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Goats and sheep ("small ruminants") are an important livestock component in all ecological zones (arid, semi-arid, subhumid, humid, highland) and all types of agricultural systems (smallholder mixed farming, agro-pastoral, pastoral, urban, commercial ranching) in tropical Africa. Small ruminants are complementary to cattle and camels in their production cycles and generally do not compete directly with them for feed. Goats and sheep are owned by more production units in African farming systems than any other species of domestic livestock except poultry. Because of their lower feed requirements, their rapid reproduction cycles and the ease with which they can be handled, they are particularly important for resource-poor households and are often the property of underprivileged groups, such as women and children, within those households.

Small ruminant research and development has been neglected in the past. During the 1980s the advantages of small ruminants have become increasingly recognised by researchers, development workers, policy makers and aid agencies both on the African continent and elsewhere.

In view of the current interest in small ruminants in Africa there is a need to provide a standard text on production systems, the role of goats and sheep in mixed-stocking guilds and mixed livestock/crop systems and on the indigenous genetic resource. Lack of knowledge of the types and production capabilities of African small ruminants encourages the belief that they are poor performers and that development paths should be based on the importation and imposition of supposedly superior "exotic" animals.

It is hoped that this text goes some way to discountenancing this belief and will encourage the use of African indigenous domestic animal types in African development.

Vivian M. Timon
Senior Officer
Livestock Production Systems Group
Animal Production and Health Division