August 2014
For What It's Worth

Goat & Sheep Production on the Other Side of the World


Mid-April through mid-May 2014, I spent three weeks in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) learning about their small ruminant industry and opportunities to advance the industry. I volunteered my expertise through Winrock International Farmer to Farmer Program, funded by USAID. Winrock is a registered nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunities and sustain natural resources. Much of their programmatic outreach is based on improving agricultural situations or opportunities for those with limited job skills in developing countries. I titled my work on this particular trip as "Exploring Opportunities for Advancement of Nucleus Meat Goat & Sheep Production, Marketing and Quality for Myanmar." My scope of work provided by Winrock was twofold: 1) "Nucleus Goat Farming Practices in Myanmar" and 2) "Developing a Procurement System for Goat and Sheep and Meat Quality." The trip would require becoming familiar with the small ruminant industry in Myanmar through initial orientation documents, and meetings with industry leaders, farm visits and market visits. From there, I would work with in-country specialists to conduct relevant trainings for farmer groups, assess opportunities for improvement, and report back to hosts and industry leaders.

Animals and people need lots of water in semi-arid climates.  

After reading the orientation information, meeting with industry leaders and conducting farm visits, I quickly learned goat producers in Myanmar and the United States have similar challenges. Producers in both countries have hopes for high market prices, shortcomings with production quality, relative concerns with cost of production and opportunities for improvement. I learned farmers in Myanmar have specific advantages over their counterparts in the United States. Myanmar goat farmers have relatively low cost of production including labor, strong year-round demand for goat and sheep meat, export opportunities to China and Thailand, and affordable cost of living compared to many countries. In a country where $3-$6 per day is suggested minimum wage, and a farmer can earn $2,600 per year raising goats with little or no overhead, labor or inputs, meat goat production is profitable.

During the first week of my visit, I had to quickly assess the situation and determine what type of outreach activities would be most effective, and what topics were most essential to benefiting the farmers I would be working with during the second week. My trainings had to have relevant impact with foreseeable outcomes. I decided a combination of lecture, hands-on training and group farm visits would provide quick benefit to the farmers, and posting event questions and answers would determine if they accepted the concepts, would implement them and share the information with other producers. Based on the fact there seemed to be an overall lack of understanding on the importance of nutrition (including water) and how it correlates to animal quality, I decided this would be relevant subject matter, with hands-on demonstrations regarding body-condition scoring to assist with understanding the correlation between adequate nutrition (relevant components) and ideal body condition (3-5). Despite the language barrier, the translation of a Winrock Field Specialist facilitated effective communications. The training sessions turned out to be dynamic interaction with lots of post-event questions and discussion. At the completion of each training, I would ask three questions: 1) "Did this training improve your knowledge of nutrition and body-condition scoring?" 2) "Will you return to your farms and apply this information?" 3) "Will you share this information with other farmers who could not attend?" With each workshop and questions, respondents replied with an enthusiastic "Yes" 100 percent every time.

So what did I accomplish during my three weeks? In addition to farm visits and meetings with industry representatives, I conducted four to six relevant educational workshops, hands-on trainings and individual farmer trainings; trained 111 farmers including two females and two youth; and reported back to hosts at a formal meeting in Yangon.

So what did I learn from all this? Farmers of all commodities face the challenge of being price takers with limited opportunities for influencing market prices; they all believe in what they do and often rely on the help of family members to maintain their operations; and all appreciate any help provided and will gladly acknowledge the assistance.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.