed in baskets carried by camels. With the onset of the rains, and increased feed availability, grazing becomes more localized. In the cooler hilly areas, goat flocks are stall-fed in the valley during winter, and migrate for grazing to alpine pastures during spring and summer, only to return in late autumn.

The distinctive annual nomadic and transhumant migrations, especially in the semi-arid and arid areas, are associated with several crop–animal interactions and problems. They include inter alia the use of common property grazing lands and forest margins, resource degradation, eg of trees for fodder and fuel, and varying levels of exposure to diseases and social problems. Some of these issues have been individually investigated, but a more holistic assessment of the circumstances and opportunities for improvement of the major constraints, including policy elements, is required to secure a more integrated natural resource management and use. Thus, for example, animal health services for the landless pastoralists, the improvement of the marketing of livestock and livestock products, perhaps by the development of cooperatives, have hardly been considered.

These extensive systems invariably involve mixed grazing with other species, especially cattle and sheep. There is no doubt that mixed grazing systems are advantageous from the standpoint of completeness of use of the available forage biomass, increased productivity from the land, and reduced damage to the environment. For these to be achieved however, there must be more control of animal numbers or equivalent tropical livestock units, choice of and optimum mix of animal species, relationship to available feed resources, and type of grazing systems (continuous or rotational). Prevailing management systems seldom consider these aspects, with resultant damage to the environment.

The prevailing goat production systems are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Returns from any new proposed systems would have to be demonstrably superior, and supported by massive capital inputs and other resources.19 However, it is quite predictable that there will be increasing intensification and a shift within systems, especially from extensive systems to ones including arable cropping, induced by population growth and increased demand for animal proteins. This situation is likely to be become ever more challenging because of decreasing availability of arable land in the future.

An analysis of these systems led to the conclusion that the principal objective should be to increase the use of the available feed resources, notably crop residues and low quality roughages, and of various leguminous forages as supplements, so as to gain maximum advantage from appropriate feeding systems. This conclusion is consistent with those of the global consultation to define the agenda for livestock research,20 affirming that feed resources and nutrition were the most important constraints affecting animal production across regions (Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, west Asia, north Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean). This has been further refined by two detailed assessments of livestock research priorities in South-east Asia21 and South Asia.22

Contribution to human nutrition

Goats primarily produce meat, but also provide milk, and their contribution to the nutrition of the rural poor is significant. They supply precious animal proteins of high biological value in the form of meat, milk, plus essential minerals and fat-borne vitamins to poor people, pregnant mothers and young children. The small size of goats enables easy slaughter of animals, thereby making readily available sources of fresh meat for immediate consumption.

Goats' milk has certain unique characteristics. It has a predominance of small milk fat globules (causing the milk to be widely referred to as homogenized goats' milk), softer curd for digestion and in cheese-making, and the milk fat contains significantly higher concentrations of short-chain, medium-chain and polyunsaturated fatty acids than cows' milk and its cheeses.23 One litre of goats' milk contains about 32 g of proteins, and represents 70% of the dairy requirement of a lactating or pregnant mother. It is adequate for a child up to 11 years of age. The Ca supply of 1.7 g/litre fully meets the daily requirement (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Direct consumption of milk from Saanen goat by a young boy in a village in Xian, China.

One development issue concerning rural people is the choice of dairy goats or cows for small-scale household milk production at village level. With very resource-poor peasant farmers, the choice of goats as dairy animals is determined by the low capital investment and production costs, optimum use of meagre resources which favours goats rather than cattle in marginal environments, faster generation turnover, and therefore earlier milk production compared with cattle, effective use of family labour including women and children, reduced problems of storage and distribution of milk, and production of milk mainly for household consumption, and secondarily for commercial sale.24

At low levels of dairy production of about 1 to 2 litres per head, goats do not require high levels of dietary energy and protein, and can in fact survive on browse, forage and crop residues. The cost of production is relatively low, and only increases when purchased concentrate supplements are fed. Under these circumstances, it is more realistic, nutritionally appropriate and economic to encourage milk production from goats in rural areas, parallel to peri-urban milk production from cows. Direct investment in family goat herds in rural areas is therefore likely to have much impact on the quality of the rural poor.

Access to a ready supply of meat and milk provides a constant source of animal proteins for poor people who cannot afford to buy them. A different picture emerged in Mexico City, for example, where as a consequence of higher wages and potential sales, 25,000 litres of goats' milk were being produced annually, which in turn produced 4.5 tonnes of excellent quality cheese. It was suggested, based on the results, that it would be feasible in Mexico to develop family farms that could be self-supporting through the production of goats' milk.25

Economic contribution

The economic contribution by goats to poor farm households and livelihoods is much higher than is imagined. The situation has recently been reviewed for Asia26 and the following summary, based on 14 studies, reflects the extent of this contribution. A similar picture also exists elsewhere in Africa and Latin America.

Semi-arid and arid areas: Goats and sheep provide the main means of survival and security. In these situations, the sale of animals, milk and manure accounted for 27.2 to 30.7%, 19.7% to 84.8%, and 1.0 to 4.5% of total farm income, respectively.

Subhumid and humid areas: Mixed farming is more common in these areas, and goats contributed between 17.1 and 58.0% of total farm income, mainly through the sale of animals.

These levels of income can be much higher than is reported, because of a lack of market access, in which the farmer generally only receives 55 to 66% of the total value of the animal, the remaining 40–45% going to middlemen who exploit the poor farmers.

In addition to these, there is also growing evidence that goats make a valuable contribution in the development of sustainable agriculture. This is reflected in, for example, the development of several important production systems in various AEZs. These include the three strata forage system (grasses and ground legumes, shrub legumes, and fodder trees, respectively) in Indonesia which is a way of conserving the feed requirements of cattle and goats; integration of goats with coconuts in the Philippines, and oil palm in Malaysia; an integrated rice–fish–duck–goat system in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh; alley farming involving such forages as Calliandra, Leucaena, Erythrina, Gliricidia and Flemingea spp in Indonesia (Figure 11), Philippines and Nigeria; and the integration of dairy cattle and goats with cropping in the Kandy forest garden system (coconuts, fruits, root crops and herbs in stratified layers) in Sri Lanka.

Figure 11. Lopping Gliricidia fodder to feed goats in Bali, Indonesia.

Targeting poverty and the poor

There is justification for increased resource to improve the contribution of goats, commensurate with their many attributes. Resource allocation by national programmes and donor agencies for research and development projects concerned with this species merits additional support. Their association with the poor, poverty alleviation and food security further justifies this focus. Targeting the poor is therefore an important development strategy, particularly in harsh environments, such as in the semi-arid and arid agroecological zones where potential improvements are associated with a complex web of interactions between poverty, population dynamics, agricultural growth, and survival and sustainability. The latter is of no significance to poor people, whose main objective is subsistence living, and who perceive that inefficient use of natural resources and environmental degradation are unimportant if their immediate needs and short-term survival are not assured. Development strategies must therefore target the poor as direct beneficiaries. Integrated natural resource management and use, interdisciplinarily and community-based participatory approaches need to be addressed. Practical guidelines that link technology to social, economic and organizational requirements for improving goat production have recently been made available.27

Post-production systems

Marketing goats throughout the developing countries is generally haphazard and suffers from several inefficiencies. These include the dispersed nature of production across the diversity of small farms of live animal products and by-products; problems of their collation; poor handling systems; inadequate transport and refrigeration facilities; and numerous market intermediaries. Post-production systems have been poorly studied in the past, and research in this area has much economic significance. It is especially important to link production with post-production systems in which there is organized collection, transportation and marketing of animals, and to include products and by-products from them (see Figures 12, 13 and 14). These aspects are generally neglected, resulting in:

  1. Reduced revenue to farmers. Observations in several countries in Asia suggest that farmers generally receive 55%–66% of the total value of the animal, the remaining 40%–45% going to middlemen and/or butchers, whose total effort in terms of production process time is about one to two days.
  2. Reduced revenue from the sale of animals, as well as their products. These involve the meat, skins, by-products and derivation of value-added products from skins. Recent studies in India indicate that goats transported for more than 400 km for 15–38 hours showed weight losses of 9%10%. These data exclude losses also due to the effects on poorer quality products, by-products and also herd wastage.28 Skins from goats are considered a core product.
  3. The animals slaughtered specifically for meat production are of varying quality. In several countries, animals are taken and slaughtered at random from unknown background and production systems. The majority of animals sold (70%–80%) are 1–2 years old.
  4. Where the demand for both meats and consumption is widespread, and organized programmes are not in place, there is serious erosion of the breeding population, in which increasingly hungry animals are slaughtered. The net effect is a reduced output of goat meat. Surveys in two states in India indicated that 50%–73% of the goats slaughtered were below six months of age, and 26%–50% were 6–12 months of age.29

The components in post-production systems are:

Figure 12. Marketing of Maradi goats in Oyo, Nigeria.

Figure 13. Transportation of goats for slaughter in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Figure 14. Farmer with goats for sale in Chengdu, China.

Opportunities for research and development

Rainfed environments

Rainfed environments have been neglected in the past because of the emphasis on lowland irrigated areas. Since arable land is scarce, attention now needs to shift to the underutilized rainfed lowland and upland areas. The justification for this is linked to the magnitude and relative concentrations of small ruminants (goats and sheep) in these areas.30 These rainfed areas are fragile and also complex, but holistic research and development efforts in these harsh environments can provide major benefits, productivity and impact.

The systems context

A strong systems research approach is necessary, backed by multi- and interdisciplinary approaches that embrace all appropriate component research, based on detailed analyses of needs and constraint analyses, that ensure that the contributions together focus on the whole system. This aspect has been singularly lacking in the past, and needs to be thoroughly addressed, backed by strong institutional support and participatory linkages.

Programmes to improve goat production systems, especially in such difficult and complex environments must address the following major activities:

  1. Detailed socioeconomic assessment of the nature of the production systems, and the relationship between poor people, resource use and the environment.

  2. Assessment of relationships between pastoralism, agropastoralism, transhumance, flock dynamics and the environment, and their interactions.
  3. Identification of the major constraints affecting production.

  4. Quantification of nutrient supply to crops (through manure and urine), improvements to soil fertility, and effects on crop production.

  5. Effects of improvements and interventions on the systems, eg feeds from multipurpose trees, crop–animal interactions in the production systems, and socio-economic and environmental assessment.
  6. Improvements in post-production processes.

The primary reasons for improving goat production concern the need for more meat, and the links to poverty and environmental degradation. In India, the rural poor as a percentage of the total poor, represent about 79%, comprising small farmers, the landless, pastoralists, agropastoralists and transhumants, women, tribal groups and displaced persons, the large majority of whom are dependent on livestock for vital animal proteins, means of survival and security. It has been estimated that 75% of the rural households in India (predominantly small and marginal farmers) own 56% of the total large ruminants and 62% of the small ruminant populations.31

Use of available breeds

Given the considerable genetic diversity in Asia, increased use of the best available breeds is essential. In particular, much greater use can be made of several 'improver goat breeds' in a manner that is consistent with clear production objectives, better understanding of the indigenous knowledge and traditional systems of management, and improved use of the available production resources. In general, breed improvement programmes have not made extensive use of indigenous breeds, and have failed to focus on within-breed selection and increased individual performance. It is equally important to ensure conservation of the more important germplasm.

Nutritional strategies

Feeding and nutrition represent the principal constraints to production, and strategic intervention via this route is a most important means of increasing the productivity of goats. The situation has recently been reviewed in depth;32 and involves the following approaches:


Major impacts of concerted interdisciplinary programmes with a holistic focus are:

  1. Increased meat and milk, income, enhanced food security and survival.

  2. More efficient use of the natural resources, reduced resource degradation, and environmental protection.

  3. Improved livelihoods and stable households, due to better understanding of the socioeconomic links between poor people, animals, ownership, flock dynamics, and the environment.

  4. Benefits to improved crop production.

  5. Sustainable development of goat ruminant production systems.

Mixed grazing

With the exception of tethering and stall-feeding systems, goats are always grazed with sheep in extensive grazing systems, especially in semi-arid and arid environments. The main reason for this is that goats tend to lead the sheep to areas where there is feed, and also enable more complete utilization of all the available feed resources, from grasses to more woody vegetation. Several research studies in Africa indicate that cattle and goats provide a suitable mix for the utilization and control of woody species, and the improvement of range vegetation, and form the best long-term grazing strategy in an integrated animal production system.33 In the more humid areas, the same circumstances will apply, except that many more feeds are within easier reach. This relates to the integration of goats or sheep and/or cattle with perennial tree crops such as coconuts or oil palms, where there is not only forage biomass, but also crop by-products such as coconut cake and palm kernel meal, with significant increased yield of fresh fruit, and great economic benefit.34

More information is required, inter alia on grazing and browsing behaviour, diet selection, intake, optimum mix of small and large ruminants, effects of grazing and browsing on the soil, effects of tree crops on animals, and productivity from the land.

Utilization of research results and on-farm interventions

The use of research results and improved technologies are responsive and important approaches to overcoming existing constraints. The focus on improved nutrition is especially critical, since it is the major constraint throughout Asia.35 The approach should be aimed at achieving a balanced feed supply, balanced energy/protein ratios, and correcting any critical nutrient deficiencies with low-cost supplements. Increased use of leguminous forages, as several studies have already shown, can make a significant contribution to the nutrition of goats.

On-farm interventions are especially important, and merit very high priority. An essential prerequisite for this is a detailed diagnosis of the dynamics of small farm systems that are sensitive to socioeconomic issues. The components of this approach are:


The value of goats far outweighs the controversy over their alleged association with environmental damage. Significantly increased productivity from goats can be achieved, and is justified primarily by the demand for more animal proteins, and the search for efficiency in the use of the available genetic resources. Associated with this is the concurrent need to assist the poor and protect the environment, resulting in direct benefits linked to the alleviation of poverty, increased self-reliance and food security, and sustainable livelihoods. To address these issues and ensure impact, the way forward will necessitate a wider recognition of their attributes, better resource use, strong interdisciplinary approaches and institutional support to ensure the future contribution of goats in the developing countries.

Notes and references

1FAO, Production Yearbook, Vol 50, Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, 1996.

2TAC, Review of Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Priorities and Strategies, Part I, Technical Advisory Committee Secretariat, FAO, Rome, 1992.

3C. Devendra, 'Tropical legumes for small ruminants’, in J.P.F. D'Mello and C. Devendra, eds, Tropical Legumes in Animal Nutrition, CAB International, Wallingford, 1995, pp 231–246.

4R.L. Baker, ‘Genetic resistance to helminths in small ruminants in Africa’', Production Animates (Paris), Vol 10, 1997, pp 99–110; N. Mandonnet, G. Aumont, J. Fleury, L. Gruner, J. Bouix, J. Vu Tien Khang and H. Varo, 'Genetic resistance to gastro-intestinal parasitism in Creole goats: effects of tropical environments on genetic expressions of the trait', Production Animates (Paris), Vol 10, 1997, pp 91–98; W. Pralomkarn, V.S. Pandey, W. Ngampongsai, S. Choldumrongkul, S. Saithanoo, L. Rattanachon and A. Verhulst, 'Genetic resistance of three genotypes of goats to experimental infection with Haemonchus contortus', Veterinary Parasitology, Vol 68, 1997, pp 79–90.

5T. Nolan, G. Pulina, J.L.N. Sikosana and J. Connolly, ‘Mixed animal type grazing research under temperate and semi-arid conditions’, Outlook on Agriculture, Vol 28, No 2, 1999, pp 117–128.

6P.J. O'Reagan and J.R. Turner, 'An evaluation of the empirical basis for the grazing management recommendations for rangeland in Southern Africa', Journal of the Grassland Society of South Africa, Vol 9, No 1, pp 39–49.

7Q.P Campbell, J.P. Ebersohn and H.H. von Broembsen, 'Browsing by goats and its effects on vegetation', Herbage Abstracts, Vol 32, 1962, pp 273–275.

8C. Devendra, 'The potential for integration of small ruminants and tree cropping systems in South and South East Asia', World Animal Review (FAO), No 66, 1991, pp 13–22; A.G. Deocareza and H.E. Diesta, 'Animal production under improved pasture under coconuts', Proceedings of Regional Working Group on Forages, Khon Kaen, Thailand, 1993, pp 189–193.

9PCARRD, Philippine Council for Agricultural Research and Resources Development, Series No 77, Los Bangs, Philippines, 1994.

10G.A. Laquihon, G. Suico and W.A. Laquihan, 'Integration of SALT management of crop–livestock in slopeland areas: the case of 'super' SALT (sloping agriculture land technology)', Proceedings of International Workshop on Sustainable Crop–Livestock Integration in Sloping Lands of Asia, Davao, Philippines, 1997.

11L. Reynolds and M.A. Jabbar, 'The role of alley farming in African livestock production', Outlook on Agriculture, Vol 23, 1994, pp 106–114.

12World Bank, World Development Report, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 1990.


14C. Devendra, 'Goats and rural prosperity', Pre-conference Proceedings, International Conference on Goats, New Delhi, 1992, pp 6–25.

15D.V Rangnekar, personal communication, Bharatiya-Agro Industries Foundation, Pune, India, 1991.

16C. Safilios-Rothschild, 'Women in sheep and goat production and marketing', FAO Expert Consultation on Women in Food Production, FAO, Rome, 1983.

17S. Wahyuni, M. Gaylord and H.C. Knipscheer, 'Women's decision making role in small ruminant production: the conflicting view of husbands and wives', Small Ruminant-Coordinated Research Support Project Working Paper No 43, Bogor, Indonesia, 1985.

18M. Saadullah, M. Hossain and S. Akhtar, 'Goat raising by women as income generating source in Bangladesh: case studies', 14th International Symposium on Sustainable Farming Systems, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1996.

19P. Mahadevan and C. Devendra. 'Present and projected ruminant production systems of South East Asia and the South Pacific', in Forages in South East Asia and the Pacific, ACIAR Proceedings, No 12, 1986, pp 1–6; C. Devendra, 'Ruminant production systems in the developing countries: resource utilisation', in Feeding Strategies for Improved Productivity of Ruminant Livestock in Developing Countries, IAEA, Vienna, 1989, pp 5–30.

20ILRI, 'Global agenda for livestock research', in P.R. Gardner and C. Devendra, eds, Proceedings of a Consultation, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, 1995.

21C. Devendra, D. Thomas, M.A. Jabbar and H. Kudo, Improvement of Livestock Production in CropAnimals Systems in the Rainfed Agro-ecological Zones of South East Asia, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, 1997.

22C. Devendra, D. Thomas, M.A. Jabbar and E. Zerbini, Improvement of Livestock Production in CropAnimal Systems in Rainfed Agro-ecological Zones of South Asia, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, 1999.

23G.F.W. Haenlein, 'Value of goats and sheep to sustain mountain farmers', International Journal of Animal Science, Vol 13, 1998, pp 187–194.

24C. Devendra and M. Burns, Goat Production in the Tropics, revised ed, Technical Communication Bureaux of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, UK, 1983.

25C.P. Castro, 'Processing of goat milk under less favourable conditions in small family industry: present situation', Proceedings of IV International Conference on Goats, Vol 1, Brasilia, 1987, pp 283–304.

26C. Devendra, 'Improvement of small ruminant production systems in rainfed agro-ecological zones of Asia', Animals of Arid Zone, Vol 37, 1998, pp 215–232.

27C. Peacock, Improving Goat Production in the Tropics. A Manual for Development Workers, Oxfam Publications, Oxford, 1996.

28A.S. Naidu, K.S. Rao, D. Chandramaili and K. Seshagiri Rao, 'Marketing of goats', Workshop on Meat and Slaughterhouse By-products Handling Systems, Central Leather Research Institute, Madras, 1991.


30TAC, op cit, Ref 2.

31World Bank, Indian Livestock Sector Review: Enhancing Growth and Development, Report No 14522–IN, World Bank, Washington, DC.

32R.A. Leng and C. Devendra, 'Priorities and direction for research for more effective use of feed resources by livestock in Asia', in C. Devendra and P.R. Gardiner, eds, Global Agenda for Livestock Research, Proceedings of a Consultation for the South East Asian Region, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, 1995, pp 25–44.

33Devendra et al, op cit, Ref 8.

34A.J. Aucamp, H.H. Baonard and J.J. Venter, 'Beef cattle and boer goat performance in the dry grass-bush communities of the Eastern Cape', Proceedings of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa, Vol 16, 1981, pp 45–48.

35Devendra et al, op cit, Ref 21; Devendra et al, op cit, Ref 22.


Top Of Page