Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (10) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Pastoralist livelihoods, resources and strategies in Garissa County, Kenya

P M Mwanyumba, R G Wahome1, L MacOpiyo2 and P Kanyari3

Department of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Private Bag-00625, Nairobi, Kenya.
1 Department of Animal Production, University of Nairobi, P.O. Box 29053-00625 Nairobi, Kenya.
2 Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology, University of Nairobi, P.O. Box 29053-00625 Nairobi, Kenya
3 Department of Veterinary Pathology, Microbiology and Parasitology, University of Nairobi, P.O. Box 29053-00625 Nairobi, Kenya


Pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid areas of Northeastern Kenya are facing increasing risks which coupled with market and subsistence demands influence households’ characteristics and how they interact with resources at their disposal to meet livelihood objectives. This study was done to analyze current pastoralist socio-demographics, production objectives and livelihoods status and strategies.

The study was undertaken in Garissa County using a cross-sectional survey of 146 households. Subsistence was the livestock production objective for 96% of household heads and livestock were the main source of income for 93% of households. There was low level of education and family members provided 57% of the grazing labour. Most households were sedentary and 69% of respondents moved only their livestock at times of resource scarcity. The mobile phone accounted for 23% of the methods used to get reports of distant grazing livestock second only to the owner visiting the herd at 30%. Goats were the most sold species at 46% and also accounted for 49% of the milking animals. Households last sold their livestock a mean of 72 days before the interview date. Constraints cited arise from droughts, movement, diseases and in marketing. Most households cope using a mixture of traditional strategies and relief aid. Interventions should be undertaken to increase productivity and support diversification, commercialization and marketing. At the same time households need to balance between livestock labour and education of their children/dependants to ensure current outcomes and future livelihoods viability.

Key words: diversification, herd management, livestock inventory, livelihood objectives, market interaction, pastoralist demographics


Pastoralism in Kenya is threatened by several factors including over-exploitation of resources and assets, climate variability, increasing human population and land fragmentation (Bailey et al 1999). Aklilu et al. (2002) observed that the gradual integration into the cash economy and the recurrence of droughts at short intervals are increasingly pushing pastoralists to sell more animals than before. In the Kenya-Ethiopia border areas, growing financial pressures and food insecurity during drought pushed pastoralists to sell their livestock regardless of productivity, age or sex (Pavanello 2010).

Drought has been the most frequent disaster in the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya. In the 2008-2011 drought, livestock the most affected sector, sustained negative effects of approximately KShs 699,336 million (USD 8,038) in damages and losses (GoK, 2012). The damages arose from direct deaths of animals caused by the drought and the losses were incurred from increased costs of veterinary care, feeds and water, as well as loss in production due to disease and death of animals. In 2011 livestock mortality in Northern Kenya was estimated at 15% and about 0.2% of the Country GDP (The World Bank 2011).

At the same time the relationships between people, their livelihoods, herd stability and trade are complex and not properly understood. The aim of this study was therefore to evaluate how households manipulated their resources and assets and were in turn affected by them in fulfilling their livelihood objectives. This was done by analysis of their demographics, production objectives and strategies. This larger picture needs to be created and communicated to relevant stakeholders for meaningful and adoptable interventions.

Materials and methods

Description of the study area

The study was undertaken in Garissa County where pastoralism is the main livestock production system and means of livelihood. Garissa has an area of 44,952 km˛ and a human population of 623,060 (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2009). The County is 1,138 meters above sea level, the topography is flat and the climate is semi-arid to arid (AEZ IV-VI). The annual rainfall ranges from 300 – 700 mm in two seasons and the temperature 20 – 39 degrees centigrade.

Data collection and analysis

Semi-structured questionnaires were administered in a cross-sectional survey undertaken on 146 households selected from the County using multi-stage cluster sampling technique with random sampling at Districts, Divisions and Locations levels. The calculated sample size was 138 from the formula by Pfeiffer (2010) i.e. n = Z2 [p (1-p)/L2], where n = the sample size; Z = 1.96, the Standard Normal Deviate at the desired Confidence interval, 95%; p = 0.9 (90%), the assumed proportion (prevalence) of the households who own livestock and engage with the other segments of the value chain; L = 0.05 (5%), the precision.

The respondents were asked questions on their household composition and personal details; their objectives and future plans for household income; herd management and labour; production and marketing constraints; access to services, resources and market information; and livelihood strategies and tactics including marketing. The data was entered into Microsoft Excel 2007 and Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) 18 and analyzed for descriptive statistics – frequencies and means. Chi-square (c2) test was used to test differences among proportions of livestock management attributes and resource, constraints and strategy variables.


Description of household heads’ livelihoods and production objectives

Most (95%) households were male headed and 78% of the household heads had no formal education, 16% were educated up to primary school level and the rest to post-primary including university. Subsistence livestock was the main occupational source of income and production objective at 93% and 96% respectively. Other sources of income mentioned were formal employment, crop farming and self-employment.

Household heads’ future plans included to continue with livestock alone (48%), to increase herd sizes (17%) and to mix livestock with business or crops (23%). Almost all respondents had never taken a bank loan for any interventions on their livestock. Chi-square analysis showed significant (P = 0.000) and large differences between the different demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

Description of household characteristics and herd sizes

Table 1 shows the demographic and livestock herd characteristics of pastoralist households in the study area. The households’ livestock ownership calculated to 5.1 Tropical Livestock Units (TLU), 0.9 (number) camels, 4.0 cattle, 3.4 sheep and 9.9 goats per each person in the household.

Table 1. Demographic and livestock herd characteristics of pastoralist households (N =146)





Household head age (years)




Number of persons in household




Number of other dependents (excluding the spouses)


3.1 (57.9%)




2.3 (42.1%)



No. of dependents by aged (years)

0 - 12

3.4 (63.1%)



13 – 19

1.2 (22.2%)



20 and above

0.8 (14.7%)



Dependents’ education


2.8 (52.8%)



Some/all primary

2.2 (40.3%)



Some/all secondary

0.3 (5.9%)



Some/all tertiary

0.02 (0.4%)



Some/all university

0.03 (0.6%)



Formal/Self Employed dependents

0.12 (2.2%)



Count of livestock per household: Number, (% of total number), [TLU]


7.1, (5.2%), [7.1]

0, [0]

93, [93]


30.1, (22.0%), [21.1]

0, [0]

503, [352]


25.2, (18.5%), [2.5]

0, [0]

464, [46.4]


74.3, (54.4%),[7.4]

0, [0]

468, [46.8]

Total Count

136.7, (100), [38.1]

0, [0]

1,528, [538.2]

TLU = Tropical Livestock Units where 1 Camel = 1 TLU, Cattle = 0.7 TLU, 1 Sheep or Goat = 0.1 TLU,
Jahnke (1982)

Herd Management

Table 2 shows some attributes of herd management in the study area. Most respondents used breeding stock from their own herds, kept herds of separate species and had separate milking animals. Most grazing labour was sourced from the family (cumulative 56.6%).

Table 2. Livestock management attributes of pastoralist households (N =146)

Attribute description



Source of breeding stock

Own herds



Mixed sources









Herd separation

Separate herds



One herd



Herd (group) composition

Separate species



Mixed species



Ownership of separate milking herd







Species of milking herd




Mixed species









Problems in getting labour







Person grazing:

Family boys



Hired labour






Family men



Family girls



Family women



Resources, constraints and livelihood strategies

The nearest watering point and dry season pasture to households were at a mean distance of 2.5 Km and 2.6 days of walking respectively and the time taken to walk with livestock to the place of last migration was a mean 3.4 days. Table 3 shows some of the other resource, constraint and strategy variables of pastoralist households in the study area.

Table 3. Some resource, constraints and strategy variables of pastoralist households (N =146)

Attribute description



Source of animal health services

Mixed sources (various combinations of the three below)



Modern by self



Government and NGOs



Traditional by self



Rating of animal health services










Very good



Coping strategies in last drought

Mixed strategies (various combinations of the three below)



Relief food






Government/NGO livestock off-take



Above plus slaughter for local use



Comparison of study year 2012 with last 5 years




Slightly better



Much better



Slightly worse



Much worse



Proportions of livestock/family moved

Part of the herds



All the herds



Whole family



Years since last herd migration

Moved this year (2012)



Last moved 1 year ago



Last moved 2 - 8 years ago



Years respondent had been in the same village

22 – 88 years



10 – 20 years



6 – 9 years



This year – 5 years



Households kept their livestock away from their homesteads, but they tracked their status by visiting them or getting reports by other means. The mean interval of seeing them was for cattle 15.1 days, camels 7.5 days and sheep/goats 6.9 days. In between the visits the mean interval of getting reports by other means was for cattle 4.3 days, camels 2.7 days and sheep/goats 2.9 days. Among the methods of getting reports of livestock, owner visits were the most used at 29.5%, followed by mobile phone 23.3%, herder visits 12.3% and messengers 2.1%. Various combinations of mobile phone and the other methods accounted for 28.8%, while 3.4% of the respondents used combinations of the other methods alone.

Respondents listed the risks they faced as drought; livestock thefts; wildlife attacks; and conflicts in grazing areas. The listed constraints were long distances to pasture; shortage and contamination of water; diseases; ticks and other external parasites; unavailability and high cost of labour; migration; loss of animals; irregular animal health services and high cost of drugs; arrests and restriction to grazing in wildlife conservancies; and lack of market. The common diseases were Foot and Mouth Disease; Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia, Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia; Peste des Petits Ruminanti; Rift Valley Fever; Lumpy Skin Disease; Trypanosomosis; Anthrax; Blackquarter; Sheep and Goat Pox; Enterotoxoamia; Haemorrhagic Septicaemia; Mange; and Helminthosis. The mean livestock deaths per household in the last drought (2009-2011) were 4.8 camels, 11.8 cattle and 61.6 sheep/goats.


Out of 146 respondent households, 132 (90.4%) indicated recent interaction with the market. These had last sold their livestock a mean of 71.7 days before the interview date. Goats were the most sold species at 46.4%, followed by cattle (9.8%), camels (3.3%), sheep (2.0%) and the rest various combinations of the species. The mean milk production per household per day was 3.4 litres. Families consumed a mean of 2.4 litres and sold the remaining one litre.

Respondents ranked the factors that they consider to decide the sale price of their livestock as body condition alone, 32.3%; body condition and age, 24.0%; body condition, age and sex, 25.3%; and various combinations of body condition with other factors (c2(15) = 388.79, P < 0.001). The other factors included market conditions, animal productivity, market distance, animal fertility, animal parity and season.

The sources of market price information included visiting the market for 29.9% of the respondents, neighbours 18.8% and buyers 9.7%. However, 6.3% of the respondents decided their livestock prices on their own without outside information. Various combinations of the methods provided 32% of the information.

Respondents cited marketing constraints as including high transport and labour costs; lack of markets and shortage of buyers; buyers taking animals on credit and defaulting on payment; insecurity, risk of theft and wildlife attacks along the way. Others were lack of or inadequate forage and water along the way; lack of or unreliable market information; poor animal health and body condition; fluctuating and poor prices especially during drought; exploitation by middlemen; competition; high fees in the markets and lack of feed or cost of feeding during the market day.


Household heads’ livelihoods and production objectives

Since education adds skills and knowledge to the human capital the large proportion of household heads without formal education may have a bearing on the livelihood choices and opportunities including herd management, technology adoption and livelihood diversification. Although livestock keeping formed a great part of the income sources and also future plans, other options mentioned including crop farming, business, formal and self-employment represent opportunities for diversification. The fact that most respondents had never taken a bank loan for their livestock could be due to the high risk in keeping livestock in ASAL areas and lack of collateral or ability to pay such loans. The other reasons could be the mainly subsistence livelihoods so that households had no extra-subsistence or investment needs requiring a loan and also religious reasons as it is prohibited for Muslims to pay interest on loans. The credit pattern is one indicator of resilience/vulnerability though many pastoralist families often borrowed from neighbours (GoK 2010).

Household characteristics and herd sizes

The ownership of livestock by household heads of a wide range of age showed the ability of households to pass on traditional skills and knowledge between generations and therefore preserve the capability to pursue their main source of livelihood, livestock. However, most household members were young people and lack of or inadequate education denies them choices and opportunities. Chambers and Conway (1991) observed that education confers livelihood choices and that adaptable capabilities to exploit new opportunities will become more important in a future of accelerating change.

Horowitz (1980) reported the findings of a simulation, for East African pastoralists, that the minimum herd size for subsistence of a family of eight consisted of 20 adult cows, 2 bulls, 7 female and 5 male calves under 1 year old, 4 female and 2 male calves 1-2 years old and 3 female and 1 male immature. The authors considered a pastoralist diet of milk, meat and blood. However, tastes and basic subsistence needs change over time and will vary from household to household according to their level of income. Hence, the numbers needed by each household today will be much higher. It is necessary therefore for households to ensure their current needs while investing in securing their future and their children’s.

Herd management

The practice of sourcing breeding stock from the same herds points to the possibility of inbreeding and loss of heterogeneity and hybrid vigour that would be gained from outsourcing. Separation of herds and the bigger proportion of separate compared to mixed herds agreed with known pastoralist coping strategies to minimize risk (Rota and Sperandini 2009) as well as to better manage the species separately as each has different feeding habits and needs. Some of the separate herds were milking animals for the family and goats were the main milking species. The choice of goats as the main milking animals can be explained by the fact that they have shorter gestation and are therefore in milk more often. However, mixing with the other species maximizes the family milk secure periods.

The few respondents that had labour problems cited reasons such as high cost of salaries; unavailability of youth as most had gone to school; youths would rather work in farms or other jobs and preferred to stay in towns; absconding and dishonesty in workers.

The participation of mostly family labour to graze animals allows for preservation of pastoral tradition and indigenous knowledge. This is an important aspect of sustainability of pastoral systems (Ayantunde et al 2011). The use of women and children may appear to outsiders to be gender or child abuse. It was in fact a strategy to build human capital (skills and traditional knowledge) and also an opportunity for gender empowerment, giving livelihood contributing roles and product rights to all family members (Rota et al 2010). However, in the wider country and global context, the resulting low education standards, constrained livelihoods in this area and should be of major concern (Rakotoarisoa et al 2008). The situation of high traditional skills and low formal education is a no-win situation. Already the percentage of dependents with formal or self-employment was very low and in future the backfire on the system will be greater in terms of lack of or reduced opportunities for diversification, including remittances, and therefore increased vulnerability.

Resources, constraints and livelihood strategies

Water sources were not very far probably due to the construction of boreholes and water pans in most areas. Most settlements in this County were also near the river Tana. It seems there was little need to move very far for dry season pasture probably because such reserves are becoming scarcer due to population pressure and climate change and probably such pasture reserves survive along the river. However, most of the land along the river is covered by Prosopis juliflora, an invasive plant species that suppresses growth of other plants. This loss of rangeland grazing resources has been identified by FAO (2007) as one of the threats to pastoralism. The distance travelled to water and pasture, the amount consumed and the frequency of consumption can influence animal production performance (ILCA, 1990).

Veterinary services are a global public good not only because of their pivotal role in animal health, welfare and productivity but also due to their important role in public health and food safety and sanitary standards for livestock marketing. In pastoral areas, this importance is further emphasized by the greater dependence of livelihoods on livestock and therefore the services play a big role in safeguarding assets, facilitating marketing and reducing vulnerability. Though receiving animal health services from mixed sources may be a coping strategy to the erratic nature of animal health services, it is also of concern to animal welfare and food safety with regard to pathogen resistance and drug residues. Casey (1993) noted that consumers rely on the integrity of producers, processors and distributors to deliver a wholesome product free of pathogens or chemicals and this is especially so for meat, a product whose quality is highly variable and dependent on many factors along the long value chain. However, the good rating of the services was probably due to the many Non-Governmental Organizations operating in the area and assisting the Government in animal health and production.

The use of mixed strategies to cope with drought by most (84.9%) of respondents is a good sign as there is less chance of failure of any one strategy. However, the small proportion (3.4%) of respondents who migrated to seek pasture and water elsewhere may be an indication of the erosion of traditional coping strategies and a strong pointer to sedentarization. Although different households gave different ratings of the year 2012 in terms of weather and livestock conditions compared to the last five years, the figures gave a cumulative percentage of 82.9% to the brighter outlook side. Migrations still occurred despite this, showing that mobility is still an important strategy in pastoralism.

The proportions of livestock moved and the comparative years of mobility and stasis show that most households moved only their livestock and left their families sedentary and this study area practiced transhumance pastoralism rather than nomadic as was indicated by Rakotoarisoa et al (2008). This gives better opportunities for provision of social services such as education and healthcare, but will have implications on land use and ecosystem dynamics.

Sheep and goats were kept nearer to the households, followed by camels while cattle were driven farthest. Livestock species support livelihoods in different ways and their nutrient resource requirements also differs and this determines their association with households. Goats were the most milked and sold animals, and can utilize grass, shrubs, larger forage trees and seed pods from such trees as Acacia tortillis which is common in the area, hence likely to survive for longer within or near the settlements. Camels also provide milk and transport and depend on browse from shrubs and trees that are resilient to drying and survive degradation better than grass. There were more cattle which are dependent on grazing which had to be searched for over a wider range. Over such distances, the mobile phone was useful in keeping the owners in contact with herders of their animals. The revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) is radically opening up access to external knowledge among even the poorest and the rate of growth of mobile phone technology is particularly striking (Pretty et al 2011). Mobile phone technology, therefore, presents an opportunity for ease of communication with pastoralists on such matters as market information, disease control and other animal health and production information.

Apart from drought, the list of constraints though not ranked, was a narrative of the livelihood pressures affecting this study area. Fluctuating rainfall and drought are intrinsic to Arid and Semi-arid areas and should be a critical issue in development initiatives because of their impacts on livelihoods (Barton et al 2001). Migration, though used as a coping strategy, was also listed as a constraint for the reason that it exposes herders and livestock to different and new challenges such as diseases and conflicts. Kaimba et al (2011) discussed migration as both a cause and effect of conflicts such as cattle rustling among pastoralist communities and between them and crop growing communities. Nkedianye et al (2011) also observed that pastoral mobility may lead to greater sensitivity to drought and mortalities especially in fragmented areas where more market-oriented but less drought-resistant livestock breeds are resident. It appears that mobility is a necessary evil or an evil necessity done only under duress. Sedentarization, therefore, will probably be the lifestyle of the future for the pastoralists as shown by the patterns of movement and periods of stay in the same villages.

The figures for livestock losses in the last drought amount to 40.5% of the camels, 28.2% of the cattle and 38.2% of the sheep/goats. Bailey et al (1999) quoted off-take rates higher than 8 – 9% as likely to compromise the herd functions of milk supply, reproduction and recovery after disasters. The high mortality rates also result in long recovery periods necessitating continued assistance post-disaster (Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards Project 2009; Pavanello 2009).


The proportions of sold species, herd size and milking animals indicate that goats are the main pillar of subsistence. Any restocking interventions after disasters should therefore prioritize this species. However, since goats are only a part of the herds, it would be more prudent to offer restocks of all species proportional to their herd fractions and mortality rates.

Although families sold less than they consumed, the value of milk sales in this region was second only to sales of live animals (Rakotoarisoa et al 2008). On the other hand, Knips (2004) observed that the average per capita consumption of animal products in the Horn of Africa is very low leading to under-nutrition especially in children.

Among the declared livestock price determining factors, animal body condition, age, sex, productivity, fertility and parity and season of sale are factors which the pastoralists can manipulate to their advantage with proper management and market information. Most of the factors, though, were dependent on environmental conditions which as discussed by Bailey et al (1999) play an important role in livestock marketing. These are therefore possible intervention areas for projects to assist in pastoral commercialization, response to market demand and niche marketing.

Travel to markets must have been quite time consuming as the distances were long and visits were probably made with the sale animals already in tow. The long distances plus other constraints along the way and within the markets exposed producers to exit costs (costs of returning with the animals if they are not bought), weakening their bargaining position and giving market powers to buyers, a situation likely to cause reduced marketed volumes (Bailey et al 1999).

All the predominant sources of market information ultimately originated from buyers. This together with their weak position at the market level meant that most producers were at the mercy of buyers from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. It appeared, therefore, that the 6.3% of the respondents who decided on their own price without outside information were better off. These findings emphasize the importance of pastoralists getting market information before they leave for the market to enable decision making and guide marketing behaviour. The constraints to marketing cited by respondents are all potential intervention areas to enhance benefits accruing to pastoralists.

Conclusions and recommendations


This study was enabled by the Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Project and funded by the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, Kenya and the Centre for Sustainable Dry-land Eco-systems and Societies, University of Nairobi. The authors sincerely thank the research assistants, the respondents and the Veterinary Department in the study areas for their various roles in the study.


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Received 1 May 2015; Accepted 16 August 2015; Published 1 October 2015

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