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Goats are good investment: A Nepali farmer’s story

Goats are good investment: A Nepali farmer’s story

By Deepak Adhikari                    

At around noon this past Spring, a herd of about five dozen goats raced down a slope to the courtyard of a small mud and stone house nestled in the forest in Kumikot, some 10 kilometres east of Birendranagar, the headquarters of Surkhet district. They were of all shapes, sizes and colors. Most were large-framed, heavily muscled and with floppy ears.

As the goats huddled around a wooden container with a concentrate mixture, Jit Bahadur Shahi, a 40-year-old farmer, tended to his livestock. His herd of 62 goats had arrived after several hours browsing in a nearby forest, where his eldest son had taken them. After the regular feeding routine, Shahi corralled his goatso a pen a few yards from his house.

Shahi, who left his native village of Gamaudi in Dailekh district after a landslide damaged his home in 1990, started rearing two goats eight years ago. He bought two she-goats in Kariyapani, a village an hour walk from here, investing 3000 rupees. For two years, he kept himself busy looking after the goats. He prepared food for them, ensured veterinary care and looked forward to the delivery of its babies so that he could increase the stock.

By 2011, he already had 16 goats. The next year, he sold the entire hear, and made 62,000 rupees. That meant he had to raise a new breed of goats. He spent 57000 rupees on 18 goats including 11 she-goats, two he-goats and five baby goats. By that time, Shahi, a lean man with crew-cut hair, was confident that goats, which are easy to raise, ensured good returns.

But the growth in goats didn’t just occur in a vacuum. In 2009, High Value Agriculture Project helped Shahi and 41 other farmers set up Hariyali Goat Rearing Group. The Group itself was under Kumitkot Livestock Farmer Committee, which included six farmer groups. “We came into contact with High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP), which was looking to support value chain products. Our group was identified as one of the beneficiaries,” he said.

The HVAP’s first intervention was on housing for the goats. Shahi and his fellow farmers had been using narrow, low-lying pens with little air circulation. “We didn’t have proper outlet for the release of goats’ manure.  We learned (from HVAP experts) that we need to build pens in such as way that there’s at least one metre space between the pen and the ground so that the manure gets released to the floor,” he said.

Ideally goat pens should have enough space for goats to nibble away at leaves at fence line feeders.  HVAP recommended at least one and half metres of space for a goat. The project also supported 1200 rupees for each goat to build the structure. Besides adequate housing, health of the goats remains key factor for successful goat-rearing. So the HVAP supported Shahi and other goat producers with de-worming. Goats are natural foragers, so they are susceptible to worms.

Other support from HVAP included tools such as weighing machine; a castrator and spray tank that helped him improve the output. He also received 150,000 rupees for nursery to grow fodders for goats such as Napier and pipes for irrigation. Training on better goat-farming and exposure visits to other farms also helped him and other beneficiaries. Several years ago, he visited a farm in Tanahu, who had started to grow fodder for livestock in 60 ropanis of land. He made 2 million rupees a year from that.

One of the most important steps Shahi took was to insure his goats. He used to routinely suffer from stock losses due to attacks from wild animals such as leopard. One afternoon in August last year, he suffered the biggest loss from the attack. In a single day, when his wife, Laxmi Shahi, was shepherding the herd of goats, a wild animal (Shahi suspected it of being a tiger, but it could be leopard as well) killed eight of his goats. “First, the animal killed two goats. So my wife nudged the rest towards home, but half of them were left behind. Six others were killed later,” he recalled.

Shahi was able to claim insurance only for three goats. “Each goat has a tag attached to it, but in some cases, there’s nothing left of the animal,” he said. He also recalled veterinarians who verify claims failed to arrive on time, contributing to the delay in filing the report to Everest Insurance, his insurer based in Birendranagar. The government provides a 75 percent subsidy for insurance. Insurance policy varies from 4000 rupees to 10,000 rupees. With an annual installment of 125 rupees for each goat, he forks out 5000 rupees for insurance alone.

 But Shahi is undeterred by such losses. He sees it as part of his growing livestock. Goats are natural foragers, requiring huge swathes of pastoral lands for browsing. Unlike cows, they are not grass eater; they prefer to nibble away at nutritious plants and hay. They also have high mortality rate common to animals that gain sexual maturity in a few years and have multiple births.

Over the years, Shahi has gained valuable insights into goat farming. The community forest close to his home offers an ideal browsing ground for his goats, but he wants to increase the area for fodder. He has already invested more than 2 million rupees in his goats. He is also planning to start off-season vegetable farming next year.

The HVAP’s funding has enabled subsistence farmers like Shahi’s to forge a better livelihood and fulfill aspirations of their children. One of his sons to now studies at an English medium school in Birendranagar, where he has a plot of land worth 600,000 rupees. Every season, goat traders travel to his hillside home and buy up to a dozen sturdy, healthy goats, which in turn are transported to markets in the capital Kathmandu and Pokhara, the second largest city.

Shahi, who worked as a migrant worker in India for several years and struggled as a collector of resin at two local factories, is not only proud of his enterprise, he also sees a lot of benefit in it. The hardships he endured as a daily wage labourer in the India cities is a distant memory. “I had no other options to support my family. Now I can spend time with my family,” he said. “It’s better to work at one’s own country than to go abroad. Now, these goats have become like my family.” 

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