USAID partnerships enhancing northern Kenya’s livestock market system, transforming lives

Livestock markets have revolutionized economic pastoralism, creating opportunities for women like Narumu to join the camel trade.

Photo credit: USAID

When Narumu, one of three camel traders in Marsabit County’s Merille Livestock Market, ventured into the livestock trade 30 years ago, she operated in the grazing areas with no infrastructural operational structures. She would often sell her animals at low prices out of desperation due to a lack of buyers, thereby losing their value. Besides this, trading in unprotected areas without a functional market was risky and insecure due to frequent attacks and theft of livestock.

Additional challenges that Narumu and other traders face include recurrent droughts, floods, ethnic and political tensions, and livestock diseases. These challenges hinder growth opportunities, limiting income for families in the ASAL counties. The obstacles, compounded by gender disparities, low literacy rates, and youth unemployment, exacerbate hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, particularly affecting the potential of women and girls.

Since 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with county governments, has built 19 livestock markets in Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Wajir, and Turkana counties. Further, USAID, through the Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity (LMS) and in partnership with the Government of Kenya (GOK) at the county level, revived an additional 17 markets that were adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, drought, or floods, bringing the total number of vibrant markets to 41 in the five counties, and also in Samburu County. These livestock markets serve as vital business and trade hubs, impacting over 78,000 households and stimulating economic activity within pastoralist communities.

Ten years after its construction, the Merille livestock market is a vibrant hub of activity complete with infrastructure, such as animal holding pens and sales yards, that have improved the trading environment for both sellers and buyers. The market serves as a vital source of income and livelihood for rural communities, with market days every Tuesday providing predictability for large-scale buyers from Nairobi and other major towns. Through this efficient operation of Merille and other markets, traders from many parts of Kenya flock in to buy livestock for consumption in major towns such as Meru, Nanyuki, and Nairobi, as well as for export.

“This market has opened our minds to different ways of doing business, and we have developed as a community. The crime rate has also come down as more youth are engaged in businesses in the livestock market like loading livestock to trucks and motorbike business,” says Narumu Lekeriya.

From Cultural Symbols to a Source of Livelihood

“Earlier on the pastoralists were not used to selling their animals. They kept large herds of animals but recurrent drought would hit and wipe away all the animals. Somebody that was very rich would suddenly become very poor after having lost all the animals due to drought.” – Ernest Anzeze, Director of Livestock Production, Turkana County.

Progressively, pastoral communities have seen a mindset and behavioral shift from traditional practices that hindered progress in the livestock sector. While the physical presence of animals was culturally a symbol of wealth for pastoralists, modern transaction methods and a change in the economic landscape caused a change. As a result, market days have increased and pastoralists now embrace the livestock trade, which helps them to acquire money to cater to their families’ needs and educate their children.

Traditionally, camel rearing was viewed as a male-dominated activity, making it difficult for women like Narumu to gain acceptance and respect in the trade. However, USAID LMS’ training on gender inclusivity, among other women-empowerment initiatives, has encouraged more women to venture into the business. Her success has also served as motivation to other women, recognising that they too can thrive in the livestock trade. 

Markets Transforming Northern Kenya’s Livelihoods

USAID supported the counties by partnering with the Frontier Counties Development Council to help domesticate policies, bills, and frameworks, which include the livestock sector policies, strategies, and sales yard laws. These frameworks assist counties in increasing economic opportunities that help their citizens.

Livestock markets have provided a conducive business environment for sellers and buyers.

Photo credit: USAID

To ensure efficient and long-lasting management, USAID LMS trained Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) officials in essential skills like revenue collection and market management. This initiative not only facilitated market and county development, but also encouraged community involvement in the livestock markets, leading to increased traffic of people and goods in and out of the markets. This has improved revenue sharing with the county government, hence enhancing the maintenance of the markets.

USAID LMS advocated for the inclusion of women and youth in leadership positions within markets, as well as their participation in training and learning visits. USAID lobbied the county governments to create an enabling environment for smallholder farmers – mostly women and youth – to trade in livestock and non-livestock products and services. As a result, LMS facilitated the participation of 19,982 women and 8,971 youth in various activities in 21 livestock markets supported by USAID funding.

Consequently, the markets have spurred the growth of businesses, generating job opportunities for many individuals. Key activities include transportation services, mobile money transfer services, agricultural supply stores (agrovets), and food joints. Additionally, businesses in sectors like cereal trade, apparel, and electronics, have also emerged. “The livestock market is the backbone of the economy here, impacting at least 5,000 households,” says Mohamed Wario, Chairperson of the Isiolo Livestock Marketing Association.

The dynamic atmosphere of the market has increased access to finance for livestock traders, leading to the establishment of Savings and Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs) within the market. This arrangement enables members to easily secure loans to grow their businesses. USAID, through the livestock markets, is continuing to work with the county governments, the chamber of commerce, and the Council of Governors, on domesticating livestock-related policies.

About the Feed the Future USAID Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity (LMS)

The Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded program that is part of the United States Government’s Feed the Future initiative for addressing global hunger, food security, and agricultural livelihoods. It is implemented by ACDI/VOCA in six counties in northern Kenya – Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, and Wajir.