Mauritius is a net importer of agricultural and food products (up to 75% of its food requirement), making the country vulnerable to food price volatility. The Mauritian government has set up the Food Security Fund, with the aim of bolstering the capacity of the country to produce enough food for its citizens’ consumption – particularly creating self-sufficiency in the production of milk and meat.
Improving the productivity of goat farmers is critical, as goat meat is an important source of protein in Mauritius, particularly during large social gatherings. As a development partner in the Indian Ocean region, Australia realises the importance of creating a food-secure region, particularly for island nations that are prone to unpredictable environmental and market changes. A critical solution is ramping up initiatives that drive sustainable agricultural productivity.
One such initiative is a project to decrease mortality and enhance the quality of goat farming in Mauritius for higher income earning. This project is led by Australia Awards Alumna, Dr Devika Saddul, a Senior Research Scientist at the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI) in Mauritius. Dr Saddul has been involved in goats, sheep and ruminant nutrition research and development for more than 15 years. In 1995, she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Science, specialising in Ruminant Production, at the University of Queensland in Australia. In 2012, she also completed an Australia Awards Short Course on Livestock Systems at the University of New England. Her work focuses mainly on finding new and improved methods of raring animals, technical and research support, as well as the formulation of policy measures to boost the sector.
In 2015, through Dr Saddul, FAREI was awarded an Australia Awards Small Grant worth AUD10,000 to initiate a project to boost the goat sector by increasing herd size. Increasing herd size reduces the effect of revenue loss from animals that may get sick or die, and animal performance that ensures that animals that reach the market are of high quality. Prior investigations revealed that the high mortality rate among young goats was a major constraint. “Goats are easy to work with because of their size. However, in order to get the most out of them, farmers need to understand their habits in terms of feeding, general care and their environment, as they can be quite sensitive,” explains Dr Saddul.
Goat farmers face challenges such as inadequate herd management in the traditional backyard system, informal backyard slaughter, space constraints, lack of business orientation and market structure, no value addition and a lack of quality breeding animals of local or superior (exotic) breeds. These constraints result in high goat mortality, low productivity and a shortfall in income earning. Support measures to boost the goat sector by the Mauritian government include setting up multiplier goat farms based on the use of boer goats (recently imported through the Food Security Fund), known for their high quality of meat. It is expected that introducing the exotic breed will generate quality breeding animals that will be sold to other farmers as part of the genetic upgrading programme, which may have a national impact. The success of any initiatives to boost the goat sector, particularly the introduction of new breeds, rests on proper herd management. Dr Saddul’s research and development served as an important pilot project in terms of national herd development.
The project benefited 12 goat farmers who depend on goat rearing for a household income – six of them were women. These women are involved in goat-rearing activities on their own farms and are involved in decision making regarding the implementation of project activities. Dr Saddul explains that, for the women, farming activities form part of their routine household chores. “The women make a key contribution to day-to-day herd management, fodder collection, animal feeding, the cleaning of sheds and the implementation of improved animal husbandry practices for enhanced animal productivity.”
The project took place in l’Escalier in the south of Mauritius. This location was selected because of its close proximity to the farmers, which was important for group meetings and discussions to foster networking, interaction and support. “Group meetings added a social dimension to the project, as they served to consolidate ties among the women and other [male] farmers, thus breaking the gender barrier that may be prominent in villages.”
The project aimed to address some constraints goat farmers face by helping them adopt improved husbandry practices to enhance productivity for better income earning. The main activities included evaluating the feeding practices of farmers with a view to regulating their animals’ nutrition so that the quality of meat and milk can be controlled. In addition, new forage species, with a focus on locally produced feed, were introduced to the farming community. Farmers were also trained on improved husbandry practices, such as the use of maternity pens for better kid management, partitioning goat sheds and adopting weaning practices to separate males from females.
At the end of the project, the recorded kid mortality rate dropped to 5% compared to the 35% that was generally reported during previous studies. This meant that farmers could offer animals of a better quality for sale, more goats were going to market and more revenue was generated. Therefore, the project benefited consumers, farmers, butchers, service providers and the community.
Dr Saddul credits her Short Course with providing an avenue to undertake the research project. “The skills and knowledge I gained through the Australia Award were invaluable. My [development initiative] was run as a pilot project and I received support from my employer in terms of logistics, human resources, in-kind contributions and – most importantly – support in terms of acknowledging the [initiative] as a priority project of national importance.”
Call to action: Provide technical support to farmers to help them professionalise their farming activity for more income, and encourage farmers to develop multiplier goat farms for the production of quality breeding animals for sale to other farmers.