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Heat Tolerant, Tough Teeth, Lots Of Milk — They're Supergoats!

The Galla goat is a secret weapon in efforts to cope with climate change.
Courtesy V. Atakos/CCAFS
The Galla goat is a secret weapon in efforts to cope with climate change.

Villagers in a rural district of Kenya are getting a helping hoof to adapt to climate change. A newly introduced breed of "supergoat" is cutting the number of months per year that villagers in the district of Nyando go hungry.

Galla goats are tough, but loving. They tolerate heat and drought and have great teeth (which means they rarely need to be culled due to worn-down chompers). The goats also produce a lot of nutritious milk and mature more quickly than the old straggly looking breeds that the Nyando farmers are used to keeping. And the females are really good moms, breeding and rearing kids for up to 10 years.

The goats were brought to Nyando by scientists at the CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership to improve food security. The goats are part of the partnership's "climate smart villages" project, which helps farmers in the developing world adapt to climate change.

Agriculture needs a "radical transformation" to produce more food in increasingly difficult environmental conditions, says Dr. James Kinyangi, who leads the project in east Africa. "Farmers must become more climate smart," he says.

The "supergoats" have become so popular in Nyando that they will replace all the other goats in the area in another 5 years.

Farmers Edward Ouko and Stephen Matinde recently praised the goats at an agricultural fair in Kenya. They told an audience that they like the Galla goats because they mature into adults at around six months — half-a-year sooner than the local breeds. "

That means faster reproductive cycles," say the farmers. More sex means more goats, and more goats means more money. That's why the goats "fetch three times the price" of local breeds at the market, the farmers say gleefully.

"I now comfortably pay [school] fees for my children from the sale of the goats," Daniel Langat, another Nyando farmer, told the researchers.

And more money means families aren't going hungry. The goats, along with other climate-smart farming activities, have brought more food to the table in Nyando households. In 2010–11, a survey of 139 households found that 81 percent suffered up to two "hunger months" a year, with families eating just one or even no meals a day. That number has now dropped to 23 percent.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Natasha Gilbert