The News International Not-For-Profit Award
The Winner: FARM-Africa
Julius Gatobu of Meru in Kenya completed high school where his course included carpentry and masonry. But he spent his days looking for casual jobs. He had only three acres of poor land of his own. Then he was chosen by a group of local goatkeepers for training by FARM-Africa and he got the task of looking after the five breeding goats allocated to the group. This, he says, completely changed his life.
He now has eight goats of his own, besides the breeding stock, and an income from milk of up to £1 a day. He has planted calliandra and leucaena trees to feed the goats (which need leaves as well as grass). He has transformed his three acres with goat manure and by digging to stop soil from washing away in the rain. His wife is happy because he no longer comes home late and tired.
He has also trained with FARM Africa to become community animal health worker. "I have become quite popular because I now give basic veterinary care to cattle, goats and chickens," he says. The extra money allows him to hire someone to look after the goats when he goes away. He represented Meru farmers at a workshop in Moshi, Tanzania, "which I will remember throughout my life."
Another community animal health worker, John Gitonga Muthengi, says that he used to make his living from coffee. But prices were poor, which caused him trouble with his wife. Now he is treating up to 120 animals a month. His family has piped water and can eat three times a day.
About a million and a half people live in the Meru district, a rural area which ranges up to 5,000 metres above sea level. The people grow tea, coffee, tobacco, beans or grain and most raise animals. Those who cannot produce enough work as labourers.
FARM-Africa's goat and animal health project, run by an all-Kenyan team of 13, concentrates on the lower part of the district where rainfall is unreliable, farmers depend on livestock rather than crops and those with too little land for cattle raise goats.. FARM-Africa was set up in 1984 to help struggling African farmers and herders improve their wellbeing and produce more food.
The particular problem for poor farmers in Meru was that the government was no longer providing animal health services, without which animals are much more likely to die. Meru did not look rewarding for private vets. But could a private service, offering both animal health and breed improvement, nevertheless work? FARM-Africa has shown that it can.
The foot soldiers of the project, which is backed by Britain's Department for International Development, are the community animal health workers. They are on the spot and, with the help of FARM loans, they provide the necessary vaccines and drugs at an affordable price: farmers need buy only a dose of wormkiller, not the whole bottle or packet. FARM has also guaranteed bank loans to enable two young vets to set up practices in the main towns and eight animal health assistants to open rural drug shops. The vets and assistants are earning more than they would in government employment.
One of the assistants, Maurice Kiome, could find little work for four years after graduating from an animal health institute. Then he was asked to join the FARM scheme in 1998 and opened a drug shop at a market. He oversees and trains five community workers. He has repaid over half his loan and opened a second shop.
The project's other aim is milk production, for families and for sale. Local goats do not produce much, so FARM brought in Toggenburg goats from Britain and got farmers, who took some persuading at first, to come together in groups to organise crossbreeding with local animals. Over half the groups' members are women.
To reduce the risk from diseases spread by ticks in open pasture, farmers work together to build specially designed houses for their crossbred goats to live in and bring a mixture of tree loppings, napier grass and sweet potato leaves to feed them there. This also means that schoolchildren are not needed for goatherding. Farmers are encouraged to plant their nitrogen-fixing fodder trees such as leucaena along the slope of their land, to curb erosion.
Crossbred goats provide on average three litres of milk a day, ten times more than local goats. Over 3,000 crossbred kids have been born. Drought has forced some farmers to sell their goats. However, FARM believes 20,000 poor farmers have benefited from the project, one way or another. Goat groups have gone into trade, poultry-raising and, with the help of goat manure, vegetable- and fruit-growing.
The project has had many visitors, some from as far away as Zambia. The FARM-Africa team are keen to make what they have learned widely available. They are looking for funds to publish their experience.