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Cattle dips: An echo from agriculture's golden age

Xn Iraki
 A lonely cattle dip in the white highlands. [Courtesy, XN Iraki]

Abandoned cattle dips caught my attention during my recent visit to the rural areas, specifically the former white highlands. Yet in the olden days, taking cattle to the dip was a time-honored tradition. Water in the dip was mixed with chemicals that kill ticks and other vectors.

I loved taking cattle to the dip over the holidays. It was fun, seeing the cattle jump into the water and swim out. It was my first encounter with Archimedes ‘principle and love for physics with later encounters with quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics.

It was at the cattle dip when local economic classes became noticeable through the number of cattle and their breeds. Even the clothes worn indicated your social economic class. What happened to these dips? Why were they abandoned? We also had sheep dips, used once a year after sheep were sheared off their wool. 

Most dips were run by cooperative societies. It seems as if these societies “died” so did the dips. They are victims of market liberalisation in the early 1990s. 

Remember (soko huru)? The death of cooperatives was one of the saddest episodes in Kenya’s economic history. Their death institutionalised poverty in the rural areas, now exploited by politicians in seeking votes. How come we never heard of bursaries when we were growing up?

The dips are a relic from agriculture’s past. Some of the dips were inherited from mzungus who run thriving enterprises in dairying. Remember KCCs (Kenya Cooperative Creameries)?

Wool was even exported, I hear to Australia, the wool country.  Mzungus made cheese and other dairy products like butter. After Uhuru, extension workers helped us to improve our herds, and our crops and keep the soil fertile, using less fertiliser. We made our own manure.

Today, agriculture has declined in the countryside. Cattle are now sprayed at home to keep the ticks off. Sheep are no longer taken to dips which were abandoned earlier before cattle dips. Farmers have no market for wool, sadly. And hides are thrown away.

The land has been subdivided into small pieces, leaving no space for cattle or sheep. Zero grazing, which we thought was for textbooks is now a fact. Some children have never seen a tractor. Agriculture makes the highest contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) but on the ground, it’s on decline.

That’s a matter of national concern. Cattle dips, isolated and abandoned are a sign that agriculture and dairying once had their golden age. Shall that age ever return in our lifetime? Will KCC and its competitors revive this sector that paid our school fees? Any memories of cattle dip? Share with us.

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