A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

How many pictures of dead cattle does it take?

How many pictures of dead cattle does it take?

Kenya. Dadaab refugee camp.

Starving Somali’s are fleeing at a rate of some 1,000 a day.  At a makeshift cattle market in the middle of the refugee camp, herdsmen are trying to sell off what little livestock they have left.

But no-one wants to buy the cattle and goats on sale here, for the chances are that very soon they will be dead. There is nowhere for them to graze: the pastures are parched and arid, and it has barely rained for two years running.

Not far away, the landscape is littered with the carcasses of dead animals.

In this part of the world, livestock are everything: they represent a family’s entire assets, capital, savings and income. When the animals die, it frequently means the people die as well.

These are excerpts from a BBC article Horn of Africa drought: Vision of hell. Written one month ago. The picture is worse today. But it could have been an article from the drought two years ago. Or the drought before that. And the one before that.

We need to change this picture.

The pictures of starving cattle are all too familiar these days where the drought emergency response for the Horn of Africa dominates the news. These are also pictures familiar for all organizations involved in supporting people who are dependent on their livestock in the Horn of Africa. Organisations like ILRI – the International Livestock Research Institute. That is why we are passionate about our work: We not only want to save the most vulnerable members of these pastoral communities today, but also find long-term solutions to recurring drought in this region. Those solutions necessarily rely on an evidence base provided by scientists, particularly livestock researchers.

Our livestock research provides input to change the picture

Four recent research reports published by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya, assess the effectiveness of past drought interventions in Kenya’s northern drylands and offer tools for better management of the region’s drought cycles:

  1. Leeuw, Jan de; Ericksen, P.; Gitau, J.; Zwaagstra, L.; MacMillan, S. Jul 2011. ILRI research charts ways to better livestock-related drought interventions in Kenya’s drylands. ILRI Policy Brief.
  2. Johnson, N. and Wambile, A. (eds). 2011. The impacts of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMPII) on livelihoods and vulnerability in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya. ILRI Research Report 25. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.
  3. Ericksen, P., Leeuw, J. de and Quiros, C. 2010. Livestock drought management tool. Final report for project submitted by ILRI to the FAO Sub-Regional Emergency and Rehabilitation Officer for East and Central Africa 10 December 2010. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.
  4. Zwaagstra, L., Sharif, Z., Wambile, A., de Leeuw, J., Said, M.Y., Johnson, N., Njuki, J., Ericksen, P. and Herrero, M., 2010. An assessment of the response to the 2008 2009 drought in Kenya. A report to the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

In early 2010, ILRI scientists reviewed responses to Kenya’s 2008–2009 drought in six arid and semi-arid districts of the country. The authors reviewed 474 livestock-based interventions and came up with the following conclusions, recommendations and lessons regarding the drought management intervention cycle, among others:

The Early Warning Bulletins

Conclusion: To allow sufficient time to scale up livestock based interventions (..) have early warning based on indicators that precede the deterioration of livestock condition, such as rainfall estimates or the greenness of rangeland detected from satellite imagery.

Recommendation: Include separate early warning messages specifically geared towards triggering interventions aiming at livestock. Harmonize procedures used among districts for such a livestock early warning system.

Timing of interventions

Conclusion: The timing of several of the interventions, notably destocking, was too late while vaccination was implemented during an inappropriate phase of the drought management cycle.

Recommendation: Strengthen capacity to plan the implementation of each intervention type in view of the phase of the drought management cycle.

Interventions on water tankering and borehole support

Conclusion: Water tankering and support to boreholes were considered effective but repair to water infrastructure can be done in periods of reduced stress.

Recommendation: Maintain boreholes and other water infrastructure during periods of reduced stress in order to increase drought preparedness.

Interventions on destocking

Conclusion: An estimated 16,996 TLU [tropical livestock units] were purchased or slaughtered in response to the drought in the six study districts. This is higher than the 9,857 TLU were purchased in 2000/1 in 10 districts, but far below what would have been needed. Slaughter destocking interventions were considered more effective than commercial destocking

Recommendation: Make use of existing commercial livestock marketing infrastructure and on site slaughtering to destock during drought. To achieve optimal impact, initiate these interventions early on in the drought management cycle.

Interventions on animal health

Conclusion: Over 5.7 million animals were reached by health interventions between July 2008 and December 2009. De-worming was considered effective and appropriate, while vaccination was not.

Recommendation: Increase de-worming during drought as it keeps animals in better condition for longer. Restrict vaccination at middle or end drought as it might create mortality with animals in poor body condition

Interventions on forage and supplements

Conclusion: The provision of feed was far too little and poorly coordinated, overall it was considered among the least effective interventions. It is worthwhile to consider developing hay production and fodder markets locally.

Recommendation: Promote initiatives to develop local hay production, fodder markets and strategic fodder reserves.

Interventions on migration and peace-building

Conclusion: Peace building interventions were generally considered more effective than in the past; 30% more animals migrated in 2008/9 than in 2000/1. Disease problems reduced effectiveness, which suggests that interventions around these issues should be part of future migrations.

Recommendation: Access to disputed land as part of pastoral mobility remains paramount in their coping strategy and more effective means to support this are required. This includes the Government of Kenya’s commitment to play their role but specific interventions can be designed in the short and medium term to alleviate this problem as well.

Livelihood implications

Conclusion: Interventions that build on and support local livelihoods and link to longer term development are better than purely emergency ones.

Recommendation: Build on and strengthen rather than undermine local institution, livelihood strategies and coping strategies.

Community involvement

Conclusion: Despite recommendations from past assessments, few interventions involved the community in design or implementation. Those that did tended to have better outcomes than those that did not.

Recommendation: Involve communities before the drought in the design of drought contingency plans.

Triggering of interventions

Conclusion: As yet there are no agreed upon triggers for the release of contingency funds. Furthermore access to these funds is often delayed due treasury related constraints.

Recommendation: The drought contingency plans should be regularly updated and contain agreed upon quantitative triggers for the release of funds to implement interventions. Creation of a sufficiently endowed national drought contingency fund deserves the highest priority.

Climate change adaptation and drought interventions

Conclusion: There is a danger of duplicating efforts already implemented under the drought management strategy and it is advisable to implement climate change adaptation through these existing institutional arrangements.

Recommendation: Implement climate change adaptation policy through existing institutional mechanisms aiming at better drought cycle management.

Read more articles about livestock research in the Horn of Africa on the ILRI news blog.
Read more about ILRI research projects

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