By Abdikarim Daud
The arid and semi-arid counties of Kenya have been facing a dry spell and severe vegetation deficits. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, Kenya is at position 13 of 233 countries at risk due to lack of rainfall.
Drought-related forage scarcity is the number one contributor to livestock mortality in Kenya. The country has the fourth largest livestock population in Africa. Accounting for about 12 per cent of the national GDP and 42 per cent of the agricultural GDP, the sector contributes significantly to the country’s economy.
Kenya’s projected 10 million pastoralists, or semi-nomadic herders, manage much of the country’s livestock. Over 70 per cent of the livestock population is based in the Asals — which are the main meat-producing regions in Kenya. This population experiences the lowest development indicators and highest incidence of poverty in the country. A malnutrition causal analysis carried out by Save the Children UK in 2007 came to the conclusion that pastoralist communities remain the most chronically food-insecure groups in the country, experiencing consistently high malnutrition rates that are habitually above international emergency thresholds.
The on-going drought has directly affected more than 1.3 million Kenyans and millions more are endangered. These families are at risk and may face serious levels of human suffering as a result of poor dietary and health conditions, loss of their livestock, and competing basic needs.
As in previous droughts, the story is developing along the same lines — the national and county governments have started responding to the emergency, with Sh5 billion dispersed from the national kitty for emergency response.
The National Drought Management Authority is also drawing funds from the Drought Contingency Fund, which is supported by the European Union for quick response action such as livestock off take programmes and provision of food rations to the affected households.
With the frequency and severity of droughts, is it feasible for the government to respond to emergencies at such a high cost? Is it not time we started thinking about reducing or even eliminating drought emergencies? What should we do? The answers to most of these questions lie in the activation of key policy frameworks that were developed by the former Ministry of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands.
One such framework is on ending drought emergencies and looks at a multi–sectoral approach to mitigating them. It brings out the role of all the stakeholders, especially the private sector, to catalyse innovations and a market-driven approach to the livestock industry. One such innovation is insuring livestock against such risks as drought. Through the Kenya Livestock Insurance Programme’s pilot project, the government has invested about Sh56 million as premiums to cover about 25,000 livestock units.
With a clear financial and operational sustainable model, both the national and county governments could take part in providing insurance for pastoralists to complement the efforts of insurance companies.
It is time for the government, and particularly the counties, to see livestock as a key economic pillar and create an enabling environment for private sector outlay. They should invest in structural support such as finishing and fattening areas, setting up regulatory frameworks for rangeland management, and link commerce and pastoralism through trade facilitation.