After KMC, fix the broken livestock value chain

In Summary

•Despite the huge economic potential, the local meat industry remains highly fragmented across the key value chain components -  sourcing, slaughtering, processing and marketing.  

•According to the Kenya Markets Trust, an NGO working to improve farmers’ livelihoods, the domestic livestock market is largely informal, controlled by middlemen and lacking large-scale processing capacity.

An employee at the Kenya Meat Commission factory in Athi River, Machakos county.
An employee at the Kenya Meat Commission factory in Athi River, Machakos county.
Image: FILE

Meat is big business in Kenya. Research indicates rising incomes, rapid urbanization and changing diet are the main factors driving increased meat consumption in the country.

Available data shows Kenyans consume 15 -20 kilos of meat per person annually translating to 600,000 metric tonnes of which eighty per cent is beef.   

Yet, Kenya has an annual deficit of 300,000 tonnes of meat signifying considerable headroom for expansion of the livestock industry, comprising roughly half of total agriculture sector output or 10 per cent of national GDP.

Despite the huge economic potential, the local meat industry remains highly fragmented across the key value chain components -  sourcing, slaughtering, processing and marketing.  

According to the Kenya Markets Trust, an NGO working to improve farmers’ livelihoods, the domestic livestock market is largely informal, controlled by middlemen and lacking large-scale processing capacity. Other challenges are low value addition, poor meat handling practices, drought and climate change.

Red meat accounts for 90 percent of livestock sub-sector productivity hence the need to prioritize this important value chain.   

Notably, the ongoing reorganization of Kenya Meat Commission (KMC), the country’s largest meat processor, is a step in the right direction. Now under the Ministry of Defence, KMC has managed to clear a backlog of debt to livestock farmers, a welcome turnaround given its chequered history of corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude. Reforming KMC is however only the beginning. There is need to rejuvenate and rework the entire livestock value chain to benefit small-scale livestock producers.

Focus should be on strengthening and democratising market access and multiplying value addition opportunities. Three things ought to happen.  

First, is to create strong linkages to the domestic and international markets. Kenya is a meat deficient country meaning there is huge demand for the commodity in the local market.

Currently, exports constitute only one per cent of the meat produced locally, revealing a vast untapped market out there. To be globally competitive, however, local livestock produce must meet stringent international food safety standards and be disease free. Creating Disease Free Zones and strengthening veterinary services will help improve standards.

A livestock quarantine program introduced by the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) last year seeks to improve the quality of cattle destined for export markets by fattening them for 18 months besides underdoing rigorous physical and clinical monitoring thus increasing their value.

The second thing is encouraging value addition at the local level. While it may not be financial and economically feasible to build an abattoir in every county, some aspects of value addition can be undertaken locally.

For instance, some of the meat produced at the county level can be processed into minced meat, steaks and other cold meat products for sale in the domestic and international markets thus creating more jobs and business opportunities in value creation.

Investing in cold storage facilities would encourage local processing and a shift to cold chain meat production. Lack of refrigeration means meat has to be consumed on the same day it is slaughtered hence the proliferation of nyama choma and the ‘hot meat’ business which involves very little value addition.  

Third is improving security in livestock producing regions especially ASALs. Rampant cattle rustling and banditry linked to proliferation of illegal firearms have fuelled the illicit trade in livestock which includes cattle smuggled from neighboring countries.

Cattle theft has evolved into a deadly organised crime with debilitating impact on marginalized communities for whom livestock is the economic lifeline. The reforms undertaken at KMC, the ongoing crackdown on cattle rustling and mop-up of illegal weapons will hopefully eradicate this vice.

However, this also requires immense political goodwill. Politicians and influential people are reportedly involved in cattle rustling or are beneficiaries of the illicit trade in stolen livestock.

Decentralizing value addition activities is another way of curbing trade in stolen cattle which are normally transported long distances to conceal their origin and then sold to meat processors and unsuspecting buyers.  In this regard, Counties have a role in facilitating and enabling the growth of the industry with the right policies and infrastructure.

Since they produce 80 per cent of the beef consumed in Kenya, ASAL counties stand to gain immensely from creating the right environment for beef value chains to thrive.

On their part, livestock farmers should be encouraged to take simple measures like insuring their animals against drought and other risks so as to avoid total loss of stock.

That way, the wealth generated in the lucrative meat business will trickle down into the pockets of small-scale livestock producers.

Choto is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. [email protected]