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Ali Amareen chairs a benevolent society that provides goats to needy families through a program supported by MCC. Two of the goats in this pen belong to Maytha Amareen. Melissa Engle

Ali Amareen chairs a benevolent society that provides goats to needy families through a program supported by MCC. Two of the goats in this pen belong to Maytha Amareen. Melissa Engle

Skyrocketing costs affect goat project in Jordan

Gladys Terichow
June 13, 2008

GREGRAH, JORDAN — Goats provide a much-needed source of income, meat and milk in this Bedouin village of 3,000 people in the Wadi Araba desert in southern Jordan.

But skyrocketing costs for livestock feed and reduced demand for local meat are shattering dreams that a herd of goats will give families an adequate source of income and food security.

Maytha Amareen, a widow with two young children under the age of 3, was among the first 17 families in Wadi Araba to receive four pregnant ewes under a community development program supported by Mennonite Central Committee and administered by the Prince Hussein Benevolent Society.

Shortly after receiving the four ewes from this new program in 2006, two ewes died. The benevolent society, she explained, had a veterinarian examine the ewes but they could not be saved.

“The best thing is that I don’t have to buy milk,” said Amareen, explaining that her small herd of two goats produces two litres of milk a day, making it possible for her to make a small contribution to the family’s food requirements.

She lives in a tent on the same yard as her deceased husband’s first wife and that woman’s eight children, ages 1 to 22. The two families live as one family, sharing meals and financial resources. Each family has its own tent for sleeping; they share a tent for cooking.

Their main source of income is her deceased husband’s pension of 150 Jordan dinars, just over $200—an income that is not enough to support this family of 12 people.

Amareen can’t afford to buy livestock feed for her two goats but Joseph, 18, takes care of her goats and the seven goats that belong to his mother. Every morning he finds a place near the village where the goats can graze on shrubs and grasses growing in the desert.

During summer months the population in this village drops to under 1,000 as families take their livestock to pastures in the mountains because it too hot and dry for grass to grow in the desert.

“Lots of people in this area raise livestock—we thought this would be a good project to help poor families in the hope that things would go better for them,” said Ali Amareen, chair of the benevolent society.
Under this program, recipients of the goats are required to give money from the sale of male offspring to the benevolent society for three years. The society uses these funds to buy female offspring which are bred and given to other poor families.

“It could have been an excellent project—nobody knew the prices would go up,” he said, explaining that prices of all basic commodities, including fuel, electricity, wheat and barley, are escalating because the government is phasing out subsidies.

In addition to escalating prices, the demand for local meat is going down because it is cheaper to buy meat that has been imported from Sudan and Syria.

Despite these unexpected challenges, farmers in Jordan are anticipating that the economics of keeping goats will improve. The benevolent society wants the project to continue because the price of milk is increasing and this project gives poor families their own source of milk, said Ali Amareen, adding the program might be changed to provide each family with only two pregnant ewes, instead of four.

Farming is a main source of income for about two-thirds of the community. The land is owned by the community and rented to farmers. Farmers grow tomatoes from September to January and melons from February to May. They don’t grow anything between June and September because it is too hot.

Farmers could grow a greater diversity of crops if they had better access to water, said Amareen, noting the area has artesian wells but communities don’t have enough money to dig wells and develop water distribution systems.

MCC has supported projects in this community for more than 10 years—many of these projects are related to water systems. Most recently, MCC provided a grant of $30,000 toward a $140,000 water catchment system for irrigating 300 hectares of farmland. Water from an artesian well is collected and stored in a 9,000-cubic-metre concrete cistern built on top of a hill. The water moves by gravity through above-ground pipes to the flat farmland below.

MCC has also provided funds to install and upgrade water distribution systems in the village. Families live in concrete houses or tents.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.