Vet on call: Beyond the juicy meat is unexplored business

Wednesday March 18 2020
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A trader prepares roast meat in Kikopey. Meat producers, and county and national government leaders should recognise the meat deficit in the country and device ways of exploiting the opportunity to enhance production. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Beyond the juicy and tasty appeal of meat that draws Kenyans in droves to nyama choma joints lies a formidable economic empowerment path for millions of people in the country.

This is the message that researchers from the Kenya Market Trust would like meat producers, traders and county and national leaders to seriously consider.

Today, I pen the last of my four selected articles highlighting results of some key studies presented at the Kenya Veterinary Association Annual Scientific Conference held last month.

The study was carried out to demonstrate how Kenya could use meats of various conventional slaughter animals to attain food security and also transform the livelihoods of her communities.

Before wading into the intriguing world of the meat value chain, I will share some known facts on meat. There is no doubt that livestock plays an important role in the country’s economy.

It contributes about 12 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 42 per cent of the agriculture GDP.

Pastoralism is the largest livestock activity in the country. It is practised in the arid and semi-arid lands, which cover 80 per cent of the country’s land area and hosts 70 per cent of the nation’s livestock, mainly beef cattle, sheep, goats and camels.

It is estimated that there are 11 million pastoralists owning livestock. In 2009, Kenya’s livestock resources were valued at Sh420 billion. One would then ask why livestock farmers in pastoral areas are still some of the poorest Kenyans.

The answer lies in the underdevelopment of the meat value chain which results in huge losses to farmers.

The livestock sector is fragmented, inefficient and adds insignificant value to its primary product - raw meat.

In this era, 86 per cent of all the meat in the country is traded informally. There is a lot of production wastage because about half of all beef animals born die before being sold for meat.

Only 2 per cent of all the meat traded undergoes cold chain processing such as freezing and storage. The rest is traded as hot meat.


Kenya is estimated to have an annual beef deficit of 300 metric tonnes equivalent to 1.5 million cattle of 400kg each.

One would wonder why they do not encounter meat shortages but then, there is no system of recording unmet demand.

Further, some of the deficit is bridged through importation of meat and animals on hoof. Kenya gets live animals formally and informally from Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan.

More livestock comes from Ethiopia and Somalia. The country could earn about Sh24 billion annually if large-scale processing of hides, skins and the internal organs is done and the value-added products traded.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates 63 per cent of Kenya’s beef, mutton and chevon is produced in pastoral areas and ranches.

Chevon is the term used for adult goat meat. Imported pastoral cattle contributes 22 per cent of Kenyan meat while dairy cull cows and bulls produce 15 per cent.

In Kenya, beef is the most highly consumed type of meat at about 70 per cent followed by chicken at 15 per cent.

Fish, mutton, chevon, pork and camel are all consumed by less than 10 per cent of the population. The country consumes 600,000 tonnes of red meat from cattle, sheep, goat and camel annually, equivalent to three million head of cattle weighing 400kg live weight each. It is estimated that each Kenyan eats 15-16kg of red meat per year.

The Kenya Market Trust researchers found that the low income segment of the Kenyan population consume 68 per cent of all the red meat sold in the country.

The middle income group 27 per cent while the high income earners only 5 per cent of the meat.

High and medium income people tend to balance their meat consumption between beef and white meat at between 20 and 29 per cent each.

They ate chevon at 17 per cent and 23 per cent and only little of pork and fish. On the contrary, 51 per cent of low income consumers preferred eating beef, fish 19 per cent, chevon 14 per cent and chicken 11 per cent. Like the other two income categories, they only ate a little of pork and mutton.


High and middle income consumers were more likely to buy meat that they considered safe for their health taking into account the quantity and type of meat while low income earners first considered the price of the meat.

Middle income earners also had price as their second most important consideration when making the choice of meat to buy.

High income earners, on the other hand, rated the origin of the animal as their second most influencing factor when choosing the meat to buy.

All the income categories treated religious and cultural factors equally in their choice for meat. The low-income group did not mind much about how the meat animal was reared before slaughter.

In general, consumers in all the income categories preferred to buy meat in the residential estate butchery but were more pronounced in the low income category.

They found the butcheries convenient and accessible. All the categories were emphatic on cleanliness of both the butchery premises and the attendants.

The results of this study and the already known facts about meat production and consumption in Kenya demonstrate there is enormous opportunity to transform the livestock sector into a high value industry.

The fact that most meat is consumed in the low income segment of the population means that more investment comprising of meat shops of acceptable standards with cold storage facilities is needed to serve the hygiene-conscious consumers.

Such developments would result in higher meat consumption, increased earnings and employment.

The lack of concern among all the groups in the way animals were raised before slaughter is worrying because it means that consumers do not associate the quality of meat with production practices.

Consumers should know that it is important to identify and know where animals came from and how they were raised to vouch for the quality of the meat and the health status of the meat.

Meat producers, county and national government leaders should recognise the meat deficit in the country and device ways of exploiting the opportunity to enhance production.

This can be done by scaling up existing production and establishing new producers.