Policy mismatch, heavy levies hurt pastoralists

Nicholas Ngahu CEO Meat and Livestock Exporters Industry Council of Kenya.

Lack of government coordination and poor law enforcement continues to hurt pastoralists, a media workshop on food safety in Naivasha was told.

Currently, there are more than 20 pieces of legislation containing over 40 policies that have a bearing on the industry.

This lack of harmonisation has led to pastoralists missing out on opportunities to export beef and other livestock products to external markets especially the Middle East.

As a result, livestock breeders in countries far away from the Gulf such as South Africa, Namibia and even Brazil have easier access to the Middle Eastern market than those in Kenya.

Industry players are now calling for the harmonisation of all the legislative pieces that have a direct impact on the sector if the country is to satisfy the growing export market.

Export market

“Saudi Arabia requires 15 million goats for the annual Hajj alone, yet we cannot fill such demand without proper disease-free zones in the country. We also had an order for offal (matumbo) to Vietnam, but again we could not meet the demand. And why? Because nobody keeps proper count of the number of livestock in Kenya. Out of about 334 slaughterhouses, only four are licenced for export,” said Nicholas Ngahu, Chief Executive of the Meat and Livestock Exporters Industry Council of Kenya, KEMLEIC.

And owing to little government supervision within this industry, Kenya, once a net exporter of beef, continues to be a beef-deficit country.

Currently, meat deficit in the country stands at 300,000 metric tonnes, forcing Kenya to import meat from neighboring countries.

Studies show that Nairobi city requires a monthly supply of approximately 27,839 head of cattle, 71,555 sheep and goats, and 685 camels. Mombasa requires a monthly supply of about 8,178 head of cattle, 21,021 sheep and goats and 201 camels.

In contrast, Brazil took 13 years to come from a meat deficit country to an exporter of meat.

Meat deficit

“Kenyan meat used to garnish plates in UK and the rest of Europe. However, lack of government focus, little investments and failure to keep up with global trends has seen the country slide back to a meat-deficient country,” says Ngahu.

In addition to the disjointed policies, Ngahu says hefty fees levied both by the national and county governments have pastoralists holding the short end of the stick on the national market.

“A cow that sells for Sh18,000 in Garissa but will cost over Sh180,000 by the time it gets to the plate. There are just too many costs levied by government and counties to the pastoralist. All the additional costs will be charged to the end user,” says Ngahu.

According to the Kenya Markets Trust, the livestock trade in Kenya is dominated by middlemen with very few organised processors buying directly from livestock producers.

The scenario has led to a thriving informal livestock market where meat safety cannot be guaranteed. The market is also fragmented along income lines with the middle and low income segments accounting for the majority of meat consumers.

The lack of proper government oversight means some of the meat consumed locally comes from emaciated animals that cannot meet the basic standards of quality meat.

“Emaciated cows yield less meat and more bones. Those in poorer neighbourhoods pay more for such meat. Food security should also include the citizens’ right to eating meat from healthy animals,” says Dr John Wamahiu, livestock intervention specialist at Kenya Markets Trust.

According to Dr. Wamahiu, Kenya was in the frontline in developing the robust beef market in Namibia yet Kenya is still not a beef exporter to the United States.

“If we are not careful, we will end up losing an industry that took years to nurture. We hear that Boran cow is now registered in Southern Africa.  We need a model that scales up meat production with proper supervision just like the dairy products,” says Wamahiu.

He says we should not ignore an industry that contributes 15 per cent to the country’s GDP and employs 40 per cent of the labour force in the agricultural sector. The sector is the main source of livelihood to 90 per cent of the population in arid and semi-arid areas.

Industry players are hopeful that the tide will change once the Bachuma Livestock Multiplication Centre in Taita Taveta county becomes fully operational.

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