Kenya moves to expand its livestock sector

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Rising domestic demand for meat and dairy products is driving expansion in Kenya’s livestock industry, prompting the government to commission a new sector policy.

Drafting new policy

On June 6 the Kenyan government announced a new two-year project with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to draft a sustainable livestock policy that can help the country meet growing demand and strengthen its food security.

The aim is to craft livestock policies through to 2050, accounting for factors such as climate change, frequent droughts and floods, epidemics and epizootics, and conflicts over land and water use.

Boosting capacity in the livestock sector would both enhance food security and increase the sector’s already-significant contribution to the economy, according to Willy Bett, Cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.

“The livestock sector contributes 12% of the country’s GDP and 40% to the agricultural sector,” he said at the project launch.

Drivers and bottlenecks

Growth in the livestock sector is expected to be driven in large part from broader demographic and income changes. By mid-century, Kenya’s population is set to more than double from around 46m to 96m, according to FAO estimates, with the urbanisation rate increasing from 26% to 44%.

As disposable incomes rise alongside population growth in the coming decades, consumption of meat and milk is forecast to expand by 170%, the FAO’s representative in Kenya, Gabriel Rugalema, told local media.

“The country will have to invest adequate resources in the livestock subsector to enable production of high-value food products to feed the growing population,” he said.

However, this presents obstacles as well, with resources posing a potential constraint. Perhaps the greatest challenge to sector expansion will be water: initial studies show at least 650m litres per year will be required by 2050 to supply the expanded animal stocks, up from 250m litres at present.

Agriculture under pressure

The new project comes at a time when Kenya’s agriculture sector is under pressure from drought and pests.

Two consecutive seasons of low rainfall have affected crop production and livestock, leaving some 2.7m Kenyans without food security, the FAO said last month. Shortages of water and forage, it said, have left livestock in northern and eastern Kenya in poorer health, causing record-low milk yields and above-average rates of herd mortality.

The resulting fall in agricultural output could cut as much as 0.5% from the country’s projected GDP growth this year, according to the Treasury secretary, Henry Rotich.

Present estimates put GDP growth at 5.7% this year, down from earlier forecasts of up to 6%, but if the effects of the drought persist, he told press on June 7, the figure could be revised down further, to 5.5%.

Other institutions have already lowered their forecasts, with the IMF predicting growth of 5.3% and the World Bank 5.5%.

Food security is being further hampered by an infestation of “fall armyworms” that is spreading and affecting swathes of the country. These caterpillars feed on some 80 different plant species and are particularly damaging to grain crops.

The infestation has now spread to a number of counties, with the prime grain-growing North Rift region among the hardest hit areas, where its has affected more than 200,000 ha of agricultural land.

While the government has allocated KSh300m ($2.9m) to combat the pest, crop losses are expected to be severe, compounding the effects of the drought.

Lowering barriers

Shortages of some key staples have prompted the government to waive import duties on products such as sugar and milk powder, while also enacting subsidies on maize and removing maize flour from the list of products subject to value-added tax.

The higher costs caused by such shortages were a major factor in pushing inflation to five-year highs in May, when the consumer price index hit 11.7%, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Food inflation, it said, had reached 21.5% on a year earlier, due to increases in the prices of maize, sugar, milk and other food products.

Stronger rainfall in late April and May should boost crop production in the second half of this year and make more fodder available for grazing. In the longer term, however, the sector’s recovery may be driven by the policy shift towards a bigger and more sustainable livestock sector.

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