Reclaiming Pastoral Dignity through Locally Led Legislation in Northern Kenya
This post was written by Vincent Ombaka, policy advisor to the Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity.
The region of Northern Kenya has a history of marginalization that dates back to the 1960s. In 1965, the first national development policy in Kenya (“Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya”) created two categories for regions in Kenya based on their high or low economic potentials. Northern Kenya fell into the low category. The Kenyan government viewed pastoralism, the region’s dominant form of farming, as short-sighted, favoring instead agricultural crop production and animal husbandry of exotic breeds. However, the arid climate of Northern Kenya makes droughts common and attempts to grow crops a losing battle.
When Kenya gained independence in 1963, the president made it a national priority to eradicate hunger, disease and poverty. The 1965 policy was the blueprint for achieving that priority. Policymakers at the time believed Kenya would experience better returns investing in high potential areas — the resources of which would then be shared equitably throughout the nation. Thus, the colonial legacy of relegating Northern Kenya to poverty and a low human development index continued, that is, until recent years when policies changed.
In 2010, Kenya established a new constitution to address the failure of governance that perpetrated systemic marginalization of Northern Kenya. This new constitution ensured that the needs of all local communities informed national policies by giving communities the power of self-governance and facilitating their influence over state decisions. In what is known as the “devolved system of government,” each county government has an executive arm called the county executive committee, and a legislative arm called the county assembly. These bodies are now developing policies that support their pastoral development priorities, notably the livestock sector for this region. Livestock markets comanagement is one such policy initiative.
Comanagement involves communities cooperating with county governments to promote livestock markets and share revenue. This model is a proven success in Northern Kenya, where livestock is a mainstay of the economy. Its benefits extend to the community through better managed market facilities and to the local government through improved revenues. In one county, evidence suggests that government revenue from livestock marketing could increase by up to 50% if the markets were properly managed.
The Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity, funded by USAID and implemented by ACDI/VOCA and partners promoting resilience and economic growth in Northern Kenya, is helping counties develop policy and legislative instruments that promote comanagement of livestock markets. So far, five county governments, including Turkana, Isiolo, Marsabit, Garissa and Wajir, have undertaken the policy initiative. These policy instruments include the Wajir County Livestock Marketing Bill 2022, the Garissa County Livestock Policy and the Turkana Livestock Sales Yard Bill.
Through this locally led development, counties are now working to reverse the historical injustice and reclaim the dignity of pastoralism as a resilient livestock production science. Pastoralists who use the livestock markets to sell their animals experience better returns, markets are attracting more people thanks to improved services and government revenue is growing. The high economic potential of pastoralism in Northern Kenya that was once ignored is now being realized.