Suggestions on how Kenya’s Asals could be transformed into formidable meat-producing industries

Photo credit: AFP | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

Kenya’s northern region needs development of structured contracted farming, standardisation of meat animals, and organised access to regional and international markets, among other lasting solutions that can assure the populations of increased incomes

By Pauline Kairu

Persistent drought over the past four years in Kenya’s 23 arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) left millions facing starvation, malnutrition, and death of livestock. Other climate change effects such as flash floods, plus resource-use conflicts and lack of coherent policies to address the unique challenges these areas face, compounded the problem.

Yet these pastoral regions are known to hold over 70 percent of the national livestock, providing over 80 percent of the meat produced and traded in the country. In fact, more than 80 percent of the populations occupying Asals largely rely on livestock for food (milk and meat), meaning that the death of their animals affects them intensely. With sustainable interventions, this should not continue happening, according to a government official.

“The vision to utilise the huge potential that resides in these areas remains largely unrealised due to various challenges,” observes Kenya’s Deputy Director of Livestock Policy Research and Regulations in the State Department for Livestock Development, Patrick Mokaya.

“Kenyan Asal ecosystems are fragile and very sensitive, and are currently bedevilled by climatic vagaries,” he points out, adding that the mitigation measures often taken are small-scale, and not long-term. They include livestock off-take programmes, water tanking, procurement, and distribution of one-fit-all foods, cash transfers, and subsidised livestock insurance programmes, depending on the agency delivering them. These interventions have been going on for years, but the challenges of Asals have only become more complex.

According to Mokaya, the region needs the development of structured contracted farming, standardisation of meat animals, and organised access to regional and international markets, among other lasting solutions that can assure increased incomes, given the growing demand for meat and meat products nationally and globally.

“There are already low hanging fruits that we can take advantage of here,” Mokaya stresses. “In these counties, livestock production systems are largely organic, whose international demand and prices are highly favourable,” he explains. “Technologies on meat preservation have been improved and are becoming more responsive to local environments, including the use of solar for meat preservation, which is practical and usable in the Asals.”

Other efforts that should help improve meat production in Kenya’s Asals, Mokaya says, include innovative policies and legislation to support, for instance, multiagency transformation of land tenure systems, and structured water development strategies.

“Such transformational initiatives should be preceded by a review of the existing policies and legislations, including the manifestos and agreements the government is subject to, so as to ensure coherence, harmony and common understanding among all stakeholders,” says the government official.

He continues: “Some of the basic principles that need to be understood include the collection of basic data at different nodes of the meat value chain and analysing investment opportunities for different areas, including but not limited to the provision of water, feeds, and veterinary services; and linking farmers to marketers, butcheries and exporters or export market agents, among others.”

Mokaya says Kenya is a signatory to various international and regional agreements aimed at achieving best meat industry and trade practices. The global agreements and institutions provide a framework through which member states, including Kenya, contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable production of meat and meat products.

Effective policies, legislation, strategies, programmes and projects, are only but frameworks for enabling the industry to thrive. Creating a knowledge base and building business goodwill are necessary to enable populations in the Asals to access different players and start businesses at any node in the meat industry.

This article is part of a bigger newspaper supplement covering East Africa. You can read it here.