Malawi: Farmers erect fences to protect cassava from goats

July 27, 2015
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Lesoni Levison grows cassava on a two-and-a-half hectare plot. He expects a big yield next year, if only he can keep goats from munching away at his tubers.

Mr. Levison lives in Mazengera, a village about 45 kilometres south of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe. He used to grow cassava between 2003 and 2005. But low prices and a lack of demand in the markets led him to give up on the crop. He switched to maize, groundnuts, and vegetables.

But the yields of these crops started to dwindle after several years of poor rains and persistent drought. So, this year, he returned to growing cassava because it is more drought-tolerant.

However, roaming, hungry goats have made the 28-year-old farmer’s life difficult. He explains, “Goats find cassava stems and leaves to be good for grazing—once the goats invade a field of cassava, the damage they cause is extensive.”

Jelias Skaliot also grows cassava in the nearby village of Chibomozi. He agrees with Mr. Levison that goats are a major threat to cassava farming.

The 25-year-old father of two has been growing cassava for the past three years. He, too, has had his fair share of conflict with roaming goats. Mr. Skaliot says: “Before growing cassava each year, I first think of what kind of fence to erect in order to prevent goats from [grazing] on my cassava. Sometimes I [also] use guards to chase away goats [because they can] cause much more damage than thieves and diseases.”

To deal with the goat problem, Mr. Levison found a simple but expensive solution. He says: “I erected a fence around my cassava field because my family cannot be in the field all day chasing the goats away.”

Rather than erect a temporary barrier, Mr. Levison thought ahead. He planted 300 eucalyptus trees around the edge of his field. These will become a permanent fence. He says: “I [could spend] about US$45 on poles, [but] they do not last long due to attacks by termites. I’d end up spending more money to buy more poles. But once the trees around the garden grow, fencing costs will be gone.”

Mr. Levison got the idea from other farmers in the surrounding villages. He rarely if ever gets a visit from an extension worker.

Although the cost of the eucalyptus seedlings was relatively high, Mr. Levison believes that he will make a good enough profit from his field to refurbish his house next year. He says: “I will sell cassava at about 40 cents per root and I expect a profit of no less than US$500 from my [field]. This will be enough to support my wife and three children.”