The photograph of a truck offloading hundreds of dead livestock at the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) yard in Athi River for burial in October 2009 captured the sad story of an otherwise noble government program that was grossly mismanaged by authorities.
The ambitious animal off-take program, intended to cushion livestock farmers from the ravages of drought had been simultaneously launched in eleven arid and semi arid districts by then President Mwai Kibaki and then Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a high profile function held at Loiyangalani in Marsabit county on August 18, 2009.
The program also entailed borehole drilling and the distribution of food and water to the affected families.
To ensure the program was successful, KMC personnel would be stationed in the affected areas to purchase the livestock at Sh8,000 per live animal, the president announced.
LACK OF FUNDS
Hardly two months later, the program was suspended with the ministry of Livestock that was overseeing its implementation citing lack of funds to purchase the animals.
Announcing the suspension, then Livestock minister Dr Mohammed Kuti, now Isiolo governor, blamed Treasury for the failure to release Sh200 million to finance it.
What he did not state was that the program had been hijacked by middlemen who were exploiting livestock farmers by buying their animals for as little as Sh500 and selling the same for Sh8,000 to KMC.
Then Livestock Permanent Secretary Ken Lusaka, currently Senate Speaker, gave a different explanation. According to Mr Lusaka, the program had not been suspended per se but had only been “staggered” to decongest the holding ground in Athi River.
Besides the middlemen who were exploiting livestock owners, the program also faced logistics problems moving the badly emaciated animals from the far flung arid and semi arid districts to the KMC holding yard.
This had seen an estimated 600 cattle die upon arrival at the holding ground in Athi River. The initial government plan had been to buy the animals from farmers, slaughter at least 10 per cent of them at the point of purchase and distribute the meat as relief food to local residents while transporting the rest to KMC.
The plan proved untenable when the animals died in their hundreds as they awaited slaughter.
This was despite a Sh98 million grant from the government to KMC meant for equipment repairs. The commission had reported frequent slaughterhouse breakdowns. Dr Kuti said KMC had been instructed to stop transporting cattle to Athi River to prevent the deaths.
Corruption had also creeped in, with some ministry officials being accused of manipulating the system to fleece the government of millions of shillings.
The officers had empowered middlemen who bought cattle from farmers at a throwaway price before selling them to KMC for Sh8,000 each.
As late as 2012, monies advanced to KMC by the government to fund the program could not be accounted for.
According to the Auditor General’s report of the Kenya Meat Commission for the year ended June 30, 2014, some Sh30 million meant to purchase the animals had vanished in thin air.
The report unearthed a scandal that Sh11.5 million and sh15.6 million was transferred from KMC’s account at First Community Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank in Kitengela respectively to a private bank account of a former managing commissioner.
Additionally, the KMC Company Secretary had, on December 18, 2012, made a cash withdrawal of Sh3 million from the commission’s KCB account in Kitengela purportedly to purchase animals.
“Although the management explained that the total amount of Sh30 million was used to purchase livestock, no documentary evidence was produced in support of the purchases. Further, no satisfactory explanation has been provided for the transfer of public funds to a personal account,” the report stated. In an interview with the Nation on Friday, Mr Lusaka downplayed reports that middlemen could have derailed the program.
“I cannot rule out the existence of middlemen but also remember that when those animals were being bought, they would be in a very bad state, some even died on the way. So it was very unlikely that the middlemen would buy them from herders at a throwaway price then sell them to KMC at an exorbitant price,” he stated.
CHANGE OF STRATEGY
He, however, called for a change of strategy to ensure all the animals bought by the government are slaughtered on the ground instead of transporting them all the way to Athi River.
“Going forward, I think there is need to change strategy. The way to go, in my opinion, is to buy the animals from the pastoralists then slaughter them on the ground and donate the meat as relief food,” he stated.
The government appears to have changed tact last year, introducing cash payouts to help pastoralists to purchase fodder during drought.
Vulnerable pastoralists in Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Tana River, Turkana and Wajir counties received Sh215 million payout under the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program targeting registered pastoralist households in the seven counties.