Kenya: Quality of dairy goats in question (The Organic Farmer)

| November 8, 2010

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Ruth Wambui was a happy farmer when she bought her first dairy goat. It was a high quality goat, producing up to four litres of milk a day.  But she cannot find good quality male goats to serve her females. For the last three years, she has had to rely on male goats, also called bucks, of unknown pedigree.

Ms. Wambui lives in Wanyororo in Nakuru, Kenya. Dairy goats have been her main source of income for ten years. But now hundreds of dairy goat keepers in Kenya are seeing their milk yields decrease. The quality of the goats has dropped, caused by inbreeding, a lack of purebred stock, and false information.

Sixteen years ago, exotic dairy goats were introduced into Kenya. They produce up to six litres of milk a day, are easy to keep, and provide a good income and security for many small-scale farmers. But recently more and more farmers report that they have bought goats which they believe to be good quality cross-breeds, but they do not yield as promised.

Jennifer Nyambura bought three dairy goats a few years ago. She was assured the goats would produce four litres of milk per day. But despite providing them with adequate feed and housing, she gets one litre or less.

When exotic dairy goats were first introduced to Kenya, the quality of the goats was monitored. The Dairy Goats Association of Kenya trained farmers and kept breeding records. All goats were registered with the Kenya Stud Book to ensure that farmers used proper breeding practices. Registration also ensured that the history of the dairy goats was well known. Farmers could rely on these records to identify good quality goats for purchase.

Recently, however, the demand for goats has been huge. The association has struggled to monitor breeding. It is claimed that some farmers visit the Kenya Stud Book offices and falsely declare their goats as pedigree. With a record card stating the goat is pedigree, the goat fetches a higher price at market.

Eleven exotic bucks were imported for breeding back in 1994. Laurian Nambubi is the Nakuru Catholic Diocese Extension officer. He says, “Up to now, the country is still relying on these 11 bloodlines to breed goats in the whole country. This is a crisis because the possibility of inbreeding cannot be avoided.”

When European countries were hit by mad cow disease in the late 1990s, the Kenyan government imposed an import ban on all live animals. This ban has not yet been lifted. So it is impossible to ease the situation by importing purebred bucks.

The Dairy Goat Association of Kenya says they have strict quality control measures in place. Goats are tattooed at three months and issued with a record card. Animals with proper records of pedigree status are registered with the Kenya Stud Book. The association attaches a seal to all record cards before they are released to the field.

The association has noticed that some dishonest service providers have issued false cards. These service providers are no longer being used. An official now signs and writes their own telephone number on the card to ensure quality and transparency. The association has introduced activities to offset further inbreeding. They offer artificial insemination services. They also have a permit to import goat semen from France.

Farmers like Ruth Wambui are now appealing to the government and international NGOs to address the issue. Their livelihoods depend on it.