The Prime Minister Raila Odinga is organizing a governmental body which will help to ease the losses incurred by the Kenyan cattle keepers resulting from the long lasting droughts. The Premier through an article posted at KBC network, is rolling out what is termed as a major livestock off take exercise to cushion the farmers from loses accruing as a result of the prevailing dry spell.
Many districts including Samburu, Laikipia, East, and Laikipia North (Mukogodo) and North Eastern area as well as Kajiado have been suffering tremendously not only due to lack of rains but also due to lack of fair markets to sell their animals when dry seasons approaches.
The cattle keepers usually move from place to place in search of grass and water although movement is very limited due to lack of grazing lands. There is no hiding place when the god of destruction decides to discipline the cattle keepers with the power of drought! The pastoralists are fond of believing that it is the gods who are causing the climatic calamities and not the creation of our own. We cut down trees and over graze due to lack of grazing lands and increase in human population in certain areas.
Despite lack of grazing/farming fields, forest areas must be protected. The destruction of water catchment areas like Aberdare ranges, Mau forest and Mt Kenya forest and Mukogodo forest leads to longer and longer dry seasons. These areas should be every Kenyans pride to protect from any destruction since they provide us with better conditions for our survival.
Believing that the god of rain has abandoned them, some pastoralists decide to move while others with a few herds and without young men to migrate with the animals remain behind. Those who move will soon find their cows dying of transmittable disease interacted in the new grazing fields. Likewise, those who stay become cattle less.
A small number who have good contact with the neighboring settler ranchers would move their animals to better fields where they’ll be taken good care of by the settlers inside electrified fence. The rain gods knows why these little groups are able to befriend the land owners while the rest of the society is degenerating.
Cows can die along the Dol-dol-Nanyuki road while the grass is tall and fresh on the other side of the fence. In fact, I get the smell of the animal corpses along the dusty road, alongside Oloipangi (nyumpa tatu), as I write this, despite the 7000km distance!
Unlike the cattle keepers, the buyers measure their profit in terms of how much they make from buying and selling of the cows and not how many calves or so called “blessed/irmongi oomunyak”- bullocks are available in their herds. They know when to hit the market!
The Buyers carefully study the conditions of the cattle keepers by studying their grazing movements and availability of water in the area. They also know if they cattle keepers are receiving relief food or not. One would avoid selling their cows if they are given relief food.
During the rainy seasons, cattle are normally expensive but prices falls immediately at the beginning of the dry season. The cattle keepers normally rely on their animals for almost everything so they have not any other option for survival apart from selling their cows. When these cows die off, the lives of the cattle owners may soon follow since they are not insured neither do they have any governmental social security.
However, cattle keepers will eventually be forced to give-in and through away! What has been happening is that, buyers who normally come from other areas, stay at bay waiting until the cattle farmers are weakened by the dry season from which they’ll then attack therefore forcing cattle owners to sell their animals at a through away price.
The organized buyers will drive off with Lorries full of cows which are slaughtered at arrival in the nearest town. These tragedies reoccur annually while the government time to time steps in with food relief borrowed from other nations. Sometimes there are suppliers in the neighboring districts while pastoralist areas are under food handouts. This is mainly because pastoralists do not practice food growing, a situation which can actually be changed by sinking water boreholes introduced in those dry areas.
Since the 1980, I have seen our society reduced to a mere beggar society who plans their lives after the patterns and supply of relief foods. I am ashamed! Why should our decency be traded on a kilo of maize when we can change the situation? Why shouldn’t the government re-open the meat commission and prepare the society to meat calamities? What is it that we are lucking, knowledge or financial resources? Is there the Will to make changes or introduce good policies that work?
I know many families share my trauma! I have seen rich families including my own family throwing away “engudi” or the cane! The yardstick used by wealthy men to point out management strategies that will be followed by the family. They wouldn’t need the stick any more after the death of all their animals. They’d go bare hands as we say, like homeless men! It’s true the pastoral society consists of traumatized people due to the all the losses they incur every year as well as social cultural frustrations. I may not discuss this part at this time.
Indeed our customs dictates that we keep our cows as much as we can. The cow is our life! you would hear my daddy affirms! Cows are not to be sold “carelessly” Families would wait until the value of the cows depreciates. I can never forget how many cows my daddy lost in the 1984-87. We had almost 1oo heads of cattle and they all died apart from a single one which survived miraculously. Our 500 goats and sheep dropped one after until we had none. Our donkeys were the last to give up in 1988 just before the rains.
I always wonder what would have happened if my daddy sold all the animals and saved the money in Nanyuki commercial bank. I thing I would have attended a better school and my sisters would never have been circumcised and married off to unknown men. I think he would have been a happier man today? Thank God there was world food program and the Italians Roman Catholic Church who provided relief for us until the rains came but then, we had nothing to go back to.
I cannot imagine I just heard myself thanking God that there was relief food for us and the Roman Church to provide sponsorship for us only when we allowed its indoctrination! That we lived on relief being forced to follow directives to win favor from the food provider! L
As much as
the relief food is necessary and sometimes a necessity that can save lives, it’s the worst thing that can happen to people. It demoralized and hinders people’s self determination and robes the people from their pride and dignity. The Mukogodo societies have never recovered from those dry times and not unless something is done to help us change life style, we may not make it to the next generation.
These conditions is a result of cattle keepers not planning enough to avoid calamity not only to save money but also to ensure they can restock themselves once the rain seasons are back. The Plan to organize a reliable market can save the cattle farmers a great deal and improve on their economical condition. However, the government of Kenya is entitled to provide good adult/education for all its citizens in order to prevent the suffering of the people due to ignorance. I am sure the Premier’s plan is a promising step to begin with.
With good business administration skills combined with simplified meteorological statistical interpretations, farmers can fatten their animals and sell them at the beginning of the dry spell to avoid unnecessary deaths. Maasai for instance normally dislike selling their cattle but they are also getting to learn that the cow which is sold at a fair price is the one with full of blessings. Maasai regard colorful cows or cows with long horns as full of blessings therefore, they should not be sold at all cost because it brings blessings to the owner.
I want to belief that the PM means well with his plans to unveil relief supply and livestock off take exercise and I hope that there are more stable plans to improve the livelihood of the people apart from providing relief handouts. Subsequently, I can’t help Imagining selling my cow just before it dies, at a price of Ksh 8,000!
Isn’t it better than skinning it after it has fallen on the way to a distanced water hole? The Prime Minister’s plan to buy off cows regardless of the weight of the animals to help the farmers salvage part of the value of their stock raises mixed reactions in me.
I don’t want to think so, but selling a cow at ksh 8000 or 700 Swedish kroner reminds me of the same reap-off I have known from the invading buyers in Mukogodo. But then, what alternative do the cattle keepers have? It is a shame that Mukogodo or other cattle producing areas are not exporting meat and meat products.
In the picture above, Kenya’s Maasai Isaac Deka and his wife try to lift up one of their three exhausted cows clustered under a thorny acacia tree near the Rift Valley town of Kajiado, 75 km (47 miles) south of Kenyan capital Nairobi, March 25, 2009. REUTERS