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Leveraging diversification to strengthen market interactions and resilience of smallholder producers in Kenya’s drylands

The second phase of the FOSEMS project was designed to build on achievements made during implementation of the first phase (July 2010 to June 2013) while addressing emerging needs, chief among which was the need for empowerment of Youth and Women groups.

Other areas of interest were: construction and rehabilitation of dams as well as the supply of water tanks to schools, and introduction of short cycle livestock targeting the diversification of breeds to enhance market access and participation by the target groups, especially women and youth. Whether in big business or in rural ASALs, diversification is often a strategic alternative to managing risk, increasing revenues streams and overall market share. By their very nature, smallholder production systems are inherently diversified and integrated with both crop and livestock, especially short cycle livestock (poultry and goats) represented in varying degrees of integration.

Rural ASAL communities face a myriad of challenges, diversification is more an imperative than a choice. Erratic and unreliable rainfall patterns have led to short cropping seasons, frequent droughts that lead to increased incidence of crop failure on the one extreme or excess rains that cause flooding and bumper harvests on the other extreme. The uncertainty deriving from these two scenarios demand diversification of production systems and technologies to make the most of any eventuality.

FOSEMS Phase II was designed to enhance market participation by the smallholder producers of short cycle livestock. The focus in Phase I was the introduction of new and improved production technologies coupled with enhancing the skills and knowledge of target beneficiaries in improved management. Kenbro Chicken for egg production and Toggenburg goats for milk production were introduced during Phase I of FOSEMS. A market-needs assessment conducted at the beginning of Phase II confirmed the market intelligence gathered towards the end of Phase I. This pointed to the need for technology diversification as a means of enhancing market participation by the target beneficiaries.

Feedback from two main markets targeted for the poultry value chain, one for live birds and one for dressed meat (slaughtered chicken), painted a picture of a market in favour of indigenous chicken, commonly known as “Kienyeji Chicken” (Kienyejiis indigenous in Kiswahili). The changing eating habits of a growing and more affluent middle class has triggered demand for “wholesome” and “natural” foods including indigenous chicken.

The project identified the KALRO product that’s commonly referred to as KALRO Kienyeji chicken for promotion among the target beneficiaries. Some 2,000 improved Kienyeji chicks, at 21-days of age, were thus sourced from a local hatchery, licenced by KALRO for such services, and supplied to 17 groups in the two sub-counties of Makueni and Kibwezi West. These groups were organized around three hubs for collective marketing as well as the access of input services and products like vaccination services, quality and affordable feed as well as information on improved management.

Market diversification was also necessary in the case of goats. Phase I of the project had facilitated the introduction of the Toggenburg breed of goats for milk production and improvement of local breeds. A comprehensive training package to enhance management skills was also done to support the sustainable management of the improved breeds. The main benefits accruing to the target communities included faster maturity in goats, faster build-up of household assets, improved nutrition for children and people living with HIV/AIDS, increased income from sale of the cross-bred goats and enhanced resilience on account of diversity of genetic pool.

Phase II sought to address challenges identified towards the end of Phase I, chief among which was the risk of inbreeding. Twobuck (he-goat) stations were constructed and equipped with four pure-breed Toggenburg bucks: two bucks per station. The purpose of these buck stations was to increase access to the number of he-goats available for cross-breeding and improving local breeds while minimizing the risk of inbreeding.

Inbreeding occurs when mating of closely related animals (for example, parent and offspring, full brother and sister or half-brother and sister) occurs. Inbreeding leads to overall lowering of performance, poorer reproductive efficiency, higher mortality rates, lower growth rates and a higher frequency of hereditary defects. The introduction of Galla goats during Phase II of the FOSEMS Project was designed to address the need for goat meat and expanding market opportunities for the target beneficiaries involved in goat rearing in the target project implementation areas. The county government of Makueni through its livestock department was also engaged in promotion of the Galla goats thus offering an opportunity for synergies and long term sustainability of the intervention.

Galla goats, also known as Boran or Somali goats, are drought-tolerant and compensate for the loss in body condition through a high growth rate after a long spell. They produce more milk than other indigenous goats and are well adapted to the ASALs. Their high growth rate makes them ideal for rearing for meat production, as well as the improvement of indigenous breeds that are slower in growth and maturity. Some 31 Galla goats were sourced and supplied to 23 groups with each group receiving two goats, one male and one female, based on the preference of group members.

The balance of 15 goats required to complete the pairing (two goats per group) were all Toggenburgs that were sourced from the groups that received goats during Phase I. A comprehensive capacity building component was also delivered, as a package, to enhance management and husbandry, utilizing the community resource persons (community based animal health workers) who were trained during Phase I of the implementation.

Diversification of produce and products is expected to enhance the marketing experience for the target beneficiaries through alternative marketing channels and increase in the number of products that go to market. The beneficiaries have an option to develop goat meat value chains in addition to those of milk and goat kids (live animals), thereby improving their income generation avenues, increasing household asset base and overall resilience in the face of drought and other systemic and weather-related shocks.

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