Goat breeding …reviving an ancient zim livestock heritage

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ZIMBABWE has vast natural goat grazing areas and moderate temperatures suitable for goat rearing.  

The goat ‘mbudzi’, is the bovid mammal of the genus Capra – naturally inhabiting rough, stony ground and found in Europe, Asia, north, east and southern Africa. 

The wild goat, typically has a brown-grey colouring with both male and female sporting a beard. Domesticated varieties include the Capra hircus, reared for milk, meat and wool.

While goats are non-selective grazers,- for more intensive commercial goat breeding in Zimbabwe a varying terrain of dry land, improved and irrigated pastures are recommended to improve the quality, palate and weight of the carcasses.

In archaeological records of southern Africa, it is stated that goats and cattle became widespread in the 1st Millennium AD.  

In Zimbabwe goats were introduced by the Bantu people from the north who absorbed and displaced the southern region’s late Iron Age Khoisan occupants.

Images of goats and sheep appear in silhouettes in Zimbabwe’s   archaeological rock art cave painting as a record and testimony of their coexistence with early man in the region.

These ancient heirloom hardy early breeds of goats, chicken and cattle – (i.e. the Mashona breeds) adapted to the environment, building a genetic resistance overtime and their descendants may still be found in communal lands throughout Zimbabwe.

The importance of rearing small livestock such as goats, was part of the food security strategy of the ancient Great Zimbabwe civilisation. 

The socio-political necessity for food security was ingrained in the psyche of the indigenous- to maintain a healthy nation and repel any dissension caused by food shortages.

Ceremonies and prayers for food were conducted regularly in the terrigenous regions of Great Zimbabwe and goats were used as ‘zvipirwa’ – (an animal offered to family and national spirits in Shona ritual offerings).

In archaeological records of Zimbabwe, the remains of goats were frequently found in the vicinity of Iron-Age human settlements. 

Their long association with humans and the importance of goats is also evident in the language, culture and customs of the indigenous people. 

The Shona language is ecologically astute, with many proverbs alluding to both wild and domestic animals.  

Close observation of the interrelationship between wildlife and domestic livestock have created a number of oral truisms.  

For instance, the Marshall Eagle ‘chinyamudzura’ is specifically known to prey on rabbits and the offspring of goats – kids.  Hence its names ‘mudzurambudzana’  that literally means ‘goat-kid snatcher’.

Many wise traditional Shona sayings (Zvirevo), also make reference to goats and their behaviour.  

The personification of goats is used to train people in animal husbandry and also used symbolically as a societal behavioural code.  

For instance, the proverb, “Mbudzi kubarira pavanhu, kuti itandirwe imbwa” – a goat gives birth in public so that the human crowd will chase away predatory dogs; means there is strength in numbers.

Another wise maxim says: “Mhanza yembudzi iri pamabvi” – A goat’s luck rests in the nimbleness of its joints, – which means be wary and avoid your enemies rather than confront them. 

Today as many Occidental research scholars postulate concern on the future of indigenous livestock species in Africa, it is important to reclaim our indigenous goat breeds and embrace the traditional goat culture associated with the traditional Mbire people of Zimbabwe.  

However, when historical oral traditions of the indigenous peoples of Mbire – the latter-day Shona-speaking peoples of Zimbabwe are examined more closely, – knowledge of scientific and animal psychological intelligence may be discerned in the specialised animal husbandry practices of the indigenous people.

Though cattle farming has historically, and widely been common, in Zimbabwe, more and more small-scale indigenous farmers are today rearing goats particularly women; more so in Matabeleland, where goat meat is considered an ethno-cultural delicacy. 

Goats are easier and cheaper to raise than cattle.  

Being prolific breeders, goats give birth twice in a year, and usually to twins or triplets, sometimes even four kids.

Due to the relatively low input costs of goat breeding and less expensive disease control measures and management, – goat breeding is an attractive stock investment for small-scale indigenous farmers, especially women, who traditionally reared goats among other small livestock.  

However, although hardy,- goats also require regular dipping and clinical sanitation to prevent them from contracting or transmitting diseases.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a body dedicated to ending global hunger, -ownership of smaller livestock, such as goats, pigs and poultry, is more common among women in Africa, whereas in Zimbabwe male farmers tend to own cattle and other livestock that are considered highly valuable in local traditions. 

Worldwide, between 2007 and 2014, according to Trade Map, -an international trade statistics database, the global demand for goat meat grew by 140 percent.  

Locally, the demand is also high due to the rising cost of beef.  

In 2014, the Goat Breeders Association of Zimbabwe placed the number of goats in the country at 3,1 million, by 2019 there were an estimated 5,5 million goats in the country. 

Thirty two percent of male farmers in Zimbabwe own goats, compared to 27 percent of women; however, with more women venturing into the lucrative business, goat ownership among women is rapidly growing.  

A report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee reveals that in 2017, 46 percent of households owned goats, an increase from the previous year’s 38 percent.

Goats represent one of the world’s most drought-resistant livestock, hence their suitability to inhospitable terrain, droughts and other unpredictable weather patterns.  

Given that water requirements for goats are at a minimal, arid regions in Africa, such as Somalia, Chad, Mali, Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana and southern Zimbabwe, are suitable for goat rearing.

Tolerant to dry conditions, goats can survive extreme temperatures of up to over 400C hence, the insufficient rain in the dryer areas of Zimbabwe does not pose a risk for goat breeding.

As new agricultural models are being adopted to cushion the scourge of COVID-19, goat rearing should be considered as a revival of an old age agricultural and food security strategy that Zimbabwe can adopt without the need for importing beef subsidies. 

The importance of small livestock, particularly in times of drought, outbreaks of cattle diseases and other environmental calamities cannot be over emphasised.

More recently, the goat rearing sector in Zimbabwe has been recognised as having great potential to contribute to poverty alleviation and improved livelihoods for rural farmers, especially in remote areas, with Government placing a new focus on this sector vis-a-vis food security, income growth and economic development.

This strategic support from the Government and from local based non-governmental organisations should start to reflect a shift in livestock-farming practices in Zimbabwe, where indigenous people still retain many of the cultural traits of the later Iron Age agrarian way of life that reached its zenith at Great Zimbabwe during the Middle Ages. 

There is quantifiable beneficiation and lucrative value -addition in goat rearing in Zimbabwe. 

Dr. Tony M. Monda is currently researching Veterinary epidemiology, Agronomy and Farming in Zimbabwe.  He is a writer, lecturer and a specialist Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher. He holds a PhD. in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. E-mail tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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