NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) – As President Uhuru Kenyatta gave the 2019 Kenya’s State of the Nation Address, he failed to acknowledge a fact that some pastoralist communities were starving due to tough climatic conditions, and also he did not talk about any kind of future intervention to protect livestock in those counties.
Despite the little attention it gets, the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) reports that the livestock sub-sector contributes over 30 percent of the farm-gate value of agricultural commodities, about 10 percent of the national GDP and at least 50 percent of the agricultural GDP, thereby employing about 50 percent of the total agricultural labour force.
Indeed, the Kenyan president has put food and nutrition security as part of the Big4 Agenda. However, this may not come to pass if nearly all the investment is to be directed to crop production without investing substantially in livestock, especially among pastoral communities who bear the brunt of climate change.
Livestock remains the main source of livelihoods for millions of residents in Arid and Semi Arid Land (Asal) communities. These communities feed the 6 million Nairobians with meat every day, whether at the household level or nyama choma in thousands of social joints sprawling across the city and its environs.
It therefore means that if the sub-sector was given just a little attention to make it climate smart, and to ensure proper control of emerging pests and diseases, then nobody will die of hunger within the pastoral communities, and the country will possibly earn billions every year from the export market.
There are a number of climate smart techniques, of which, if scaled up especially at the county level, then starvation in pastoral communities will become a thing of the past.
First, pastoralists need not to rare cattle, but instead, they should be producing cattle. However, this can only happen if county governments or private investors invested in feedlots or feed yard, which is a type of animal feeding operation that is used in intensive animal farming for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, but also swine, horses, sheep, turkeys, chickens or ducks, prior to slaughter.
In feedlots, the animals are not given grass. They are fed on dry protein rich feeds often made of sunflower cakes, barley, soybeans, dried Lucerne grass among others, and water.
One acre feedlot for example, can accommodate up to 500 mature cattle, and all of them can be served by two or three people. With protein rich feeds, an animal that was received with say 200 Kilogrammes can easily double it to 400 or even 450 Kilogrammes in just 90 days, depending on its genetic make-up.
With this system, pastoralists can now concentrate on keeping animals that can produce calves to be sold to feedlots at an early stage for finishing instead of raring them, then losing them to drought thereafter. This will reduce the population of animals in the rangelands, thereby availing enough pastures for the remaining productive animals.
Botwana is one of the African countries that have tried this climate smart livestock keeping technique, and today, the country’s livestock production accounts for 80 percent of the agricultural sector’s output.
Kenya can do even better because we have 23 Asal counties, which constitute about 88 percent of the country’s land mass. These counties are predominantly pastoral with very limited or sometimes no crop farming.
Once such feedlot structures are in place, it will become easier for county governments to invest in improved genetics of fast maturing livestock for quick income generation.
Another way of doing it is by investment in conservational utilization of pastures, where rangelands and ranches are subdivided, to allow grazing in one area, while others regenerate.
As well, instead of waiting until it is too late, it is also possible to invest in commercial feeds to supplement pastures in the rangelands. Experts have always said that in case of droughts, intervention at the livestock level before they start dying is always cheaper than giving food aid to already malnourished population, whose animals are already dead.
So, when we talk of climate smart agriculture, we should also think of climate smart pastoralism.
Isaiah Esipisu is the Continental Coordinator – PAMACC