Famine: commercialising pastoralism could be the way out
Peace Bulletin 9, April 2006
The current biting famine in many parts of the country has caste a pale shadow on our drought preparedness and resilience capacities both as a state, civil society, private sector, communities and individuals. At this very hour of need, it would do us no good to spend a better part of our time in blame game. Rather, we need to critically think and provide blueprints for managing this now annual catastrophe.
To move out of this quagmire, first, there is a critical need to commercialize pastoralism. This calls for a complete change of our production system so that we produce for the market and not necessarily for socio-cultural courses as the case is currently with our pastoralists.
For this to be achieved, we need to prevail upon pastoralists and other herders to regulate their herd sizes to make it commensurate with carrying capacity of the respective grazing areas/rangelands. Over the years our livestock and human population have more than tripled yet the land is still the same. I reckon that this could be a hard idea to sell to the pastoralists but this is the reality.
Herd size is no longer the measure of ones wealth. In Botswana, the leading African exporter of beef to European Union with an annual income of Ksh 7 billion, 80% of the beef farmers own between 1-20 cattle. These are the very people doing very well if compared to pastoralists in Eastern Africa who own and cherish livestock in terms of hundreds.
Commercializing pastoralism also calls for improvement of livestock marketing institutions and the linkage between herders and the private sector. Institutions such as Kenya Livestock Marketing Council (KLMC) should be strengthened and operationalized in arid and semi-arid (ASAL) districts in Kenya. The government should also chip in by enacting and implementing a regulatory policy framework and requisite subsidies for livestock production and trade to flourish.
Secondly, the government should improve physical infrastructure in the whole country. Better roads would ensure that farmers in high potential areas such as Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu that are currently coping with bumper harvest of cereals would be able to transport their produce to famine affected areas. In the same vein, pastoralists from North Eastern Kenya would easily transport their livestock to markets in other parts of the country. This way excess stock would easily be exchanged with cereals and or profitably disposed off before drought wipes it out.
Thirdly, pastoralists and people in ASAL areas need to diversify their livelihoods. The current drought infers that people in Marsabit, Mandera and Wajir would be better off keeping camels and goats at the expense of cattle that cannot withstand drought. Investing in research and development in biotechnology as a way of strengthening drought resilience capacities of livestock should be given a serious thought.
Closely related to this is that pastoralists need to revisit and strengthen their traditional drought coping mechanisms. Practices such as livestock loaning and social networks should be promoted.
Fourthly, the government should implement Disaster and Drought Management and ASAL policies that are currently gathering dust in government offices. These policies should at least provide a framework for forestalling, managing and recovering from such disasters.
Finally, the government and other development agencies should strive to improve flow of information from local to national levels. The Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) and Provincial Administration should share whatever drought related information with relevant stakeholders instead of waiting for the media to report the same. Why should ALRMP spend enormous resources in monitoring drought and producing monthly drought bulletins if such information is of no benefit in managing drought?
Having noted all these, it is necessary to have in mind that the buck stops at the community level, the main victims of drought. We need to change our livestock production systems and move towards commercializing ASAL economies.