Electronic tagging of livestock could prove a masterstroke in the fight against cattle rustling and set the stage for Kenya to resume beef exports to the European Union.
Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta allocated Sh200 million in the coming year’s budget to be used for the tagging in Northern Kenya, where periodical cattle raids have led to deaths, high insecurity and general under-development.
The practice of cattle rustling, which has cultural links, is a major catalyst of arms trafficking in Northern Kenya because every homestead must have a gun to protect its livestock from raiders, security experts said.
“It is very important to tag livestock even if not the whole heard, but the animals most likely to be stolen because of their health or size,” said Jan Kamenju, the director of Security Research Information Centre, a non-profit group.
Tagging will be done with an electronic chip that can be traced using a satellite system known as Global Positioning System, a space-based global navigation system that provides reliable location and time information in all weather, at all times, anywhere on Earth.
Currently, stolen animals are tracked by road and less often by air.
The new system will enable security officials to monitor movements of stolen livestock.
And the only way to identify the animals is through hot iron branding on their skins that is traditionally used in Northern Kenya.
The branding can, however, be altered using paint.
It is not, however, clear if he electronic chip will be used for the dual purpose of identifying the livestock and tracking them.
In identification, the electronic chip is inserted through the mouth with details such as the name of the owner, district of origin, a reference code relating to a particular breed of cow, country of birth, country of flattening, etc.
The chip will also help in the creation of disease free-zones, failure of which has seen the country lose its beef export quota of 400,000 tonnes per year to Botswana.
As a result, the marketing outlet for Kenya’s small scale beef cattle farmers has decreased tremendously, according to the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council.
With the use of traceable devices, carcasses in slaughter houses or even packaged meat found to be contaminated with livestock diseases will be traced back to the source.
Kenya has 12 million cattle, according to the most recent census, three million of which are dairy cattle.
The country has 18 million goats. Ninety per cent of beef cattle in the country are in the hands of subsistence farmers and pastoralists.
Mr Kenyatta also provided for additional 100 veterinary officers, 20 in each of the northern region districts and made available 180 vehicles to facilitate their movement.
Benson Ameda, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Livestock Technicians, said the minister should also have increased the number of livestock technicians because they are more involved in disease management and surveillance than veterinarians.
The government has about 400 veterinary doctors, most of them are administrators meaning that only about 100 are involved directly with the farmers.
“Veterinary doctors are essentially surgeons who deal with specialised referral cases,” said Mr Ameda.
“What livestock farmers require most are technicians who are involved directly in the management of livestock diseases and report special cases to the veterinary,” he added.
The country has about 8,000 livestock technicians, 1,500 work in the government most of them being meat inspectors.
The government stopped automatic employment of livestock technicians as a cost cutting measure more than a decade ago.