Every day the Sahara Desert gets a little bit bigger. Millimeter by millimeter, the desert encroaches on the people of the Sahel, the biogeographic zone in west and central Africa that transitions between the vast desert to the north and the fertile savannah to the south. For most people who find their homes here, living off the land becomes all the more difficult year after year.
In an earlier post I talked about ways that farmers are rejuvenating their land through Lutheran World Relief’s CORE II project (Community-Led Food Crisis Recovery in the Sahel). This is a necessary undertaking to boost agricultural productivity, but is also one that takes time. In addition to maintaining fertile fields, survival in this climate-volatile region also depends on one’s ability to diversify income.
Cue the goats! Livestock production can be a lucrative and sustainable income for poor farmers. Goats in particular are hardier and can handle drought better than other livestock like cows or pigs; they’re not picky and will eat just about anything. Goats also breed quickly, often giving birth to twins. Farmers who fall on tough times or who face a failed harvest can make up for the loss by selling off some of the herd.
Of course animal husbandry is not a new concept in West Africa, but one that is normally utilized on a large scale only by families with means. Instead, the CORE II project targets the most vulnerable families, intervening with a practice known locally as Habbanaye, where an adult female goat is loaned to a needy neighbor and returned to the owner once it has given birth. By sharing, loaning and passing livestock on to one another, families have a new way to mitigate the effects of an increasingly challenging climate.