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How cartels are fuelling livestock theft in Nyandarua

Saturday June 08 2019
Cows

Cows believed to have been stolen are pictured in a vehicle that was stopped by police at Chaka along Nyeri-Nanyuki highway on June 11, 2018. Security officials and residents say cartels are behind the rampant cases of livestock theft in Nyandarua County. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By WAIKWA MAINA

Security lapses on highways, improper livestock housing, lack of a market and Nyandarua County's proximity to escape routes have made it an easy target for theft of the animals.

Security agents have established that three well-coordinated cartels are behind the theft of hundreds of the best quality dairy cows in the area.

One cartel that operates from Nairobi deals with meat from stolen animals while another in Rift Valley, but with connections in Nyanza and Western, specialises in dairy.

The third one spies and coordinates the theft from within. The local cartel also steals animals for local markets, both for slaughter and sale to unsuspecting dairy farmers.

VICTIMS

Last Sunday night, Mr Charles Ngigi lost two dairy cows valued at Sh300,000. They were stolen and slaughtered a short distance from his home.

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Mr Ngigi said the thieves initially took four cows but two were saved due to the timely intervention of neighbours and police, after he and his wife raised the alarm during the 2am incident.

“They drove towards Nairobi with the meat. The other two cows were tethered a short distance from the scene of the slaughter."

In another incident, farmer David Kuria lost 10 cows valued at Sh2.2 million but they were later found in Kisii but the culprits escaped.

A day before Mr Kuria lost his animals, his neighbour Mr Wambugu Kanuri's three pregnant dairy cows were slaughtered meters from his house.

On the same night, a farmer from Murungaru in Kinangop lost three dairy cows, according to Njabini Sub-county Police Commander Charles Rotich.

A dairy farmer from Ol Kalou lost 15 cows that were later slaughtered in Kinangop constituency and the meat transported to other locations.

INFORMERS

Police and the victims believe the cartels have reliable informers, well conversant with security operations.

The informers alert the thugs of impending arrest, police raids and traps.

Mirangine Deputy County Commissioner Omar Ali said, "It's these informers and spies who scout and direct the thieves on homes to raid, giving police sleepless nights"

“It’s an elaborate network and they are many. They have spies ... but we are trained to do this job ... they will never defeat us. We know how they operate and have gathered very reliable intelligence. Their days are numbered ...we have started dismantling the cartels."

Following the Kisii incident, Mr Ali wondered how the thieves received information that police were heading to the scene.

“Their plan was to steal more cows, five of the cows were tethered, ready for loading into a truck. Someone must have informed them that we were on the way,” he said.

One of the suspects, whom police said drove the lorry with the cows from Nyandarua, was arrested as he escaped from Nyatieko village and headed towards Nyambera.

Nyandarua Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Erick Ochieng, who led the operation, also believes the suspect had information about the police operation.

“He was driving at very high speed. He refused to stop when signalled by police so we had to shoot at the car,” he said.

CORRUPT POLICE

Mr Kuria blamed corrupt police officers at the highways from Nakuru to Western and Nyanza regions.

The cows were recovered by a contingent of police officers from Nyandarua, who followed the truck to Kisii.

They were assisted by two Administration Police officers from Nyatieko AP Camp and Kisii County officials manning the markets.

The farmer said, “There are many police roadblocks along the highway; the private escort car was clearing the roadblocks for the truck.

"That is why the thugs got that far without a livestock movement permit. But I thank the Nyandarua security team for pursuing the cows to Kisii. God bless them for the good work."

EASY TARGET

Nyandarua Agriculture Chief Officer Daniel Gikaara noted that permits are only issued by the veterinary department and that none was issued for the 11cows.

“Nyandarua has also become an easy target due to having the best quality livestock. We are number two in milk production in Kenya from Kiambu," Mr Gikaara explained.

"But unlike Kiambu farmers, who have better housing and permanent houses for their cows, Nyandarua farmers are yet to embrace this type of construction."

Mr Gikaara further said dairy farming was becoming a more reliable venture compared to cash crop farming.

He also highlighted the issue of pricing, saying there was a shortage of quality dairy cow breeders, with a pedigree selling at Sh200,000.

BLACK MARKET

But at the black market, the cows are sold at throw-away prices; the DCIO said two of the 10 cows found in Kisii were sold at Sh50,000 each.

Nyandarua Central Deputy County Commissioner Gideon Oyagi said theft cases increased in the last three months as tens were reported to police.

“We advise farmers to construct secure housing for their livestock. In all cases, we have found that the animals slept in open fields far from homesteads that have no proper fencing,” said Mr Oyagi.

Mr George Rugene, a butcher in Ol Kalou town, said, “Dairy cows in Kiambu are very expensive and majority of the farmers are unwilling to sell their stock due to better milk prices."

He added, "Tens of buyers and brokers visit Nyandarua scout for the best quality dairy cows so it is impossible to distinguish genuine buyers and spies."

Mr Kenneth Wachira, who was the Ol Kalou Dairy General Manager in 2016, said milk prices in Kiambu are always higher due its nearness to Nairobi.

“You will find that when farmers in other areas are paid Sh35 per kilo of milk, those in Kiambu are paid Sh38. Dairy farming is a serious business in Kiambu so farmers would not easily part with their livestock,” said Mr Wachira.

MANY VISITORS

Some residents have blamed the high number of visitors from other counties, who seek to buy the animals at lower prices.

Mr Oyagi said spies could be among the visitors.

The Nyandarua Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government officials has ordered the vetting of all visitors by the DCI.

In May, security agents lead by County Commissioner Boaz Cherutich raided a home at Kioneki village, Kinangop Sub-county, to stop the operation of an unlicensed slaughterhouse.

Two suspects were arrested and livestock hides, tails, hooves, and tonnes of uninspected meat ready for transportation found.

“We have arrested a good number of suspects, which is positive progress. We are not going to relent, we have intensified day and night police patrols,” said Mr Cherutich.

Nominated Member of County Assembly Kariuki Waithira said lack of a livestock market was contributing to the theft.

“The county should urgently construct a livestock market. We want a central place where animals can be sold and where it will also be easier to identify stolen animals," he said.

"Strangers visiting rural homes claiming to look for animals to buy will have no excuse to go there."

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