Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (3) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Trend analysis of herd composition and its trade implication in Borena, southern pastoral area of Ethiopia

Tariku Jibat Beyene, Berhanu Admassu Abegaz* and Tesfaye Rufael Chibsa**

Addis Ababa University, College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture,
PO Box 34, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
* Tufts University, FIC,
PO Box 1078, Addis Ababa office, Ethiopia
** National Animal Health Diagnostics and Investigation Center (NAHDIC),
PO Box 34, Sebeta, Ethiopia


The livestock trade forms an economic system providing jobs and livelihoods for a majority of people that underpins the social and political relations between Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Somaliland Republic and the state of Puntland. Several large-scale meat processing abattoirs have been established in Ethiopia in response to the emerging meat export opportunities to the Middle East and North African countries. There are also several meat export abattoirs under construction and more will be established in the near future in different regions of the country. Furthermore, the majority of the animals are sourced from pastoral areas of the country. The study was conducted with intention of analysing the trend of herd composition and its trade implication in Borena, Southern pastoral area of Ethiopia. Data collection used methods of participatory appraisal.

The study found that there is change in proportion with regards to species, age and sex ratios. The trend analysis of reproductive age male to female ratio change in the ratio cattle and camel from 1.6 and 0.5 to 0.5 and 0.2 respectively. However, not significant change has happened in case of sheep and goats.  The live animal and meat expert sector selectively looking for male animals complimented with lack of replacement and breeding policy exacerbates the case in the country. Therefore, it is recommended that urgent attention should be given to combat the livestock shortage facing the emerging source of foreign currency.

Keywords: abattoirs, breeding policy, live animals, meat export, replacement strategy


Livestock is central to the Ethiopian economy, contributing 20% of the GDP, supporting the livelihoods of 70 % of the population and generating about 11% of annual export earnings. The country has been earning foreign currency by exporting meat and live animals namely cattle, sheep, camels and goats to major destination markets of United Arab Emirate (UAE), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Yemen and Egypt. As the country has the largest number of livestock in Africa, Ethiopia has much to gain from the growing global market for livestock products (Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Standards and Livestock & Meat Marketing Program (SPS/LMM) 2010). Livestock trade forms an economic system providing jobs and livelihoods for the majority of people that underpins the social and political relations between Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Somaliland Republic and the state of Puntland (Nasir 2010).

The importance of agriculture to the Ethiopian economy is enormous as it contributes about 47.3% of GDP, 90% of export earnings, and 88% of the labour force (National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) 2006). Recently, several large-scale meat processing abattoirs have been established in Ethiopia in response to the emerging meat export opportunities to the Middle East and North African countries. There are also several meat export abattoirs under construction and more are on the way to being established in the near future in different regions of the country. These developments are in the right direction toward diversifying and increasing Ethiopia’s foreign exchange earnings and improving the livelihoods of livestock producers and other actors engaged in the livestock related activities. However, the meat processing abattoirs are not operating at their optimum capacity. In addition, they are not minimizing their costs of operations which make them less competitive in the global or regional meat market. The meat export abattoirs are also required to ensure a consistent and continuous supply of meat in order to meet the demand of the customers in the importing countries (Negassa and Jabbar 2007). Thus, there is an urgent need for meat export abattoirs to devise alternative strategies to ensure adequate market supply of quality live animals to meet their processing needs in order to improve their efficiency and competitiveness. On the other hand, due to lack of appropriate livestock marketing, restocking and breeding policy in Ethiopia, there is no clear information about the trend and dynamics of herd composition along time. Such information provides useful insights toward the designing and implementation of strategies to alleviate the shortage of quality live animal supply in the market. However, this type of information is currently un-available or inadequate at best. There is a need to assess whether and how the existing small-scale and pastoral livestock production systems can provide sustainable and adequate live animal supply which can meet the demand for domestic consumption and the demand for export markets (Negassa and Jabbar 2007).  


The objectives of this study were to analyse the trend of livestock herd composition in Borena and to discuss its trade implication.

Materials and Methods

The study area

The study was conducted in four randomly selected districts of Borena zone of Oromia regional state, namely Arero, Dugda Dawa, Miyo and Yabelo from February to September 2011. The arid and semi-arid agro-climatic characteristics of the region signify the importance of pastoralism as the single most important source of livelihood to the growing human population in the area (Coppock 1994). In addition to contributing to overall food needs, livestock have a paramount importance in generating cash incomes for the households. Livestock populations are approximately 1.6 million cattle, 2 million sheep and goats, 700,000 camels and 64,000 equines (Borena Zone Pastoral Development Bureau 2011). Livestock is an integral part of the Borana people that serve several purposes: as source of food, income generation and social prestige (Desta 1999). 

Study methodology

The study was cross sectional and the sampling techniques followed were random for selecting four districts, three pastoral associations from each district, 10-12 focus group discussants and nine households from each PA. However, key informants comprising community elders and senior agricultural bureau official’s selection were purposive. The principles and methods of participatory epidemiology including focus group discussion, semi structured interview, proportional piling and timeline described by Catley (2005) were used. Semi structured interviews were also used to collect information on how the composition of a herd is changing over time with respect to age category and sex. To estimate the trend, informants and interviewees were asked to show the average number of livestock, age category and sex proportion. Furthermore, senior livestock traders were interviewed. Households were interviewed for their experience on dynamics of their herd composition out of 100 as most of them did not volunteer to tell the exact number of their livestock. Using the focus group discussion, age and sex enabled classification of cattle, sheep, goats and camel and was standardized across the study districts.

Discussants were allowed to maintain a pile of 100 stones for each livestock group, i.e., cattle, sheep, goat and camel age and sex group. Timeline was used to gather information on the historical trend of herd composition in the area over three periods (based on administrative periods called ‘Gada’ of 8 years each). This was achieved through focus group discussion and semi structured interview of 5-6 elders in the PA with a lot of experience in cattle keeping and knowledge on the history of the Borena. The group was asked to remember key natural, socio-economic and political events. Time periods were identified based on “Gada” administration system of the Borena Oromo people in to 3 distinct periods These periods are: before 1992 (“Jaldessa liben” to “Boru Guyo”), between 1993 and  2008 (“Boru Medha” to “Liben Jeldessa”) and since 2009. Semi structured interview was also administered to district officers focusing on presence and/or absence of policy/rule and regulation governing livestock breeding and restocking.  

Data analysis

Data were entered into MS Excel sheet spread (Microsoft Office Excel 2007). Data were analyzed using SPSS by descriptive statistics. The level of agreement among the scores of informant groups was assessed using Kendall coefficient of concordance (W) (Siegel and castellan 1994). Microsoft office Excel 2007 was also used for graphical presentation.

Results and Discussion

Trend of herd composition

Table 1 shows focus group discussion response about age classification of livestock and their naming among the Borena people is standardized.  Figure 1 to 4 illustrated the trend analysis of different age groups of cattle, goat, sheep and camel respectively. It has shown that   the number of female cattle, goats and sheep has been increasing compared to the males as off take rate is higher in males. The proportion of old male animals was also found to be significantly lower than that of females. The reason is probably old male animals are used as adult ones does not fulfil the market demand.

Reproductive age sex ratio

The trend analysis of reproductive age male to female ratio of cattle, sheep, goats and camel is illustrated in Figure 5 with statistical significant difference of change in the ratio cattle and camel (P< 0.05). However, the change was found to be not significant in case of sheep and goats (P>0.05). The response from district officers was focusing on presence or absence of policy and regulation governing livestock breeding and restocking.  The result showed that there is no strategic breeding policy placed to fill the gap of higher net livestock off take. However, there are some fragmented efforts like private cow insemination services in areas of extreme scarcity of bulls. 

The pastoral economy and livestock trade form a critical platform for economic interdependence linking Ethiopia’s Somali Region to Djibouti, Somaliland and Puntland. Although it is stated that Ethiopia’s Somali Region provides a major share of livestock exports (Nasir, 2010), Oromia region also contribute significantly to the export market (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MOARD) 2009/10). Livestock market has tied through kinship and trade to neighbouring countries and created the potential for political stresses and conflict in eastern Africa that is both politically volatile and environmentally harsh. The Saudi Arabian market for livestock is a central feature of the economy of the north-eastern Horn of Africa. However, its periodic introduction of livestock bans related to animal health regulations and the involvement of large-scale traders from there create additional layers of economic unpredictability (Nasir 2010). The pastoral peoples of arid and semi-arid Africa primarily raise livestock to produce milk for household consumption. These livestock also provide a means for wealth accumulation, meat production, and cultural expression. Livestock production and trade contribute directly or indirectly to the livelihoods of many household economies (FEWS/NET East Africa 2010). A combination of different types of livestock also provides pastoral groups with a wide array of different animal products. Herd diversification is also an important strategy for household security in terms of ensuring minimum subsistence if one herd species is affected by disease, lack of drinking water or forage (Dahl 1981). In this study, most pastoralists have several species of livestock in a household, even though they are not willing to tell their numbers as they relate it to government taxing system.

Table 1: Local livestock age classification and naming


Cattle age class

Cattle local name

Sheep and Goat age class

Sheep and Goat local name

Camel age class

Camel Local name


=<2 year


0-6 months

‘Ilmole’or ‘karota’

=<4 years


2-3 years


7 months -2 years


4-15 years


4-10 years


2 years and above

‘Qobole’or ‘mirgo’ or ‘sanga’

Old camel


Castrated bull of any age


Old sheep and goats




Old bull







=<2 years

‘Yabi’ or ‘watiye’

0-6 months

‘Ilmole or ‘suphalee’

=<2 years


2-3 years


7 months -2 years


2-4 years


3-4 years


2 years and above


4-15 years


5-10 years

‘Hawicha’ or ‘Sa’a’ 

Old female sheep and goats


Old female camel


Old cow






Figure 1. Trend of herd composition of cattle  Figure 2. Trend of herd composition of goats.

Figure 3. Trend of herd composition of sheep Figure 4. Trend of herd composition of camel

Figure 5. Reproductive age male to female ratio

It has also been shown that the female part of herds is increasing compared to males as off take rate is higher in males for domestic and export market. The proportion of old male animals was also found to be significantly lower than that of the female. This is probably due to the fact that the market for live animal and meat export which is selectively looking for male animals including the old ones.

According to Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority’s meat and live animal export performance data, meat export volume increased from 870 tons in 2000/01 to 7,468 tons in 2008/09. The country’s export performance reached its peak in 2005/06 when 7,917 tons of meat was exported. In the years from 2000/01 to 2005/06, the meat export (chilled shoats carcass) value increased from USD 1.7 million to USD 27 million. Similarly, the number of live animals (cattle, camels, sheep and goats) export also recorded a dramatic increment during this period by rising from 4,919 to 241,683 and reached its peak in 2007/08 by exporting 297,644 head of live animals. The export value mounted from USD 0.2 million to USD 53.1 million (Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards and Livestock and Meat Marketing Program 2010). From July 2009 to March 2010, USD 85.5 million was earned from export of 7,018 tons of meat and 259, 247 head of live animals. In addition, from January to March 2010, Ethiopia generated USD 31.1 million by exporting 2,654.3 tons of meat (mainly chilled shoats carcass) and 60,189 head of live animals to nine countries.  

Export of live animals contributed 72% of the earnings and the balance (28%) was earned from meat export. It could have performed much more had the bans of UAE and KSA not imposed during January to September 2007 and from March to May 2009. This period coincides with high rate of livestock off take rate and construction of export slaughter houses in Ethiopia (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MOARD), 2010). 

This study shows that there is decrement of male animal population while the female population is increasing (figure 1-4). However, Reda (2001) summarizes data collected for several hundred Borena households indicated that camels have increased 75% between 1994 and 2000, while the average number of goats increased by 11%, sheep decreased by 35%, and cattle decreased by 17%. The trend analysis of reproductive age male to female ratio showed significant decline in the ratio in cattle and camel. This finding is similar to the findings of Desta and Coppock (2004) herd structure between the late 1980s and late 1990s signifying that the reproductive age sex ration got decline in cattle and camel. This is an indication of high market demand of the male animals for live animal and meat export. According to Negassa and Jabbar (2007), animal births are more important than purchases from the market in building and maintaining the size of cattle herd and sheep and goats flocks. This highlights the importance of reproduction rates of cattle and sheep and goats owned by pastoralists for herd and flock growth and maintenance since they generally rely less on the market to build herd and flocks. Although, trends in cattle herd structure would be difficult to detect in any case because different age and sex classes are variously susceptible to drought mortality, and this introduces a large, time-sensitive source of data imprecision (Coppock, 1994). Result from this study calls for an integrated reproductive health service and breeding policy. Therefore, there is a need to explore different alternative strategies of increasing the supply of quality live animals for export abattoirs. 

The number of male cattle and camel in this study decreased due to the export market preferring the male following customers’ preference and government policy to export live and meat of female animals. This finding agrees with Negassa and Jabbar (2007) who reported that the net off take rate of cattle is relatively higher that of sheep and goats.

These days, livestock feed scarcity and animal fertility are greatly reduced due to climate change and recurrent long dry season in most areas from which animals are sourced. So, the few number of bulls complemented with inability of pastoralists to keep bulls fulfilling their dietary needs, they are forced to share bulls that increased risk of venereal diseases that indirectly may contribute to reduced fertility.

The social and economic feasibilities of alternative strategies need to be carefully evaluated.  Furthermore, considering how to effectively and efficiently integrate smallholder farmers to the high value domestic and export markets value chains for live animals and meat through the development of appropriate institutions, policies and marketing infrastructure and support services should be emphasized.



The authors are thankful to the Feinstein International Centre (FIC), of Tufts University; Ethiopian National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Centre (NAHDIC); Yabelo Pastoral and Dry Land Crop Agriculture Research Centre for the technical support. 


BZPDB (Borena Zone Pastoral Development Bureau) 2011 unpublished data. 

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Received 14 October 2012; Accepted 31 December 2012; Published 1 March 2013

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