Nairobi; Kenya: Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Chairman Ng’eny Biwott’s recent offer of interest-free loans to livestock farmers in arid and semi-arid areas of Baringo, Laikipia, Samburu, Turkana and Isiolo counties has the potential of changing the entire industry and ending poverty and dependency.
This can of course only happen if leaders take up the offer by appointing extension officers to work with wananchi on the ground. These officers will have their work cut out for them in their engagement with people at the grassroots.
Though it may not be easy, it is attainable. What is promising is that both the national and county governments are aware of the daunting task and what should be prioritised to make these areas self-sufficient in food production, as well as contribute towards national development.
The scourge of insecurity and cattle rustling that has afflicted the region for decades have to be dealt with decisively once and for all.
Baringo Senator Gideon Moi is aware of this as evidenced in his call last week for unity to end cattle rustling and insecurity. This, as the senator noted, could be instrumental in dealing a deathblow to the risky existence in the area and foster peace.
The senator note that, “We have to lead from the front. It is why I am calling on all the leaders from the region to come together and advise our people on the importance of maintaining peace. Violence is suppressing development and it is high time things changed.”
The national government’s decision to spend Sh400 million in building 81 water pans in these areas could have given new impetus to the campaign for peace and focus on income-generating initiatives to eradicate poverty.
MODERN VETERINARY SERVICES
The multi-million shilling project is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Devolution and Planning in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
Already, 26 water pans in Turkana, Samburu, Baringo, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties have been built. But provision of water alone is not enough.
This commendable effort should be accompanied by the adoption of modern veterinary services to uplift and improve the livelihood of the poor pastoralists. The expectation is that county authorities will build schools and health centres near the water pans, and the people encouraged to settle in these areas and adopt crop production.
The ultimate objective would be to break the cycle of poverty and misery that bedevils pastoralists, whose flocks ironically are worth millions of shillings.
Just as the national government benchmarks against good practices in other countries, the county governments should also make reference to successful case studies in other counties if they are to achieve their objectives.
Politically, such achievements come with the promise of reelection.
Murang’a County for instance has set an exemplary standard, by focusing on the dairy industry as one of its key economic drivers for wealth creation. By introducing subsidised artificial insemination services and prequalifying milk buyers, the county is empowering farmers to get the best out of their livestock, by improving the quality of cows as well as the price of their products. This is a model that can be adopted by other counties.
The prequlaification will largely preclude raw milk vendors from the market, in addition to curbing the common tendency by bulk customers to exploit dairy farmers by arbitrarily offering low prices.
The outcome is that there will be an element of market predictability, which can spur investment in the industry. The multiplier effect is staggering and other counties should make an effort to borrow a leaf from Murang’a.
Access to markets
The arid and semi-arid regions could particularly benefit from the Murang’a model to improve the quality of their livestock, even if beef production is their economic mainstay. Diversifying into milk production in these areas can also help in further securing their economic status.
According to experts, livestock improvement programmes would cost less and cumulatively yield more than the uncoordinated manner in which some counties have opted to build abattoirs in the region. While there is nothing wrong in putting up abattoirs, it is advisable that such projects be implemented only after establishing market demand and putting other infrastructure like all-weather roads in place; otherwise the beef may end up costing even more than anticipated.
To his credit, Mr Biwott foresaw this important phase in the agribusiness supply chain when he promised that KCB would help farmers find local and export markets for their beef.
Economists are in agreement that banks and other financial institutions have the capacity to unlock the country’s agricultural potential by coming to the aid of pastoralists to access markets.
This is because all businesses thrive or fail depending on market accessibility. That is besides the fact that lending institutions are best-placed to understand market dynamics.
By deciding to market their customers’ products, the banks would also benefit, not only through increased goodwill of loyal customers, but by enriching the jobs and consequently boosting the morale of their employees as well.