Guinea-pigging your way to prosperity

Brigitte L. Maass, a forage agronomist at CIAT’s Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility research area, presented yesterday afternoon on how we get farmers to move up the “livestock ladder” (from guinea pigs via chickens, pigs and goats to cattle). It is not, she believes, by giving aid in the form of one or two cows.

Cattle are a sign of wealth; but for many farmers in South Kivu, DRC, cattle and other large livestock also represent a big risk. Families are unable to maintain and feed them, let alone produce surplus meat (or milk) and get them to a market.These large animals mostly serve as savings and are not intended for food provision.

Small animals, like guinea pigs, rabbits or chickens, are lower risk, but provide high-quality nutrition and some income for farmers—particularly women—in South Kivu. Older children also benefit by raising these small animals. They acquire funds to pay their school fees.

“If you gave a farmer in this region a cow, or even a pig, she would be scared. What if it dies? She would have wasted time, energy, and feed,” said Maass. Conversely, a group of guinea pigs is much more manageable and easier to restock in case of loss.


Also in South Kivu looting and killing of large livestock is big problem. Smaller animals are easier to conceal.

Maass’ research encourages investment at the lowest rung of the livestock ladder, by improving the small animal system. For example, providing farmers with improved feed for their small animals–such as including forage legumes in the animals’ diet—results in faster growing, healthier animals and also improves soil fertility for growing other crops.

The result, she said, will be better family nutrition and some cash income from improved productivity. Eventually, this could support the acquisition of larger animals.

Download the Diagnostic Survey of Livestock Production in South Kivu/DR Congo here.

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