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Columnists

What ails the livestock sector in country?

As is the case in countries where the “livestock revolution” is taking place, the livestock sector in Kenya offers great opportunity for increased incomes for our farmers if they are able to tap into the rapidly rising demand for livestock products.

This rising demand is being fuelled by increasing human population, urbanisation, and change in people’s dietary habits in favour of livestock products.

The issue of commercial orientation is key in harnessing the potential embodied in the livestock sector to combat poverty and hunger among our communities.

Market orientation among livestock producers in Kenya varies across sub-sectors, regions and even farmers within the same sub-sector and region. In the dairy sector, surveys by the International Livestock Research Institute and partners show that while there are a significant number of dairy farmers who are very market oriented, others don’t even sell most of their milk.

Likewise, among small poultry producers raising commercial eggs or broilers, market orientation is very high – backyard chicken producers on the other hand much less so.

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The operating environment for livestock producers in Kenya is characterised by high risks associated with issues including lack of access to important support services such as extension, animal health services and market information.

The industry also faces the danger of frequent droughts and livestock disease outbreaks thanks to climate change as well as low access to markets due to lack of infrastructure and insecurity.

Changing this scenario requires investment. Besides infrastructure development, support services including extension and animal health services should be improved, especially in the counties.

Counties in arid and semi-arid areas, where livestock is the economic mainstay, budget allotments to the industry are as low as two per cent in some cases despite Kenya being a signatory to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, which aims to push national budgetary allocations to agriculture in Africa at a minimum 10 per cent.

Frequent droughts and disease outbreaks pose serious risks to the livelihoods of livestock producers and their animals.

In the cases of feeds, the challenge is that fodder production in Kenya is predominantly rain fed and many famers do not conserve feeds.

Financial liquidity is also often a challenge especially among small-scale livestock farmers. There are, however, a number technical options and innovations that could be instituted to counter this.

These include fodder conservation technologies such as hay and silage making.

Wanyoike works at the International Livestock Research Institute.

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