how changing livestock markets could reduce conflict
More than nine million Kenyans are pastoralists out of a total population of 50 million. Together they hold livestock worth over US$1 billion. Livestock are their source of food, health and wealth.
But animal husbandry also causes conflict. In some Kenyan communities, clashes between farmers and herders are breaking out due to the rush for fodder, water and space. Farms are encroaching on the rangelands while cattle invade the farms.
These complex conflicts, steeped in history, respond to politics and culminate in droughts. The year 2021 has been particularly fragile.
State and non-state actors engage in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and reconciliation. What if they included livestock markets in peacebuilding? Could they mitigate conflicts between farmers and herders?
We believe they can.
We conducted research to understand how a different way of valuing livestock could contribute to peacebuilding. We conducted our research with cattle buyers in Kenya’s Kerio Valley, an area notorious for protracted communal conflict.
The mechanisms that influence livestock pricing in Kenya have been widely studied. In traditional price construction, livestock values are determined through ad hoc negotiations.
But there is another system: the use of quality-based payments. Here, the price of an animal is determined by its weight, breed and health. This systematic classification of animals is widely used in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
In our view, quality-based payments for livestock would trigger a virtuous circle. First, it would lead to high prices for livestock. This, in turn, could encourage pastoralists to reduce herd sizes, improve animal husbandry and increase the demand for fodder. The end result would be farmers producing fodder and trading meat, milk and manure with herders. More forage would reduce pressure on rangelands, improve animal health, reduce animal mortality during the dry season and stabilize prices.
In addition, improved power systems would lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
If co-designed with buyers and sellers of livestock, we argue that markets will create better feeding systems and that these, in turn, would meet multiple goals of income, stability, environmental health and climate safety.
The result, in our view, would be a reduction in conflict.
What it will take
Our paper outlines what needs to happen for Kenyan livestock markets to shift to quality-based payments. Our findings point to three levers that would enable a shift to quality-based payments.
First, livestock buyers need to behave commercially. For example, they should weigh animals to determine prices. Weighing also gives farmers a fair value for their animals. Weighing is acceptable for butchers. But not to brokers, who buy two or three animals to resell them to intermediary traders. They often use the lack of scales as an argument against quality-based payments.
There are also complex cultural resentments about weighing among ranchers. Farmers see price negotiations as part of their culture.
Similarly, traders also have a number of concerns, including the fact that weighing can expose their profit margins to herders. Traders are also concerned about the quality of the scales and the fact that they do not take into account offal which meat inspectors tend to condemn due to parasite infestation.
Our second major finding was that quality-based payments only work if there is proper pest and disease control and an improved transportation network.
Poor animal health affects the entire value chain. This is because sick animals are sold at every possible opportunity, prices are affected, and other animals are at risk of contracting diseases when infected animals are brought to market.
Above all, trekking undermines animal immunity and increases the risk of spreading infectious diseases. For example, cattle trek for three to four days and up to 200 km between primary and terminal markets. They are exhausted when they arrive at the market.
The use of quality-based payments would require improved veterinary and extension services for proper pest and disease control as well as better transport. Transport infrastructure should be improved to encourage trucks to reach major livestock markets. This would reduce animal trekking and related difficulties.
The third finding is that definitions of quality in the livestock trade need to be reframed. Cropping objectives often inform the standard definition of livestock quality. For example, the traditional consensus on the value of improved breeds leading to higher production and productivity is not necessarily important to the pastoral community.
Kenyan pastoralists prefer local breeds to improved breeds, arguing that large and heavy animals as well as those with long hooves cannot tolerate high temperatures or travel to remote pastures or to market.
Therefore, achieving quality-based payments for livestock in socially, economically and environmentally fragile drylands is conditional on agreement on a broader definition of livestock quality. This should capture the animal’s physical and health attributes, its tolerance for weather and hiking, and its purpose.
Markets alone will not resolve historical grievances, ethnic tensions, cattle rustling and land disputes. However, markets bring people together, provide space for conversation and build trust. Livestock markets could foster cooperation between parties to conflict, thereby improving social cohesion. Markets that pay for quality could open such a back door to peacebuilding.