I have returned to Haiti to continue to work with improving goat husbandry practices on the island. This was my second trip to Haiti with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program to work with improving goat husbandry practices on the island. Whereas my first trip to Haiti in December 2014 was more focused on the immediate crises of rampant internal parasitism, this trip revolved around teaching and establishing sound goat nutrition programs for the farmers that Partners of the Americas and Makouti Agro Enterprise have partnered with.
There are two types of plants that I focused on either introducing to the region or augmenting in goat pastures: plants that have natural antihelmintic (anti-parasitic) properties, and those that are high in protein and other essential nutrients.
The anthelmintic property of plants is most often due to the tannin contained in the plants. This substance, which is the same substance that is contained in grapes and wine, inhibits the multiplication of parasites. With more and more parasites becoming resistant to laboratory developed drugs, alternatives to these options is becoming an increasing priority.
Of course, developing countries also face an additional challenge of lack of money to buy these often expensive medications. Thus, finding alternatives that are more accessible to these populations would be attractive. Because natural plants, and their accompanying bioactive substances, can’t be patented and owned, there is little incentive to research them. However, certain plants have been studied in controlled settings and have proven to reduce parasite loads in goats.
One such plant is Lespedeeza cuneata. It is a plant that was originally cultivated in the United States for erosion control and soil improvement because it is fast growing and fixes atmospheric nitrogen. Though there are several different varieties (sub species) of Lespedeeza available, the genus generally is effective in significantly reducing parasite loads in goats (ATTRA, 2007). Other plants found in Haiti that are high in tannins include: Spondias mombin, cassava leaves, Guinea grass, Haematoxylon campechianum, and Pithecellobium dulce.
In addition to medicinal plants, I also stressed the importance of adequate nutrition, because goats that are not meeting their daily energy needs will have difficulty growing, as well as fighting off disease causing agents. Although grass can be plentiful in Haiti, it is not the best option because it can harbor parasites spread by fecal material. (I make an exception with Guinea grass, because it has natural parasite-inhibiting tannins and grows tall enough not to be contaminated with fecal matter.) A much better option is tree leaves. Trees that I recommended to focus on planting included: Gliricidia sepium, Moringa oleifera, Samanea samanea, and Haitian spinach. Spinach is of particular importance as it contains high levels of iron, an essential building block for new red blood cells. Since many of the goats remain moderately anemic, adding a source of iron to their diet will greatly improve their vigor.
When introducing goats to new plants, there is often an adjustment period because goats may be hesitant to eat new plants. Thus, I stressed the need for patience in allowing the goats to adapt to a new diet. Likewise, the farmers that Partners and Makouti have partnered with will need time to establish these plants and trees in their fields. These trees must be protected when they are young because allowing goats to graze new plants too soon risks killing them. Combined with the regular deworming now undertaken on the participating goat farms, I expect that 2015 will be a turning point in the productivity of these farms.