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Ruminants are mammals that are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion. This classification includes cattle, goats and sheep, with the latter two being classified as small ruminants.
Goat meat and milk consumption is the most widely distributed in the world. This has led to an increase in the world’s goat population, with an average of 8 to 10% from 1995 to 2005, which is similar to sheep consumption.
The global exports of small ruminants meat (mutton of goats and sheep) are dominated by New Zealand and Australia who when combined, account for 70% of the global exports of sheep meat valued at USD 1.96 billion, although not the major producers of goats globally.
Fresh goat and sheep meat are consumed in the CARICOM region throughout the year with peak periods of consumption associated with celebrations and religious events such as Christmas, Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr. The increased interest by tourists in local cuisine has also contributed to growing demand for these meats.
Overall, sheep and goat meat consumption is highly dependent on imports, which account for approximately 54% of consumption. Imports of mutton and goat meat in 2008 averaged 13,777 tonnes with 64% of the total value coming from Australia and 30% coming from New Zealand. This amounted to approximately 9.4% of all meat imported into the region.
The Caribbean Region, however, still remains a traditional producer of small ruminant meat products. According to recent statistical data generated by Landell Mills Development Consultants under the Caribbean Integration Support Programme of the 9th EDF, CARICOM nations in 2008 produced approximately 7.4 million kilograms of sheep and goat meat products. This represented a marginal increase of 0.8% when compared to 7.3 million kg produced in 2004.
However, there are some limitations for small ruminant production in the region including:
Within the Region, Haiti has the largest stock of goats which is in excess of one million, followed by Jamaica which has a stock of 142,000 heads of sheep and goats, Guyana with 78,000 heads, Antigua and Barbuda with 15,000 heads and the rest of CARICOM having animal stocks at less than 10,000 heads.
And in the case of Barbados, meat from one indigenous small ruminant breed, the Barbados Blackbelly sheep, is uniquely positioned to be developed as a premium meat. A 2014 FAO Issue Brief titled, Developing a small ruminant industry in the Caribbean describes Blackbelly meat as low in fat and cholesterol but high in protein, and prized for its lean, mild flavour, which has been compared to venison. Like venison, Blackbelly meat can be successfully marketed to restaurants, the tourist sector and can be developed for export as a gourmet product.
Why invest in small ruminant production?