Ugandan farmers earn income and feed their families by raising and selling goats

Livestock and beekeeping

Notes to broadcasters

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Farmers in most rural communities in northern Uganda keep goats as a form of security or insurance. In case of crop failure, serious illness in the family, or to pay school fees for children, a goat comes in handy because it can be exchanged for cash to meet these immediate needs. Goats are also culturally part of bride wealth, given from the groom’s family to the bride’s family, in northern Uganda.


Others consider goats as assets or wealth. Some choose to raise large numbers of goats or exchange them for cows. This is one way of moving up the wealth ladder – from owning goats to raising cattle.


Indigenous goat breeds are sturdy and resilient animals which can survive in harsh environments and are able to cope better with feed shortages in the dry season than improved breeds (for example, Boer goats) or even cattle. This is mostly because goats are browsers and eat from shrubs and bushes that always survive, contrary to grass. Improved husbandry practices on health, feeding and reproduction are needed for local breeds to reach their full potential.


The Ugandan government is now encouraging small-scale farmers to be more commercially-oriented as a way of fighting poverty. The National Agricultural Advisory Services, or NAADS, is an organization which helps small-scale farmers to become commercial producers. NAADS has encouraged some farmers to take up raising goats as a good source of income.


This script is about two women farmers and one man who tried to improve their lives and the lives of their families by raising goats and selling the live animals and goat’s milk. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on raising goats as an income-generating business, raising other livestock, or other farming practices which could help small-scale farmers in your area. You might also choose to dramatize this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.

If you create a program on raising and marketing goats and goat products, you might consider some of the following questions in your research:

Are goats raised for milk or meat in your community? Why or why not?

What kind of income can farmers make selling goats or goat products?

What are the most important things a farmer needs to know in order to successfully raise goats? Among other things, you might want to consider disease prevention, watering and feeding practices, and marketing practices. Do feeding practices change at different times of the year? Are there special times, e.g., Eid al-Adha, when goats are in high demand?

It’s important to note that young goats (kids) often die, which is mostly due to lack of appropriate care. Often, goats don’t even have shelters and die of diseases, for example pneumonia, which are common in the rainy season.

You could conduct an on-air interview with a farmer who raises goats, and invite listeners to call- or text-in with questions and comments.

This script could be broadcast at any time of year. The estimated running time with intro, outro and sound effects is 15 minutes.


GRACE AMITO: Good morning, listeners. This is your host, Grace Amito, with your popular program, “The Farming World.” In today’s program, we shall meet a farmer named Mrs. Opira who left a white collar teaching job to raise goats as a business. We shall also meet the mother of a sickly child who did something unheard of in her village, selling goat’s milk, and a mechanic who left his profession to become a farmer. There must be secrets behind these moves, and we shall find out what they are!

Rural communities in northern Uganda have limited opportunities to earn income. Traditional cash crops such as cotton are labour-intensive with minimal financial returns. When the Kony insurgency happened in northern Uganda, some people took advantage of villagers being herded into camps to fence off huge chunks of temporarily abandoned land. Often, the original owners could not access or utilize the land because of the insecurity. Even after the insurgency, some household heads sold part of their land, leaving very little to be shared by their sons, nephews and cousins, which led to conflicts. Other people started commercial ventures, for example, growing sugar cane for sugar companies, and these ventures deprived the original owners of land. The situation is worse for women, who are traditionally not allowed to own land.


Many northern Ugandans have no way of earning income other than brewing illicit alcohol in their homes for sale. But some are trying other options.


In the district of Lamwo, I met Pamela Opira and Pauline Akello. These women have started raising goats as a business, with the help of the National Agricultural Advisory Services or NAADS. NAADS is a government program with the goal of providing agricultural extension services to rural farmers. The aim of NAADS is to help farmers engage in agriculture as a business.


I first sat down with Pamela Opira of Loi bol kol village. Mrs. Opira is a mother of four who is the first member of her community to raise dairy goats. She is with her daughter, who suffers from sickle-cell anemia. She is emaciated and clearly shows signs of ill health.




GRACE AMITO: What inspired you to start raising goats, Mrs. Opira?


PAMELA OPIRA: I attended a NAADS meeting five years ago where I learnt the benefits of goat’s milk. This encouraged me a lot because I have a five-year-old daughter who is suffering from sickle-cell disease. The NAADS officials said she could benefit from the milk.


GRACE AMITO: I am sorry about your daughter. How did you start raising goats?

PAMELA OPIRA: Well, it was not easy, considering that no household in the village had ever done such a thing, and drinking goat’s milk was never heard of. So I basically had no experience to learn from. But I bought two goats and, with the help of my brother who is a veterinary officer, the project took off.

GRACE AMITO: When did you start seeing results?

PAMELA OPIRA: It was rather slow. I waited for about a year and a half to start drinking the milk from my two goats. Although I was committed to starting my business, it took time to find a he-goat for mating purposes. Remember that we were just returning home from the internally displaced people’s camps and no one in the village had any assets to speak of. But I added another two goats and in the third year, I started selling some of the milk locally.


GRACE AMITO: You said that drinking goat’s milk had never been heard of in the village. So where is your market?

PAMELA OPIRA: I am a member of the local branch of the Mothers’ Union (Editor’s note: A Christian charity). Sometimes we hold meetings at my home. On the occasions we held meetings here, I served the members tea prepared with goat’s milk. They immediately fell for it. And that is how word spread. I now make about US $15 in a week from selling milk. I get around three litres of milk per day. I keep one and a half litres for my sick daughter and other members of the family, and I sell the rest.


GRACE AMITO: That is encouraging. What support did you get from your husband? I haven’t heard you mention him.

PAMELA OPIRA: With the 20-year conflict in the north, men have abandoned their responsibility for running homes. Everything is now on the shoulders of women. With the little income I make, I have to take charge of virtually all domestic needs. That includes paying tuition for our four children and meeting their health needs. It is tough (IN A RESIGNED VOICE), especially when you have a chronic case like my daughter. But my daughter’s condition is improving, thanks to a better diet which includes the goat’s milk that she has been drinking for over a year now.


GRACE AMITO: With only four goats, do you see a future for your project?

PAMELA OPIRA: It is my only hope. My husband has taken to drinking, which he started when we were staying in camps during the war. I am the only breadwinner, so I must work hard to put food on the table.


GRACE AMITO: It is indeed a heavy responsibility. But where do you hope to get more goats?

PAMELA OPIRA: They will definitely multiply by reproducing. Already the four goats have four kids between them. I also intend to sell part of my harvest this season so I can buy more goats.




GRACE AMITO: Mrs. Opira’s case is not isolated. Many men in northern Uganda have left the responsibility of running the household to their wives. Their wives and children are the ones who work to put food on the table. The little income they earn is put aside for family demands, including paying children’s school fees, meeting health needs, clothing, and so on.


Their husbands’ major occupations are consuming alcohol, playing cards and simply loafing around trading centres. They return home to demand food they did not participate in producing. In most cases, these situations lead to domestic violence.


GRACE AMITO: After speaking with Mrs. Opira, I spoke with the District Veterinary Officer in Gulu, Dr. Tony Aliro.

Doctor, what are the benefits of raising goats for the ordinary farmer?

DR. ALIRO: For developing countries like Uganda where agriculture depends on the rains, animals such as goats are insurance when crops fail. At these times, they can be sold to purchase grain and other foods. Livestock can survive calamities such as drought longer than crops. So animals act as insurance against hard times, because they can be sold or eaten when the harvest is poor or fails completely.


GRACE AMITO: What are the economic benefits of raising goats?

DR. ALIRO: As I mentioned, goats are a form of insurance. Also, most rural farmers do not regularly use formal banking. Livestock like goats act as living banks which farmers can sell for cash.


Goats are more appropriate for poor rural farmers than large animals because they reproduce more quickly, and so they give farmers a faster return on their investment. For someone who is struggling to get out of poverty and who does not have many alternatives, this is an important quality.


GRACE AMITO: Any other benefits, doctor?


DR. ALIRO: Muslim families prefer goat meat. Goat pilaw is a delicacy during religious feasts such as Eid al-Fitr and at Eid al-Adha, as well as weddings and other family celebrations.


GRACE AMITO: Next, we will speak with Pauline Okello. Mrs. Okello left her job as a teacher to begin raising goats. In Uganda, the teaching profession has lost status and respect, and a primary teacher earns a low salary, about US$100 a month. Teachers sometimes go for several months without getting paid. Some haven’t been paid even two years after being recruited. This is the reason teachers like Pauline Akello decide to quit and try something else. I met Akello in her village home in Lamwo. She lives on family land, about 10 square kilometres of lush greenery.




GRACE AMITO: I am told you are a teacher by profession. What prompted you to abandon being a teacher for the dirty business of being a farmer?

PAULINE AKELLO: I retired from teaching some five years ago to start farming, and some people considered the decision foolish. At that time, I was a head teacher of a primary school in Amuru district.

GRACE AMITO: I must say I somehow share their feelings, knowing how frustrating it can be when rains fail.

P. AKELLO: For me there was no turning back. What I had learnt from NAADS officials about the benefits of goat-rearing had inspired me, and I knew the sky was the limit.

I loaded my worldly belongings, including two South African Boer goats I had received from NAADS, on a truck, and set off for a new life in the village.

GRACE AMITO: Why did you choose to live in the village instead of settling in a town where you could afford to rent land?


P. AKELLO: Cheap land. Also, I grew up on this land; I know it like the palm of my hand. There was no way we could manage this business without such a big piece of land.


GRACE AMITO: But was it not possible to raise the goats while teaching at the same time?

P. AKELLO: No. My idea was to improve and expand on my stock of goats. The goat-rearing project needed more land, and this land is cheap since it belongs to me and my family. In town, I would need to purchase land, and you know how expensive land is these days. There was no way my husband and I could have managed this enterprise in a town setting; we needed a big chunk of land.

GRACE AMITO: I can see you have a lot of land, but I want to see how you have used it to raise goats.


Akello leads me behind the house towards her back yard where a young man is tending a large herd of goats in the bushes nearby. With a look of pride on her face, Akello addresses my question as we walk towards the goats.

P. AKELLO: Five years into the business, I now own a herd of 50 local goats and eight exotic South African Boer goats. During festive seasons like last Christmas, I sold four local he-goats at 90,000 Ugandan shillings (US $35) each. I also hire out a male South African Boer goat at 5000 shillings (US $2) per week to mate with local breeds.

The demand keeps growing. The income helps me pay tuition for my four children – two in secondary and two in primary school. I am also able to meet other daily domestic needs much better than when I was a teacher.

GRACE AMITO: Any challenges?

P. AKELLO: At the beginning the goats used to fall sick frequently. This cost me a lot. But I later got support from the veterinary people who took me through the steps of livestock husbandry. Now the situation has improved.

GRACE AMITO: What lessons can people learn from you if they are interested in raising goats?

P. AKELLO: There are a few things that it’s important to know: how to manage goats, what vaccinations to give and how to give them, how to tell when a goat is sick, and how to feed goats. But most of all, believe in yourself and start small. And seek knowledge from professionals and stick to their advice.

GRACE AMITO: Any regrets?

P. AKELLO: I have no regrets for leaving the teaching profession because right now I earn a lot more than what I was being paid as a primary school teacher. At 48 years old, it is better that I start my retirement now while I am still strong enough to engage in income-generating activities.

This project has given me more self-confidence because I am able to meet all my needs without having to wait for handouts from my husband or a salary which is not forthcoming, or getting into debt to make ends meet. I ask fellow women to follow in my footsteps. Do not remain housewives, but use your God-given abilities to earn money and improve your livelihoods and that of your families. This will definitely strengthen your self-esteem as well as your marriage.


GRACE AMITO: In Gulu district, I talked to a man named Bosco Otto, who has an inspiring story to tell about raising goats. He is the son of an illiterate farmer from Abwoch village in Gulu district. Despite his lack of education, Otto’s father made sure that Otto and his 15 siblings received an education.


Otto attended school up to his “O” levels. Then he joined a technical school where he learned to fabricate spare parts for motor vehicles, ox-ploughs and bicycles.


He was employed, but was unsatisfied, particularly because he earned only about US$120 per month. So he quit his job in 1995 and went into farming.



GRACE AMITO: Was it just the pay that forced you into early retirement?


BOSCO OTTO: Yes indeed. I realized I was wasting a lot of my productive life being underemployed. So I chose to join people who were earning as much as US$150 per month through agriculture.


GRACE AMITO: What did you do?


BOSCO OTTO: I had earlier carried out a market survey on cassava and realized I could earn a lot from it.


GRACE AMITO: And then?


BOSCO OTTO: I harvested 100 bags of cassava from my first harvest, and sold them at 10,000 Ugandan shillings per kilo (US$4). I also sold cassava cuttings at 7000 Ugandan shillings per kilo (US $2.80). This gave me a lot of encouragement to grow more cassava.


GRACE AMITO: But Otto was not satisfied with growing cassava alone. He diversified into growing bananas, coffee and pineapples. He also planted thousands of pine trees. The earnings from these projects helped him to build a permanent house for himself as well as grass-thatched huts which he rented out at about US$8 per month.
Mr. Otto, I am interested in your goat-rearing project. When did you start raising goats?


BOSCO OTTO: In 1999, I bought seven goats, two of them he-goats, using proceeds from my other projects. The herd later increased to 15 and I sold 10 at 50,000 Ugandan shillings (US$20) each.

GRACE AMITO: Why did you sell part of what was a promising herd of goats?


BOSCO OTTO: My project was to breed goats for sale, especially during seasons like Christmas, Eid Al-Adha, graduation ceremonies and other festivities. Once my herd gets to 15, I sell 10. But the veterinary staff advised me that I could also benefit by selling some goat’s milk for income, and use the milk to provide nutrition for my family. Right now, I have two 20-litre containers of milk ready for the market.


GRACE AMITO: Wow, that is impressive! How much is a litre?


BOSCO OTTO: I sell a litre at 800 Ugandan shillings (31 US cents).


GRACE AMITO: Perhaps you could tell our listeners how you have benefitted from the project.

BOSCO OTTO: A lot. I built my house using the income from my earlier projects, but the house was not complete. It is the goat project that has helped me complete it to the smart state it is in now. I have been able to add glass to the window frames, and done the ceiling, plastering and even painting. I have also been able to send my four children to school and meet my family’s needs without difficulty.


GRACE AMITO: What major challenges have you faced with the goat project?


BOSCO OTTO: The price of drugs for treating them is high. I spend as much as 100,000 Ugandan shillings ($38 US) on treatment in a season. While the wet season is good because grass and water are abundant, it is also the period when the goats are prone to diseases. The dry season has its own problems, especially shortage of grass and water, which leads to low milk output and decreased income for me.


GRACE AMITO: How do you manage these challenges?


BOSCO OTTO: I usually seek advice from veterinary staff, and they have not failed me.

GRACE AMITO: As we close, what can you tell our listeners?


BOSCO OTTO: I encourage them, especially the youth, not to despise agriculture because it can change their lives for the better. I tried employment but I realized I was only being exploited. Look where I am now! I never expected to build a house for myself or educate my children, but I now lead a confident life with a happy family. With an income of about 20 million Ugandan shillings (US$7700) a year, I am not complaining.


Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with our listeners. Listener, I hope the stories of these three farmers have inspired you to start some project of your own to help you fight poverty. Till we meet again next week, this is your host Grace Amito wishing you a good day.


Contributed by: Grace Amito, farm radio producer, Acholi Broadcasting Services FM, Gulu.

Reviewed by: Saskia Hendrickx, International Livestock Research Institute, Maputo, Mozambique.

Information sources

Interviews with:

  1. Pamela Opira, a community member of Loi bol kol in Lamwo district, Northern Uganda. Interviewed on May 25, 2013.
  2. Dr. Tony Aliro, District Veterinary Officer, Gulu. Interviews on May 28, 2013.
  3. Pauline Akello, retired teacher, Lukung sub-county in Lamwo district. Interviewed on May 26, 2013.
  4. Bosco Otoo, farmer and member of Gulu District Farmers’ Association. Interviewed on July 1, 2013.