Goddess of wealth smiles on Sri Lanka's goat farmers

Oxfam and its partner SWOAD have been helping poor rural women in eastern Sri Lanka to boost their incomes following the tsunami. In the tsunami- and conflict-affected village of Thandiadi, one group of women is rearing hybrid goats to improve their livelihoods and learning how to manage their finances at the same time.

The women gather around the large wooden structure in the middle of the parched village. The unmistakable sound of goats bleating comes from the shed. Laughing children push vegetation through the gaps to the six hungry animals inside."

Each day, a member of the group is responsible for feeding the animals. But this is not always an easy task,” says K. Ranjani, secretary of one of five Oxfam-funded women's goat-rearing groups in the village of Thandiadi. “We are afraid to go into the forest because of the security situation. The goats also require water, so Oxfam is making a new well."

The shed, built with the support of Oxfam and its local partner SWOAD (Social Welfare Organisation in Ampara District) with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, constitutes luxury accommodation for goats in this part of eastern Sri Lanka. The solid wooden structure measures approximately three meters by three meters and stands on stilts to protect the animals from predators, disease and flooding.

Boosting incomes

The five goat-rearing groups in Thandiadi are part of attempts to boost the incomes of vulnerable families in this largely rural area of eastern Sri Lanka, which bore the brunt of the tsunami and is still sporadically affected by the ongoing conflict. Oxfam is assisting 106 such self-help groups in 32 villages in Ampara district.

The village's livelihoods were decimated by the tsunami, with most of the goats carried off by the deadly wave. Most also lost their homes. Oxfam and SWOAD rebuilt 40 houses and 82 toilets in Thandiadi, and then turned their attention to restoring people's earning potential.

“We are especially targeting the poorest of the poor among tsunami- and conflict- affected people: those with less than two acres of land, families with dependents and female-headed households," explains Oxfam project officer, Shylet Mani.

“Our aim is to increase the household incomes of small-scale producers. The first step is to help them build community organizations. Once they are organized, they are better placed to access markets and to link up with financial and technical institutions.

“We train them how to manage their savings. If they can demonstrate that they manage their money well, they can prove their credit trustworthiness and access more funds," Mani adds.

Ranjani, 37, proudly brandishes the group's savings book, explaining that the group is named 'Luxhmi,' after the Hindu goddess of wealth. “Each member puts 50 rupees ($0.44) into the savings fund each month. So far we have saved 8,700 rupees ($77). We can use this fund for two purposes: an emergency fund for members in need, and to purchase more goats.

Innovative techniques

Apart from encouraging saving practices among communities, Oxfam also work towards facilitating loan and other financial services from formal lending institutes such as banks.

The SWOAD/Oxfam program is also trying to promote innovative production techniques which can enhance income. This applies to the goats, where the groups are rearing hybrid goats that produce more meat.

“Where a local goat will weigh 20 kg after one year, a hybrid goat will weigh 30kg, meaning we earn 50 per cent – about 2,500 rupees ($22) more per goat,” Ranjani says. As well as training the women in practical skills such as how to look after the goats and maintain the shed, SWOAD has also helped them to understand their rights and entitlements, and facilitated access to government departments.

The group, which was set up in March 2007, meets every week. During their meetings they might discuss not only their goats but also take decisions that will improve their community, such as cleaning temples or clearing roads.

Being a member of the group has also improved the women's status within the community: “Our standing in the village has improved. Often men cannot go out to work because of the security situation, making us the main breadwinners. Now we get much more respect," Ranjani smiles.

- Roy Probert, Oxfam International