Since arriving in Kenya I’ve begun looking at animals differently than I do at home. Here animals are their savings,rather than putting money in the bank, they get a return on investment from their animals in that they continue to grow, and produce by-products such as milk, meat and eggs as well as offspring. However, that return also comes with risks. Drought and animal diseases can either reduce their return through morbidity, or eliminate it by killing the animal. Overall, livestock act as a safety net for their owners, they are often only sold when there is an emergency or unplanned expenditure such as someone needing medical treatment in the family or to pay school fees.

We’ve just returned from Garissa, which is about 430 kilometers north east of Nairobi. To say the situation in Garissa is dire is an understatement. I’ve never seen more aid and NGO vehicles. Rains have been few and far between over the years, and a drought has plagued the area since last year. There are also several endemic livestock diseases that threaten the lives of the animals. The situation is further compounded by the insecurities resulting from the large influx of Somalians into Kenya (in fact the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab, is only 107 kilometers east of Garissa – the camp is said to be set to hold 80,000 however it currently has over 300,000 people and some are even waiting on the outside of the camp, over 1,000 Somalians are coming to the camp on a daily basis). Food prices are also up, and purchasing power is down.

During my time in Garissa I met with pastoralists, agrovets (small shops selling livestock and farm inputs), non-profits working in the region, and government officials to learn more about their current challenges. One morning we went to the livestock market and saw scenes we’d been hearing about, animals so weak they are left to die (as is the case for the cow in the picture above). Pastoralists walk far distances with their animals in order to sell them at the Garissa livestock market, which supplies 80% of Kenya’s beef. The current reality is that some pastoralists can’t sell all their animals and have to leave weak ones behind. So seeing scenes similar to the above picture is like seeing a stack of cash left on the ground by someone who can’t afford to take the loss. The situation is also so bad that even through Somalian refugees are coming into Kenya, pastoralists are going into Somalia with their animals because rains are supposed to arrive at the end of summer in that area, whereas the next wet season in Kenya isn’t until October.

From our meetings last week it is also evident that pastoralists and other livestock producers in the Garissa area have a low understanding of which drugs should be used to treat animals. Some even said they will find any injectable drug and use it with the hope of it aiding in sick animal’s recovery since they can’t passively watch their animals die. Besides educating pastoralists on the uses of different types of drugs, and which drugs are of high quality (a large number of illegal drugs, and essentially non-effective drugs, cross into Kenya on a regular basis). Development initiatives in the area are also working to introduce farming to pastoralists as another source of income, as well as change pastoralists practices so that they keep smaller sized herds of healthier animals.

In case you want to read more on the topic this article and video on NYTimes covers the current situation well, as does these articles from and the Huffington Post.

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