The livestock sector contributes over 12 percent to the gross domestic product and half of the agricultural GDP with 10 million Kenyans in the arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) derive their livelihood largely from livestock.
The multi-billion-shilling sector has the potential to provide adequate supply of all animal products and by-products for domestic use and export. It is, therefore, strategic in reducing poverty levels, aiding in attainment of food security and contributing to economic growth, leading to achievement of Kenya Vision 2030 and the ‘Big Four Agenda’.
As we focus on the Big Four, particularly its agriculture pillar, it is critical to note that the livestock sector holds the potential of becoming the single-largest contributor to the GDP and the ultimate achievement of food security.
But that would require the government to establish reliable market infrastructure for livestock and livestock products and create an enabling environment to unlock the sector’s economic potential.
Kenya’s livestock and livestock products are largely uncompetitive for reasons such as prohibitive cost of production, high prevalence of transboundary animal diseases, and low quality of the produce owing to underutilisation of modern technologies and genetic advancements.
They also suffer unfair competition from the neighbouring countries due to illegal entry of animals and smuggling of animal products such as eggs, milk and meat through the porous borders. The main culprits are the Uganda and Tanzania borders.
Due to over-reliance on maize as the national staple, the cost of the cereal is higher in Kenya than elsewhere in the region. And since the grain is a key component in most animal feeds, their prices shoot up, rendering the cost of production for animals and animal products uncompetitively high.
That threatens the enterprises in the entire value chain and may eventually lead to closure and lack of incentives for producers and investors. The net effect is Kenya remaining a net importer of all animal products and lack of realisation of food and nutritional security.
To reverse the trend and avert the impending crisis, the government should consider all possible measures to significantly lower production costs, make the environment conducive for livestock value chain enterprises, devise an incentive system for the local livestock producers.
Over-reliance on maize should be avoided by supporting pastoral communities to expand and modernise their meat and milk storage technologies as well as use other traditional foods to cushion them from impact of drought in the Asals.
Interventions include zero-rating animal feeds and other inputs, animal genetic improvement, investment in livestock disease control to improve access to the international markets and guaranteeing safety of the food of animal origin.
Required is a master plan on revival and transformation of the sector to safeguard the millions of jobs and encourage producers to increase the quality and amount of produce.
Dr Kahariri is the national chairman, Kenya Veterinary Association. [email protected]