Jamaican goat farmers are losing millions of dollars in potential earnings because of their decision to rely mainly on the sale of the meat while ignoring other valuable items that they could supply to the domestic and international market.
"Goat, although one of the most expensive meats on the market in the United States, is the cheapest part on the animal because you have milk, just like oil, oozing out every day. From the milk they're going to make cheese, cosmetics, yogurt, ice cream. So that's a wide open market in Jamaica that a lot of people are trying to tap into just now, but the problem is we don't have the milking goats yet," declared Kenneth King, president of the Jamaica Goat and Sheep Farmers Association.
Addressing an open day hosted by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) at Grange Lane, Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, last Thursday, King noted that while some Jamaican craftsmen have been using the goat hide to make a wide range of items such as slippers, hats, hand- bags, purses and belts, the growing demand for goat milk as a key raw material in cheese and cosmetics is largely untapped.
King, whose members have benefited from a number of local and overseas training courses sponsored by CARDI and the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture, further noted that the goat manure could be a serious income earner.
"The average Jamaican just remembers a goat for one thing, the meat. They showed us (in the United States) the importance of the value added and the most expensive part in that production - the manure - is sold for quite a fortune.
"Through vermiculture (a composting method that uses worms to break down organic waste into rich organic topsoil) they are converting it and it's a good market. Our coffee farmers are using a lot of goat manure and we're trying to get a lot more people to use it instead of all this imported stuff," said King.
He said while the way forward looks good for goat farmers, they still face challenges. "The problem is that the praedial larceny and dog predation ... are still the damn things that knock us for six."
But the veteran goat breeder and farmer emphasised that much more must be done before local goat farmers and the country can even begin to nibble at this potentially multimillion-dollar industry.
He identified the establishment of requisite infrastructure and systems to ensure integrity of the meat as a prerequisite for any serious attempt to lift goat farming beyond the subsistence activity it is for many Jamaicans.
"In a world where food security is of so much importance, one has to look at what CARDI has done over the years in terms of training. Not only are we going to be selling food at the market, not only are we going to have the food in the supermarket on the shelf, but there must be records to ensure traceability.
"When that meat reaches your table, you should be able to say, by way of the coding on it or whatever other markings, that this meat was grown on such and such a farm and the animal was treated along certain lines. All the record-keeping would have been in place and reflect the conditions under which the animal was reared," he stressed.
"So no longer will a man be able to just take the skin off an animal and take that animal to the meat shop. It has to be properly processed to ensure that the risk of spreading diseases, and especially for the export market which Jamaicans are looking forward to, that we do have the traceability and the accountability."