Bridging gender gaps with dairy goats and root crops

By Faustin Paul Lekule, Joyce Lyimo-Macha, Devotha Mosha-Kilave and Deogratias Dominic Shayo


Introducing dairy goats in semi-arid regions of Tanzania has led to farmers earning US$160 from milk sales during the first lactation, as well as an increase in household milk consumption. In these trials led by Canadian and Tanzanian researchers, cassava and sweet potato leaves are a significant feed supplement. They provide better feed-to-live-weight conversion rates (a 15-28% increase) than traditional alternatives. Female heads of households and women in male-headed households now own dairy goats, control income from sales of milk, and make joint and independent decisions on overall management. Participating farmers’ diets have diversified to include cassava, sweet potato, and goat milk.

Women in agro-pastoral societies in Tanzania typically have low incomes, limited access to resources and are of poor nutritional status. They also tend to be constrained by traditions and customs, which put them at a disadvantage compared to men. However, dairy goats are suitable for smallholder farmers - including women - as they provide food and income, reproduce regularly each year and require little feed. In a previous study in Tanzania, keeping dairy goats was shown to be profitable, contributing 25% of total household income (Jackson et al., 2012). In addition, goat milk is rich in vitamins (A and B2), proteins and carbohydrates, and these nutrients are easily absorbed by the body. Goat milk is therefore particularly beneficial for infants, sick people and the elderly.

As a means of boosting household food security and nutrition in resource-constrained, semi-arid areas of Tanzania, a system of integrating dairy goats (Toggenburg and Norwegian breeds) with production of cassava and sweet potato is being studied. The research is focused on finding ways to enhance the adaptation of the goat breeds in the area, while also testing and promoting four improved varieties of drought-tolerant and nutrient-rich cassava and sweet potato for human consumption and dairy goat feed. The project has specifically targeted women and female-headed households in Kongwa and Mvomero districts, in central and eastern Tanzania; malnutrition rates in these areas are among the highest in the country. However, as well as aiming to support food production for both people and goats, the project also aims to increase income from the animals and from sales of root crops. The methodology applied also addresses gender roles, access, control and ownership of resources, and decision-making among smallholder farmers.

Key outcomes

  • Enhanced decision-making and sharing of roles - In this project, a systematic approach was used, coupled with intensive training, in order for men, women and youth to share roles and responsibilities in feeding, watering, cleaning, milking and general management of dairy goats and farm activities relating to the introduced technologies. As a result, women are now involved in goat breeding, including heat detection and supervision of the mating process, and record-keeping on production and reproduction parameters. The sharing of household chores, such as collecting water, fodder and fuel wood and cleaning of the household surroundings, has resulted in a reduction in women’s workload.
  • Improved nutrition - In the past, women did not realize the importance of providing goat milk to children. Following the introduction of this project, farmers are diversifying their diets by including goat milk, which is fed to children and sick people and also included in families’ daily meals, contributing to a balanced diet and improving their nutritional status. For example, women are making goat milk yoghurt, which is consumed with staple foods. During the first lactation, farmers have been able to earn US$160 from milk sales from two dairy goats. However, it is anticipated that this income will increase as production increases from the current 600 ml per goat per day to an expected 1.5 - 2 litres per goat per day as the animal matures. Women control the income earned from milk, which they use to purchase small household items such as salt, soap, cooking oil and exercise books for children.
  • Improved crop varieties adopted - Women and men have accepted the four improved root crop varieties and adopted best practices such as planting on ridges. Field trials show that both cassava and sweet potato leaves have higher protein and are significantly better feed supplements, with a better feed-to-live- weight conversion ratios compared to traditional alternatives such as sunflowers. With time, increased income and consumption of root crops will also be expected as more farmers adopt the improved varieties; the additional consumption will lead, in turn, to improved nutrition.