Kenya continues to participate minimally in the lucrative export trade in livestock and livestock products while Ethiopia is blazing the trail in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) region.
Igad consists of Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Livestock is one of the most important resources common to all the Igad member countries. The animals mainly comprise cattle, sheep, goats and camels.
Due to the geographical proximity, historical and cultural relations between the Igad nations and the Middle East, countries in the latter provide a ready and attractive market for livestock and livestock products from the former.
Unfortunately, most of the Igad member states are yet to position their livestock industries for trade with the Middle East. Apart from Somalia and Ethiopia, which are doing heavy trade, the rest of the countries are yet to establish any meaningful business.
Middle Eastern countries are predominantly covered by the Sahara and Arabian deserts. The weather and geology of the area make it very expensive to produce meat from farm animals, especially cattle.
Sheep, goats and camels provided the meat and milk the countries needed in the early days. However, as the population grew due to reproduction and migration, the meat demand both in volume and variety outstripped the local production.
The main source of meat, especially mutton, in the region is Australia. It would be good for Igad nations to note that several factors are increasingly making Australia and other distant countries unattractive for supply of meat and live animals to the Middle East.
The factors include the increasing cost of transport, increased demand for meat in the producer nations and the demand for high standards of animal welfare for animals being transported. Pandemics like the current Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbate the situation.
According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) statistics for 2020, export of live sheep to all countries of the Middle East have continuously declined from 2.5 million in 2003 to 1.8 million in 2008 and below a million in 2015. In June 2020, the figures from January declined by 17 per cent over those of 2019 for the same period to 518,911 head of sheep.
While the export of live animals from Australia to the Middle East has been declining, the same has been increasing for Ethiopia and Somalia. The two nations have put in place livestock trade measures that attract business with the Middle East, especially United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.
So what is the main hindrance for trade between other Igad member states and the lucrative Middle East market? The answer lies in the ability of the countries to comply with import conditions.
For export of meat and live animals, purchasing nations demand compliance with internationally recognised livestock disease control systems, animal welfare and livestock identification and traceability. Igad member states have found these a tough call. Identification and traceability requires that an exporting nation has a verifiable and reliable livestock identification and traceability system (LITS). In short, the nation should be able to identify all its livestock individually, keep a record of all of each animal’s encounters from birth to exit of the country and be able to trace back the history of the animal or its meat products at any time.
Igad member states, through the Igad Centre for Pastoral Areas and Livestock Development (ICPALD), have developed a mechanism to help countries in the region develop and establish LITS to kick-start or enhance the export trade for livestock and livestock products, particularly to the Middle East. The efforts have been going on for the last seven years.
This Monday, I participated in the 7th Igad meeting to review the progress member states have made in developing and implementing LITS. It was my fifth such meeting as a resource expert on LITS from the private sector.
All the countries except Djibouti attended and made their presentations. Ethiopia has made very impressive progress. She has established a digital LITS based on the internet. It is used to identify and trace back all export livestock and their meat products. This, in addition to their export slaughterhouse, has enabled the country to do flourishing live animal and meat trade with Middle Eastern countries. The system is called ETLITS.
Somalia, on the other hand, has established a manual LITS that has also enabled them to export meat and live animals to the same market as Ethiopia. Manual LITS is slow, tedious and prone to errors but it is acceptable.
Kenya had the ironical distinction of having carried out seven successful LITS trials since 2003 to date but none had been implemented. This denies livestock farmers access to enhanced earnings from their livestock.
The other four member states were at different early stages of establishing their LITS. The remarkable observation was that Ethiopia joined the LITS race long after Kenya but is reaping the benefits of a functional system. Kenya obviously needs to pull up her socks before another member state zooms past her.