Campaign helping to improve livestock farming in arid areas

A boy looking after their cattle at Katikit borehole in Tiaty, Baringo county [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Social Behaviour Change (SBC) tactics have successfully reduced maternal and child deaths in Kenya. Historically, pregnant women relied on traditional birth attendants and ignored calls for prenatal clinic visits, resulting in high maternal and child mortality blamed on preventable causes such as severe bleeding during birth. As a tested approach based on data, SBC promoted a change in knowledge, attitude, norms, and beliefs in the health sector, that ultimately led to positive behavioral change. There has been increased uptake of maternal and newborn care, immunization services, family planning, and HIV testing.

As an approach that analyses a problem to determine barriers and motivators to behavioural change, SBC's success has lured thematic areas outside the realm of health to embrace it. Promoting sustainable livelihoods and food security is one of the areas in the humanitarian world that is warming up to this approach. The livestock sector, for instance, is one area where the adoption of SBC campaign will be key.

The sector contributes 12 per cent of Kenya's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 42 per cent of the agricultural GDP. Seventy per cent of beef produced in the country comes from the ASAL region, primarily undertaken by pastoralists, hence the urgent call to equip pastoralists with the necessary knowledge and skills for better livestock-keeping practices.

In Northern Kenya, pastoralists need to adopt modern animal husbandry practices for higher yields to avert animal losses witnessed during dry spells and disease outbreaks. Against that backdrop, pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) have long engaged in livestock farming for cultural reasons and not commercial sustenance.

Secondly, despite being the primary source of beef and other livestock products, ASALs have lagged in terms of their economic contribution due to the dominant influence of cultural and social values over the need for sustainable economic gains. It partly explains why they continue to experience abject poverty and significant economic loss, especially during long drought spells.

While donor-funded projects have dwelt majorly on imparting technical expertise and strengthening systems of county governments in the ASAL regions, the efforts have not changed the fortunes of the livestock sector sufficiently. The main reason is the failure to address the socio-cultural issues that potentially improve the well-being of pastoralists.

Between January and July this year, the Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market System Activity (LMS), through the support of the United States Agency for International Development, undertook an SBC communication campaign in the counties of Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Wajir, and Turkana. The campaign vouched for the adoption of animal health services such as the use of vaccination and veterinary drugs, utilising high-quality feeds like hay, feeds, and mineral salts and marketing livestock and livestock products through aggregation channels such as producer groups. Others included handling, processing, and preserving livestock products and consuming animal source foods by pastoralists in the five counties.

With only six months of campaign implementation, a wind of change is blowing on the ground. Over a hundred county technical officers in the five counties have undergone various SBC training techniques for reinforcing key messages from media campaigns at the community and household level (including tips on the effective use of listening groups and other local platforms). The county officials and local change agents will be instrumental in sensitising the community disease reporters who link the county and the pastoralists. The campaign also served as a learning opportunity for implementing SBC health programmes. Social norms affect every facet of society, and livestock keeping, and pastoralism are at the core of community beliefs, practices, and attitudes.

Addressing the core problems averse to change is the beginning of a lasting change among beneficiaries of livestock and livelihood-related projects such as the LMS. Further, the campaign revealed structural and administrative barriers to adopting the desired behavior changes that had not been previously explored. The barrier analysis research revealed key insights entrenched in poor policies that impede the adoption of these behaviours. Counties have prioritised 'livestock' SBC calling for sound advocacy and policy change to support lasting behavioural change among pastoralists.

SBC communication activities are bound to exponentially produce lasting change that will lead to better livestock-keeping practices away from the cultural beliefs, norms, and traditions that influence how pastoralists in ASAL regions view their livestock and livestock keeping.

Better animal husbandry means healthier cattle and livestock products that will serve the local markets and meet international market standards. It will lead to secure livelihoods through increased income for pastoralists, especially at the household level, increased foreign exchange, and, most importantly, improved food security.

The campaign, conducted primarily via radio stations targeting pastoralist communities, has so far reached over 70,000 pastoralists.

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