This participatory research project studied if goat rearing under agroforestry systems can become an effective land management and viable income-earning alternative for small farmers in Alabama via focus group discussions and surveys. The results of focus group discussions and survey indicated that majority of landowners who own less than 100 acres of land and who are mostly African-Americans do not know much about economic potential of goat-raising and they have shown high interest in engaging in such activity. Few landowners are interested to establish demonstration farms in their properties and begin agroforestry-based land management system with technical and cost-share supports from federal and state agencies or universities. In addition, the participants of the project were highly interested to collaborate with universities for experimental research and outreach services. The project could not accomplish all the stated objectives because of the Project Director’s job change and delay in the transfer of the subaward from Alabama A&M University to Kentucky State University. The preliminary results of the project were presented in the sixth National Small Farm Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, Sept 18-20, 2012. A paper is being developed and will be submitted to an extension journal soon. The preliminary results and feedback of this project are being used to develop a full proposal to submit to SARE’s Research & Education grant.
The objectives of the project were following:
1. To what extent does the integration of goats in the agroforestry system help to control unwanted vegetation and increase soil fertility?
2. Is the modified agroforestry system is cost-effective and provide a viable economic opportunity for small farmers?
3. What are the critical information needs associated to goat rearing and marketing and what is the assistance available to them from local and government agencies?
The Black Belt region characterizes historical importance of land and agriculture. Since 1980s, forestry, especially monoculture pine plantation is taking over agricultural lands (Bliss and Bailey, 2005). Many agricultural lands owned by minority farmers are either abandoned or underutilized (Fraser et al. 2005). Landowners/farmers own and/or operate smaller non-contiguous parcels that are non-optimally utilized for production. Lower farm productivity in rural Alabama have discouraged the youth from engaging in farming activities. Consequently, many family farms have been abandoned or idled. This trend will continue if this problem is not addressed. The integration of goats in agricultural and forestland system will help to increase farm productivity and value of lands that will have both social and economic importance to farmers and rural agriculture (Zinkhan and Mercer, 2005). Such effort will help farmers or landowners to retain their land (both agricultural and forest lands) in the most productive and sustainable use. Integration of goats will help to generate income in a short term to defray short-term expenses such as maintenance and taxes, provide the manure to the land and help to control unwanted vegetation from the forest land. Goats are recognized very successful to help tree growth as they are hardy, graze on most vegetation and graze well among established tree stands. The landowners will see this as an opportunity to retain their trees, which serve as some shelter for the hydrophobic goats, as well as control ground vegetation in forests and keep the underbrush relatively clean for optimum tree growth.
Two focus group discussions and survey of landowners were conducted to collect demographic information, farm characteristics, and level of understanding and interests of the participants corresponding to objectives 1 &2. First focus group discussion was held in Luverne, Alabama on August 4, 2011. The second focus group discussion workshop was held in Thomaston, Alabama on November 29, 2011. Twenty-four farmers (14 females and 10 males) and 33 farmers (15 females, 18 males) attended the first and second workshop, respectively. Surveys were designed in June, 2011 and pretested with few landowners. Forty-one questions are included in the survey. The revised surveys were administered via telephone, survey, in-person, and online using surveymonkey.com.
The workshops at Thomaston and Luverne, Alabama were attended by faculty and students from Alabama A&M and Tuskegee Universities, extension specialist, state and federal agency representatives and organizations such as Winston County Self Help Cooperative (WCSHC), National Network of Forest Practitioners (NNFP), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC). Dr. Buddhi R. Gyawali (Principal Investigator), Dr. Nar Gurung (Co-Principal Investigator), Dr. Swagata Ban Banerjee, Assistant Professor of Agribusiness, Alabama A&M University, and two students Ms. Bonita Gill, and Mr. Ryan McCloud attended the focus group discussions in both places. Not to mention, one of the participants in the workshop was Rev. J.H. Davis, 94 years old yet a highly motivated and enthusiastic person who drove 30 miles himself from Camden to Thomaston to attend the workshop.
Survey questions were related to the following general questions:
•What special knowledge, time and resources are required?
•How goat herding/tree growing activities complement/detract?
•How current agricultural practices will be modified?
•How effective are goats in reducing wildfire?
•What are the costs/benefits involved?
•Landowners’ view on production, marketing and sustainability of goat agroforestry system for enhanced farm productivity, land stewardship and economic development of the region.
•How can landowners be involved in researching these issues?
•What are the resources and technical assistance available from federal/state agencies?
•Landowners’ experience in preparing farms, acquiring herds of goats, time required for routine maintenance of goat herds
•Farmers perception of time and cost involved in controlling under tree vegetation (How much do you spend in controlling under tree bush and unwanted vegetation)?
•Costs involved in food supplies, parasite control, hauling, and returns from gross sales
•Specific types of breed suitable for specific land coverage
•Browsing pattern, rotation frequency, and consequence of browsing on tree growth.
•Any assistance from federal or state agency for raising goats?
•What types of media (radio, TV, DVD, factsheets, email) you would prefer for obtaining information?
In the focus group workshop, wide range of issues, problems and potential in agroforestry for small landowners were discussed. Participants shared their perception on goat-agroforestry system (inclusion of goats in pasture and forestry lands), the benefits of raising goats in agroforestry system, and exchanged ideas about opportunities for partnerships between 1890s Institutions and local organizations and agencies for collaborative research, technical assistance, and outreach activities.
The participants stated that the event was instrumental in learning how to manage and diversify farmlands in innovative ways for higher farm income. Respondents of survey reported the current drawbacks such as timber growing is done without a plan, Income from tree farming is so long-term, seeking activities that generate income in short term, small producers can not afford tree planting as it requires periods of intense activity, large capital outlay and specialized knowledge. Participants learned goat herding in agroforestry system is an exciting alternative for small farmers and goat-meat demand has grown lately. They realized that goats are low-cost family business as they graze on most vegetation.
The organization of two focus group discussions have provided many insights from small farmers for making small farm lands more profitable, diversified, and sustainable. Attendants of the workshops received additional information from NRCS, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Alabama A&M University, Tuskegee University about the technical support, loans, subsidies and services these agencies provide and established contacts for one-on-one consultation and assistance. Small farmers are very interested to work with universities and have planned to attend “Goat day” at Tuskegee University every year. Few Farmers are also interested to establish demonstration farms in their properties and begin agroforestry-based land management system. Farmers would like to be followed up by researchers and agencies about the project activities periodically. Survey results are being analyzed and will be published in an Extension journal. A comprehensive research grant will be developed and submitted to Southern SARE for funding.
Bliss J and Bailey C. (2005). Pulp, Paper, and Poverty: Forest-Based Rural Development in Alabama, 1950-2000, In Robert Lee, and Don Fields, ed. Communities and forests: Where People Meet the Land, pp. 138-158, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR.
Fraser R, Gyawali B, and Schelhas J (2005). Blacks in space: land tenure and well-being in Perry County, Alabama. Small-Scale Forest Economics Management and Policy 4 (1), 21-33.
Perevolotsky A. and HaimovY. (1992). The effect of thinning and goat browsing on the structure and development of Mediterranean woodland in Israel. Forest ecology and management, 49 (1-2): 61-74.
Zinkhan, F. C. and Mercer D. E. (2005). An assessment of agroforestry systems in the southern USA. Agroforestry Systems 35 (3):
We are thankful to the following funding agency, organizations and universities for providing financial support, logistics, technical expertise and institutional support for the implementation of the project.
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (Southern-SARE)
Alabama Agriculture Land Grant Alliance (AALGA)
Winston County Self Help Cooperative (WCSHC)
National Network of Forest Practitioners (NNFP).
Alabama A&M University
Kentucky State University