Goats play an important role in the food and nutritional (source of protein) security of the rural poor especially in the rainfed area where crop production is uncertain, and rearing large ruminants is restricted by acute scarcity of feed and fodder.
Goat rearing has distinct economic and managerial advantages over other livestock because of its less initial investment, low input requirement, higher prolificacy, early sexual maturity, and ease in marketing.
Goats can efficiently survive on available shrubs and trees in unfavourable environments.
Goats are kept as a source of additional income and as an insurance against income shocks of crop failure.
In addition, the farmers who cannot afford to maintain a cow find goat as the best alternative source of supplementary income and milk. Goat milk is more expensive than cow milk.
Unlike a cow, a few goats can be maintained easily and can be easily liquidated in times of distress.
In recent years, goat enterprise has also shown promise of its successful intensification and commercialisation. Owing to their greater socio-economic relevance, the growth in goat population in Uganda over the past five decades has been steady increasing. About 70% of the landless farmers, marginal and small farmers in the country are associated with goat husbandry.
Many farmers in Uganda have adopted intensive feeding management practices where improved goats are stall-fed. The number of improved goats is expected to gradually constitute a larger percentage of the national herd over the next thirty years. This has increased the demand for feed due to the high genetic capacity of the breeds. Development of the goat industry could be a major catalyst to economic development through: i) generating significant regular income for producers; ii) creating employment through the production, processing and marketing of meat; and iii) improving the diets of rural and urban consumers. However, due to land shortage, grazing land is very limited and for most farmers not suitable for grazing their goats.
Elephant grass fodder (pennisetum purpureum) is the most popular forage for stall-fed animals in Uganda. With rapid growth, and re-growth after harvesting, the quantity of fodder is not a limiting factor to fodder production. However, the quick maturing of elephant grass during the dry season leads to a rapid deterioration in its nutritive quality (less than 7 per cent crude protein).
The last four decades have seen vigorous promotion of exotic or foreign species of fodder trees and shrubs, e.g. Calliandra calothyrsus (calliandra), Leucaena leucocephola (leucaena) and Gliricidia sepium (gliricidia) in intensive goat production systems. These trees are easy to propagate, are ready for harvest within one year after planting nd, unlike grasses, maintain their green foliage and protein content during the dry season. However, farmers need to diversify the tree species they use, both to enrich goat diets and to reduce the risk of a tree species succumbing to pests or disease. For example, Leucaena succumbed to the physillid (Heteropsylla cuban) pest while calliandra, now being widely promoted in Uganda, is being threatened by a die-back disease that has reduced biomass yields in some parts of Uganda.