Livestock production has been and must continue to be one of the most important economic and social activities in Kenya. Millions of people depend directly or indirectly on livestock-based activities.
The role of livestock in Kenya is quite complex and extends beyond the traditional uses to supply meat and milk. Livestock is valued for one or several or all of the following: capital, credit, traction, milk, meat, hides, fuel and fertilizer. For families without land, livestock are primarily a means of increasing the family income. For the crop farmer the cattle and donkeys are primary sources of traction and power. In many societies the dung is used for fuel and to a lesser extent as fertilizer. For the pastoralists, especially in Northern Kenya and Maasailand, livestock is the most valuable as a capital resource and a source of credit. The government must take into account these varied roles, and must adapt its policy to specific local situations.
When the value of livestock in providing rural transportation, draught power for cultivation, manure for crop production and their ability to utilize non-arable land and the agricultural residues are added to the direct economic value of animal products, livestock accounts for about half the total agricultural production. Livestock also play a critical role in maintaining a cash flow for poor farmers who grow their crops essentially to provide food for their own household. Milk, meat and hides will always be obtained by those who can but to the farmer-producer these products represent opportunities for generating income.
Many technical and economic endeavors at national and local levels have attempted to increase animal production and animal productivity in Kenya but results in general have been paltry. Of the many explanations of this trend, perhaps the most pertinent is the lack of understanding by government of the importance of livestock going by the budgetary allocation to the livestock sub sector.
There are immense opportunities for sustainable livestock development but which have not been considered seriously in previous attempts to develop the livestock sector in the country.
As fuel prices increases one increasing role will be the use of livestock as sources of power in agriculture. This is already the case for many farmers in the country.
The other issue is that the principal livestock production system is extensive grazing by large ruminants, the result of which has mostly been the degradation of the environment. These systems have consolidated the position of the medium to large landowner/cattle rancher and, by so doing, minimized opportunities for the small-scale farmer.