From a Glass of Milk to a Goat Value Chain in Guatemala's Western Highlands
In Guatemala’s Western Highlands, 70 percent of chronic malnutrition in children is the result of multiple factors. But among the most important of these factors is the lack of a good source of protein at the onset of the weaning period. Most families don't have access to quality food for complementary feeding during the this vital period of growth, which has a window of one thousand days.
Ten years ago, Save the Children refined its Food Security Program in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, looking for alternatives to improve the diversity and quality of family diets. During this period, they concluded that raising goats for milk production at the household would be a good option. Goat milk can be leveraged both as a way to improve the diets of rural families and as a product for industrial cheese production. In addition, pediatricians recommend goat milk as an alternative milk source for children with allergies to cow milk. Because rural families generally have limited access to foods such as beef or fish, goat milk can be an important source of protein, phosphorus and calcium.
During six years of work (2004-2010), Save the Children, with the support of USAID, implemented 1,600 goat family units within the Quiché Department in the heart of Guatemala‘s Western Highlands. These units were comprised of a milk goat and a small pen (2 meters x 2 meters) built with an elevated slatted floor in order to keep the animals dry and to collect manure and urine. After the weaning period, either the original goat or the new kid is transferred to another family, so more beneficiaries can be reached.
Two years into the project, Save the Children found that for households and other agencies, just understanding benefits of goat raising was not enough to scale the practice. In response, it conducted a three-month research effort that examined the effects of goat milk when used as a food supplement for non-breastfeeding children between one and three years of age. The study was carried out in 13 communities from three different municipalities (Uspantán, Cunén and Sacapulas). During the study, caregivers gave a glass of goat milk daily to their children. The results were nothing short of amazing. Children that consumed goat milk gained 5 ounces per month in comparison with children that did not participate in the goat milk study, who gained only 0.85 ounces per month. The monthly weight gain recorded for children that consumed goat’s milk exceeded the minimum expected weight gain rate established by the Ministry of Health’s Care Norms (4 ounces/month). Therefore, the preliminary study results suggest that goat’s milk is an effective food to be used for complementary child feeding.
After this initial project, from 2011 to 2014, Save the Children, with the support of Keurig Green Mountain, Inc, carried out another Food Security project with the goal of improving food security and income generation for households s living near coffee-growing areas of Quiche, Guatemala. The strategic objectives of the project were:
1. To increase the availability of goat milk and meat and;
2. To improve family income generation through selling surplus milk.
To achieve the above objectives, Save the Children implemented the following activities:
1. To increase milk production, Save the Children trained beneficiary households in goat management, production and health. To achieve genetic improvement, Save the Children imported and introduced purebred and improved Saanen, Toggenburg, and French Alpine studs (renowned for the excellent milk production in terms of quality and volume). These breeds were crossed with local breeds to ensure hardiness and resistance to the local environment. The aim was to work with households so that they could produce enough milk to nourish children under 5 in their homes. Save the Children also promoted nutritious goat products and helped foster behavior change in terms of food use.
2. By training households on state-of-the-art goat management techniques and introducing better milk-producing breeds, Save the Children increased goat milk production. This served two purposes: Increasing household consumption (so that children would be better nourished) and increasing household income (sale of excess milk and dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt and other milk derivatives). To implement this nutritional/productive development model, Save the Children built sustainable technical support through a goat productive and technical center (CEPROCAL). This allowed, and will allow in years to come, ongoing technology transfer, continuous introduction of improved goats, and support for the commercialization of milk in major markets.
Results at the end of the project included:
• 2,166 children under 5 years old (103% of project target) consume goat milk;
• 1,754 households benefited directly, and more than 655 households (107% of target) produced income.
• The most significant contribution of the project was the promotion of goat management and production, which has fostered the use of all the products and sub-products generated during the goat productive cycle. Household member’s engagement in the project has been inter-generational, strengthening production sustainability.
• Additional contributions of the project included the increase in beneficiary households’ incomes through the sale of goat products and sub-products, and the use of organic fertilizers to reduce production costs of maize and bean crops. For households that sold excess milk (392 in total), they received $2.60 USD per liter of milk. After household consumption, many sold this amount on a daily basis, producing roughly $80 USD per month—a significant amount for households who typically generate an average monthly income of $200 USD. The sale of does or bucks generated another $80 USD per year per household. Furthermore, the costs of producing maize and beans were reduced by an estimated 40 percent when using goat droppings and urine as organic fertilizer.
No doubt, the most exciting achievement throughout the support of both projects was the completion and opening of the Centro de Producción Caprina del Altiplano (CEPROCAL) goat production center at the AGROS Foundation in Nebaj. The center was conceived and created by project staff, and, to Save the Children’s knowledge, is the only facility of its kind in the Central American region. This is due to the good goat-management practices applied there, and especially to its social orientation. The complex was formally opened in July, 2013. This one-of-a-kind facility will allow for the training of technicians, producers and households on good dairy-goat breeding practices and the production of goat milk derivatives like cheese and cajeta. It will also help produce thoroughbred bucks needed to achieve the genetic improvement of the offspring of native does, thus increasing milk availability in participating households. Finally, CEPROCAL intends to articulate the household surplus goat milk production with the center, so income generation of participating families will improve through this “new” value chain in the Western Highlands in Guatemala.
It would seem that the comprehensive focus to incorporate goats into other components of small landholdings of small producers is fundamental. However, sustainability in the medium term is linked to the support that must continue to be provided to CEPROCAL, specifically insofar as it continues to fulfill its role in training producers, improving goat genetics to produce more milk, and linking hundreds of small goat raisers to the center so they can sell their milk.
Immediate actions, considering the above-mentioned sustainability, include organizing goat producers in regional associations that allow them to look after their own interests. In the medium term, it is necessary to define the way in which CEPROCAL will be managed and how AGROS, with support from Save the Children and the engagement of organized producers, will shape this entity. CEPROCAL’s managing entity should also have the capability to gather together all surplus of community production at the Center and to industrialize it, creating new economic synergies in the area. In the long term, it is expected that the bases established by the project may be built upon in order to establish and consolidate a goat-milk value chain that allows the coordination of the hundreds of small producers, thus improving the food security of children and enhancing their families’ quality of life.
Rodrigo Arias is Save the Children's Food Security Chief of Party in the Guatemala Country Office.