Goats bring stability and income to female farmers in Zambia

A farmer learns how to vaccinate her goats. Photo: UNDP Zambia/Moses Zangar, Jr

Sylvia Chiinda used to live on the edge of desperation. Her husband died a few years ago, leaving her with no savings or possessions. It was a crushing blow for the mother of seven.

To make matters worse Zambia has seen a rise in more frequent and intense floods, recurrent droughts and other climate risks, that have reduced yields for farmers like Sylvia, putting lives and livelihoods in the crosshairs.

With her maize and groundnut farm production dwindling, Sylvia was forced to find an alternative income to keep her family afloat.

She started running a makeshift grocery shop in her village of Kanakanatapa in Zambia’s Chongwe District. But the income — just US$15 in a good month — is barely enough to meet the necessities for her and her seven children.

“I can’t give up. I need an income because I have many children and it’s my responsibility to provide for them,” she said.

Sylvia Chiinda, with four of her seven children, is the head of her household. Photo: UNDP Zambia/Belinda Zimba

In the face of rising climate risks and unprecedented adversity, the single mother and breadwinner became determined to change her situation.

Many rural families cannot obtain loans from mainstream banks to cope with the effects of weather extremes. They are poor, and viewed as high risk, compounding the challenges they face.

For women, the first hurdle to setting up a business is affordable credit. Getting a loan from a commercial bank is a nightmare of form-filling and intrusive questioning. The absence of a commercial bank in their villages adds to their woes.

“Banks in the city won’t lend us money because we have no land title to put up as collateral,” Sylvia says.

Women such as Sylvia are among the most vulnerable in Zambia’s traditional communities, where age-old customs dictate a woman’s life. This vulnerability is compounded by the ravages of climate change.

Getting a loan from a commercial bank is a nightmare of form-filling and intrusive questioning for women farmers. The absence of a commercial bank in their villages adds to their woes. Photo: UNDP Zambia/Moses Zangar, Jr

As part of wider government efforts, a UN coalition mobilized by UNDP, involving the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Zambia Meteorological Department is helping climate-stressed small-scale farmers such as Sylvia to tap into a booming and drought-resistant source of income — goat rearing.

The project was made possible with initial funding of US$32 million from GCF — the world’s largest dedicated climate fund. It aims to bring new economic and social opportunities to Zambian women.

“This aligns with GCF’s emphasis on inclusive climate action, so that all our US$7.3 billion of projects committed so far to developing countries promote gender equality and women’s empowerment,” says Green Climate Fund’s Gender and Social Specialist Seblewongel Negussie.

“Climate change is one of the major factors and challenges contributing to low productivity of farmers, especially at small scale level. As government, we are therefore pleased that our partnership with UNDP and GCF, under the SCRALA project, is supporting farmers, especially women, with opportunities and sustainable lifelong solutions to help boost productivity and adaptation to climate change effects,” says Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary, Songowayo Zyambo.

Sylvia is among more than 8,000 farmers, mostly women, who were trained in goat rearing and animal husbandry. Each farmer received five goats to begin with and they were given the tools and training to prevent disease, build sheds, and tackle breeding management.

Sylvia is among more than 8,000 farmers, mostly women, who were trained in goat rearing and animal husbandry. Photos: UNDP Zambia/Belinda Zimba

A year later, Sylvia has had 30 goats, including additional goats she bought using proceeds from the sale of manure. To build a steady income, she sold 10 of the goats. Five kids were passed on to other women so they could embark on the same journey to financial stability. This approach capitalizes on initial handouts while promoting community spirit. It has raised income levels of farmers in the 16 districts where the project works.

The US$238 Sylvia made from the sale was spent on essential items, including school fees for her children, and fertilizer.

A farmer using her training to build a goat shed. Photo: UNDP Zambia/Alex Mwila

Mpeza Phiri, a single mother of six living in the Luamba Agriculture Camp in eastern Zambia, says her family has a steady income for the first time. They own 10 goats. Now when crisis hits, farmers like Mpeza and Sylvia have greater equity. And equity means resilience.

Not only do the women sell goats to put food on their table, but they are also able to use the goat manure as fertilizer in their gardens. This is allowing them to grow vitamin-rich vegetables in abundance, provide their children with healthier meals and valuable sources of protein from the goat meat and milk, and improve climate-resilience, nature-friendly farming practices.

Charity Lungu, a mother of four who lives in the same camp as Mpeza, has been able to support her family of 10 by selling some goats. Her children used go to school hungry. The income has allowed her to buy them food, uniforms, and books.

“They are now able to focus on school, not on hunger,” she says, as she tends to the bleating goats in her backyard.

“I am not worried any more about my children going hungry or falling ill. I can always sell a goat if we have needs,” says Anna Mumba, who lives in Sipopa Village in Luangwa District. The people of the village have suffered from recurring drought and dismal harvests in recent years.

A newly built goat shed. Each farmer received five goats to begin with and they were given the tools and training to prevent disease, build sheds, and tackle breeding management. Photo: UNDP Zambia/Moses Zangar, Jr

“The SCRALA project provides small-scale farmers with goats to give them an alternative source of income in case their crops fail,” says Parick Muchimba, the acting project manager.

Goat farming in Zambia is set to grow in importance with huge demand from Saudi Arabia, which now wants to import as many as one million animals a year.

Zambia only has about four million goats being reared largely by small-scale operators — not nearly enough to meet the new demand.

In the capital Lusaka, goats sell for between US$25 and US$30 depending on their size and breed. Many newly energized women farmers are looking to expand their herds to take advantage of a potential surge in demand.

“I’m now planning to invest in more goats and save enough money to buy my own land,” says a beaming Sylvia as she directs her goats to a grazing field.

Goats taken out to pasture. Goat farming in Zambia is set to grow in importance with huge demand from Saudi Arabia, which now wants to import as many as one million animals a year. Photo: UNDP Zambia/Moses Zangar, Jr

Story by UNDP Zambia Communications Specialist, Environment Unit, Moses Zangar, Jr

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