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An overview of the goat meat sector in Guadeloupe: conditions of production, consumer preferences, cultural functions and economic implications

G Alexandre, S Asselin de Beauville*, E Shitalou* and M F Zebus**

Unité de Recherches Zootechniques, INRA Antilles-Guyane, Duclos 97170 Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe (French West Indies)
* Interprofession Guadeloupéenne de la viande et de l'élevage IGUAVIE, Destrellan 97122, Baie-Mahault, Guadeloupe (French West Indies)
** Unité de Recherches Agro-Pedo-Climatique, INRA Antilles-Guyane, Duclos 97170 Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe (French West Indies)


Guadeloupe, a French West Indian island is characterised by a multiethnic population among which the Indo-Guadeloupeans have recreated a kind of local Hinduism. Entire bucks are used for animal sacrifices in the "Indian culture". Acceptability of goat meat seems to be highly influenced by local customs, therefore consumer preferences must be taken into account to analyse the animal sector. Two sets of qualitative surveys were carried out (a total of 63 answers was analysed) to obtain an initial approach to the behaviour of Guadeloupean consumers as regards goat meat.


Seventy per cent of people surveyed bought only fresh meat and a lower percentage (21 %) sometimes purchased frozen imported meat. One third of the consumers bought it in its fresh form regardless of price. The criteria of quality for fresh meat are its taste (47 %) and its colour (47%), while those for frozen meat are not well defined as 80 % of the people could not give any definite answer. The main negative assumptions about the practical aspects of the local meat are for 42% of answers low availability and for 32% it's high price (12 to 15 €/kg carcass). In the consumer choice, there is no competition between local fresh goat meat vs. imported frozen chevon or mutton. The consumption of goat meat is truly dependent on the community to which the Guadeloupean consumer belongs. All (100 %) Indo-Guadeloupeans surveyed eat goat meat while 30% of Afro-Guadeloupeans do not. Goat meat is consumed in two different ways: skinned carcass (100% of those surveyed) in the Indian community and dehaired (70% of those surveyed) in the Black community. Supply is not sufficient to meet domestic demand for this very festive meat, thus  opportunities exist for increase in local production. 


More than 55 % of the local buck production is used in this particular sub-sector. Moreover, the meat cooked according to an Indian recipe known as "colombo" has become a national meal which is appreciated by all the Guadeloupean communities which explains why goat meat is a festive meat and also its high local demand. The cultural functions and economic implications are described in the paper.

Keywords: goat meat, informal sector, qualitative survey, religious ceremony, statistical data


Perceptions of meat quality vary from country to country, between ethnic and age groups, and over time. While some countries discriminate against goat meat, other communities prefer goat meat to beef such as in many tropical regions. 


Guadeloupe, a French island located in the Caribbean (422,000 inhabitants for 1780 km2), is part of an important economic region, namely Europe, while on the other hand, it also forms part of the Third World region. This country is a mosaic of ethnic groups (migrants belonging to the Amerindian, European, African and Asian civilisations; Lirus-Galap 1990). These multicultural traits influence the goat industry (Alexandre et al 2003), one of the most important phenomenon is the use of male bucks in the religious ceremonies of Indo-Guadeloupeans. Goats, which population is estimated to about 35000 or 60000 heads according to the method of determination are reared exclusively for meat production, and goat rearing is assumed a significant source of food and income for many families.


In the 1970s-1980s, the demand for the ceremonial billy goats escalated (low availability and high price), the breeder union was established and a development plan led to a rapid expansion of production, and consequently a very flourishing goat sector (Shitalou unpublished data). However, during the nineties the production decreased by 22% while  importation increased by 28% (Asselin de Beauville 2002). There seems to have been a severe crisis in the organised sub sector ( goat breeder union no longer existed). Inversely, the dynamism of the traditional informal sector (neglected in the past and having no technical support) is noteworthy (Alexandre et al 2003; Diman et al 2003). Nevertheless, no investigation has been carried out.


At the present, a market analysis is needed to understand the meat sub-sector and implement improvements. Practices of breeders and butchers have already been studied in Guadeloupe (Alexandre et al 2000), but consumers attitudes remained unknown although their behaviour is deeply involved in the whole food chain. Given that acceptability of goat meat seems to be highly influenced by local customs, it appears necessary to also study the cultural component of the sub-sector. These are the objectives of this paper. This overview is completed with the description of the main conditions of production and  by a rapid appraisal of the economic implications. 


Main conditions of goat production  

A survey was conducted (Gau et al 2000) on a sample of farms representative of the diversity of the population of breeders spread out across the whole region (3.5% of the total number of goat flocks). Major goat farming systems were described in a technical and economic perspective: herd structure, breeds used, reproduction management, feeding strategy, sanitation methods and marketing practices. A total of 37% of the farmers questioned (Figure 1) were strongly committed to intensive methods.  


Figure 1.  Goat farming systems in Guadeloupe, from Alexandre et al 2003

This “intensive” or “professional” type of unit was the result of a complete advisory package promoted by the policy makers. It could be described as the dominant model as it had monopolised the collective resources. Within this “intensive” type, two main groups could be defined; the more specialised (18%) and the more diversified (19%) where cattle and/or sugar cane production are integrated. For half of them, animals were sold to a varied clientele made up of individuals from the Indo-Guadeloupean community and local butchers, while the rest sold fattened animals but less regularly.


Sixty percent of the sample seemed to have grown up locally according to the availability of land and labour on the farms with low externalities, with very few elaborate technical management and strong traditional know-how. Their objectives depended on the fluctuating food and cash needs of the family rather than a desire to maximise income. Extensive rearing (10%) was characterised by free-range grazing of large herds, traditional farmers (22%) had smaller herds kept tethered while grazing and family type rearing (31%) is typified by the presence of animals crowded close to the family home. For these last three activities, the sale of animals was not the main objective: the livestock was sold only when family needs were satisfied. Hence some of them sell regularly either to individuals, butchers or members of the Indo-Guadeloupean community, others more safely via the mass market channel (Asselin de Beauville 2002).


One of the main traits of the local sector is that butchering is conducted on-farm, and direct sale is the more common marketing practices. Only 12 % of the breeders surveyed sell through the abattoir and 19 % of locally produced carcass was officially registered.


After this system identification, a technical and economic evaluation has been carried out. These, so called, “non-professional” types of units  seemed to be relevant for their social and economical importance, as for cattle (Diman et al 2003) and for pigs (Zebus et al 2003),  which have been shown to be more sustainable than the dominant model in various fields. Within this context, INRA has been asked on the opportunities of building new development programs to meet the consumers’ expectations and the cultural habits.


General trends of meat consumption in Guadeloupe based on official data 

According to the FAO 2004 reports, the figures for total meat consumption in the French island of Guadeloupe were similar to figures of other developed countries: 65 kg vs. 79 kg meat/inhabitant/year (Table 1).

Table1.   Meat consumption (kg meat/inhabitant/year) in different regions of the world



Small ruminants










Developed countries






Developing countries
























Source: FAOSTAT on-line statistical service FAO, Rome 2004

The total consumption is lower than that of France (100 kg) but far higher than that of Africa (13 kg) among this, poultry is the predominant meat consumed. Guadeloupean people seem to eat proportionally much more small ruminant meat than other developed or developing countries: 6.5 % vs. only 3 % of small ruminant meat.  


The national statistical institution (AGRESTE 2005, Table 2) gives meat consumption statistics for a ten year average.

Table 2.  Average meat consumption (tons) in Guadeloupe over the past ten years according to  animal species and type or meat (fresh or frozen)


Local Meat

Imported meat


























* Rabbit meat not tabulated

The people of Guadeloupe ate around 50 kg meat/inhabitant/year with 45 % poultry, 28 % cattle, 16 % pig and 11 % small ruminants. Of these figures, the meat officially recorded as locally produced represented 41 % for cattle, 34 % for pig and 49 % for small ruminants and 11% for poultry. However, the national statistics are well known to under estimate the figures because of high proportion of uncontrolled slaughters: 35% for cattle (Estima 2007) and 81 % for goat (Asselin de Beauville 2002). Whatever the factual data, the ratio of local production to local consumption is low. It indicates a possibility for increasing local sub-sector and it is therefore necessary to know the importance of local fresh meat vs. imported frozen meat, and the consumer preferences.


Goat meat consumer preferences  

Two sets of qualitative surveys, designed with open-ended questions, were carried out in a local market downtown and in a supermarket. A total number of 63 answers were analysed to obtain an initial concept of the behaviour of consumers concerning goat meat consumption. A respondent could have more than one answer to some question. Regarding the reasons for consuming goat meat, 42 % said that they had a taste preference towards goat meat and 32 % because of habits and customs. Seventy per cent of people surveyed bought only fresh meat and a lower percentage (21 %) sometimes purchased frozen imported meat. The reasons explaining the consumers’ choice of fresh meat are availability (39 %) and qualitative reasons (taste and colour, 28 %). The remaining third of the consumers bought fresh meat regardless of price. On the other hand, 21 % of the people who consume frozen meat do so because it is reasonably priced, and another 47 % mainly for practical reasons (available anytime and anywhere). From these first results, it appeared that private consumers do not consider fresh local goat meat and frozen chevon to be competitive products; it was the same for sales outlets (Alexandre et al 2000).


As far as the price of goat meat is concerned people refused to answer directly and clearly. Alexandre et al (2000) have reported the same attitude about butchers’ practices. In fact, it is known that there is not enough supply relative to domestic demand and the price of carcass is very high (12 to 15 €/kg; Asselin de Beauville 2002).  


The surveys revealed the attitudes towards natural (safety, traceability) and local products (cultural identity) that are now important global issues for any society in the world. Only 20 % of people never ate local meat while 30 % always bought local meat, and 50 % bought both. However, it was difficult to distinguish what the word "local" means, because there was no specific question about the indigenous vs. exotic breed. “Local” in this survey was defined as an animal produced and marketed locally. Criteria of quality for fresh meat are its taste (47 %) and its colour (47%), while those for frozen meat are not well defined, as 80 % of people can’t give any answer. The main negative assumptions about the practical aspects of the local meat are low availability (42 %) and high price (32 %). Concerning negative qualitative criteria, 59 % could not give any definition, however 10 % thought that the taste of goat meat is too strong. Finally, 75 % thought that opportunities exist for developing a local product.


Ethnic segmentation

During the second set of surveys, questions about the community and ethnic customs were added to the questionnaire. The majority of European and Syro-Lebanese consumers surveyed consume very little or no goat meat, because they find the taste too strong, preferring lamb instead. The results from the surveys (n = 45) done in the Afro and Indo communities are shown in Table 3.

Table 3.  Ethnic segmentation of goat meat consumption in Guadeloupe (n = 45)

Ethnic origin

"Goat eaters"*


vs. stew**

Skinned meat***


vs. buying****

At least every month*****













* answer yes to the question “do you eat goat meat ?”

** answer about the mode of meat cooking as stew or as Colombo (= curried goat , see explanation in text)

*** answer yes to the question” do you eat meat from skinned carcass?” (otherwise from de-haired carcass)

**** answer to the question “where do you purchase the goat meat ? ( directly from your own reared animals or bought to either breeders, butchers, retailers,….)

***** answer to the question “what is the frequency of eating goat meat?

All (100 %) Indo-Guadeloupeans surveyed eat goat meat while 30% of Afro-Guadeloupeans surveyed do not, because of the taste. Goat meat is consumed in two different ways: skinned carcass (100% of those surveyed) in the Indo-Guadeloupean community (IC) and de-haired (70% of those surveyed) in the Afro-Guadeloupean community (AC). The AC stated that the skin and the fat underneath gives the meat a ‘stronger (“wilder”), more pungent taste  which is highly rated in the AC. Moreover, the presence of the skin acts as a sort of guarantee to the consumer that the meat is local since imported goat carcasses are usually skinned. The way in which goat meat is eaten is linked to the religious Hindu ceremonies. During these ceremonies animal sacrifices take place (see below) and the meat of these animals is then cooked in “Colombo”. The consumption of goat meat is thus truly dependent on the ethnic community to which the Guadeloupean consumer belongs. 


An approach to local Hinduism and its different functions 

Several Indian writers have described the social components and cultural habits of the Indo-Guadeloupean community (Singaravélou 1987; Moutousammy 1989; Shitalou, unpublished works). In addition, informal surveys were conducted by Asselin de Beauville (2002) every week-end of summer 2002 in order to gather factual data: while being invited, Asselin de Beauville was authorized to make videos and to question priests, devotees and participants. In an Indian ceremony, the devotee implores the divinity and presents a request. After a period of fasting done to reach a state of purity, the ceremony takes place. It is mainly marked by the sacrificing of animals (mainly goats and to a lesser extent sheep and cocks). This habit which is typical of popular Hinduism has been actively practised in Indian diasporas and was “Creolised” while in India itself, ever since independence, it has been reduced to the ranks of an impure act and the ritual sacrifice of animals was abolished (Singaravélou 1987; Shitalou unpublished data). The ceremony ends with the Dalmon, i.e. a fraternal meal which resembles a real feast in which very numerous guests eat a curried dish, called Colombo, prepared with the meat of the sacrificed animals.


Colombo has become accepted as a national dish. It is so rooted in the normal practice of things that even non-believers eat goat meat prepared in this way (Moutoussamy 1989). The end of the 1970s marks the period when Hindu ceremonies began to be celebrated very frequently and Guadeloupeans were invited and discovered this Indian meal. During this same period a social phenomenon, called “banquets” was developing (a sort of paid party organised around holidays or Christian celebrations): people discovered the delights of Colombo and goat became the animal whose meat was most sought after during the festive seasons and reasons. Colombo then rapidly gained recognition to the point of being acknowledged by French gastronomy. Goat colombo is now a "national" Guadeloupean festive dish and became a bridge between communities and a spear head in Caribbean cuisine; it is called curried-goat in the neighbouring English-speaking islands. The word “curry” in fact means a mixture of spices (brought across by the Indians: curcuma, tamarind, ginger, massala).  


Religious Hindu ceremonies and consequently goat Colombo “feast” have different functions (Moutoussamy 1989; Lirus-Galap 1990; Shitalou, unpublished data): i) a religious function, the ceremony itself , for practising Hindus; ii) a cultural function at the heart of the development of the Indian culture (songs, dance, musical instruments, culinary art); iii) a social function because during ceremonies friends and family come together to share the sacred meal and iv) an economic function since a great number of the billy goats coming from breeders and private individuals passes through this market.


Technico-economic implications 

The demand for bucks has been assessed owing to informal surveys of Asselin de Beauville (2002) and to expert evaluation of Shitalou (unpublished data). Ethnic census are not allowed in France but according to lists of patronymics (in phone book or in town councils)  there are an estimated 70000 people of Indian descent, of which a minimum of 50% spiritually consider themselves as Hindu. Taking into account the number of ceremony per family/per year and the number of guest/ceremony that induces the number of goats used per ceremony, Shitalou has deduced the number of bucks sold each year, to be estimated at 15000 heads. Hindu ceremonies thus represent an important market for goats, specifically male goats, weighing at least 30 kg liveweight. Based on the average carcass yield of 50%, meat production passing via this particular network was estimated at 225 T carcass. This amount represented 55 % of the local production which is about 400 T compared to the import of 300 T frozen meat (Asselin de Beauville 2002). This indicates that the informal sector is far from being the most important in the goat sector in Guadeloupe (Figure 2, Alexandre et al 2003).

Figure 2. 
Goat meat marketing in Guadeloupe, from Alexandre et al 2003

Some breeders have specifically developed rearing systems for these ceremonial bucks, described by Asselin de Beauville (2002). First, the animal must be a male goat, well-formed attractive animals of at least 30kg, in good health, uncastrated, with undamaged horns and unwounded body. In fact the animal is considered sullied if it has been touched by blood, thus they can’t be identified and labelled with tip-tag as requested by the French legislation. Coats of all colours are accepted even though those of pure black or white are the most often demanded by sacrificers. It is not well established whether other quality aspects influence this particular market (carcass conformation, meat quality). The production of these ceremonial bucks is undertaken by a considerable number of breeders and private individuals, the former seeing this as an extra market and the latter as an extra source of income (see former section on systems of production). As such it is quite common to find yearly goats or adult bucks being sold at 610€/buck or even more (Asselin de Beauville 2002). The 'offertory' aspect associated with the male goats allows for prices to be elevated. First, since the sacrificer is offering the best to the divinity he does not pay attention to the price. Secondly, he must not negotiate or haggle over the selling price of the goat intended for sacrifice, the result being a sharp speculation of the price of these animals of highly respected religious symbolism. Hindu ceremonies represent an important market that is independent of other animal markets and is specific to the informal channel. This has been observed also in La Réunion island by Fontaine et al (2004), where thousands of bucks sacrificed and consumed during Tamil ceremonies are sold for up to 800€/buck through mainly the informal market.

Recommendations and perspectives



The authors would like to thank all the different breeders, butchers, professionals, individuals and consumers that have kindly answered the different questionnaires. They are grateful to J L  Diman J for discussions to improve the understanding of the informal sector and Onyeka L and the anonymous reviewer for English corrections of the manuscript. This study was supported by the “Region Guadeloupe” and the “European Community” (FEOGA).



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Received 15 May 2007; Accepted 6 November 2007; Published 1 January 2008

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