It is uncommon to find a woman from Kenya’s Pokot tribe looking after livestock. But Irine Ironya is an exception. Mrs. Ironya cares for more than forty cows, goats and sheep, bringing them to a specially created animal watering hole. However, these animals are not indigenous Zebu cows and East African goats. They are “crossbreeds,” bred from hardy local breeds and more productive, foreign dairy animals.
The West Pokot region is an arid area bordering Uganda, its dryness worsened during severe dry periods. Men from the region spend their lives constantly moving livestock in search of pasture and water. There are frequent cross-border clashes between Kenyan Pokot and Ugandan Karamojong pastoralists over pasture and water.
Mrs. Ironya exchanged some of her indigenous animals for Galla goats from the Nasukuta Livestock Breeding Centre. The Centre invited farmers to bring their indigenous animals to the Centre and receive a Galla in exchange. The Galla goats were introduced to improve and replace East African goats.
Mrs. Ironya also bought a male Toggenburg goat from the Centre to breed with her flock. The Toggenburg is a breed of dairy goat originally from Europe. The resulting crossbred offspring give her more milk than her original animals, and fetch good prices at market.
John Naibei is the chairman of the Nasukuta Centre, located in Kapenguria, about 60 kilometres east of the Kenya-Uganda border. The Centre works with research organizations to breed animals that help the community deal with the impacts of population growth and climate change.
Mr. Naibei says: “Due to [the human] population increase, there is no more land for pastoralists to move their livestock freely. So the grazing areas have become scarce, and during severe droughts, pastoralists lose lots of their stock.”
Julius Alitoria is a pastoralist who has embraced a sedentary lifestyle. He has replaced his indigenous animals with crossbred dairy goats.
Mr. Alitoria says, “I got these Galla goats from the Breeding Centre. Before this, I used to see my cows die from diseases and they were always stolen by raiders.”
He took 15 Galla goats from the Centre, and no longer keeps the indigenous Zebu. He sells goats’ milk for 40 Kenyan shillings a litre (45 US cents), and is happy with the income. He also sells live animals when the need for money arises.
The Breeding Centre has dug three permanent watering holes on its 1400 hectare estate. These holes are available for locals to water their livestock. The Centre has 30 hectares of grass, which is cut for hay. During the dry season, farmers can buy a bale for 150 shillings ($1.70 US). It also encourages farmers to establish pasture for their livestock.
The Centre also breeds cows. Musa Tuparu chose to swap his Zebu for Sahiwal cows. They produce good meat, and a much higher volume of milk than the indigenous Zebu.
Mr. Musa says, “The Sahiwal cow grows very big and, when you sell, one animal will fetch up to 50,000 Kenyan shillings ($575 US). It is like selling five indigenous ones!”
Mrs. Ironya agrees. She says, “When there is a food shortage, I just [need to] sell one and I buy food. I can also sell one to get money for my children’s school fees.” Males go to the butchers; females are sold to other farmers. Farmers come from Uganda to buy these animals at the local market.
Life has changed in this region. Now that water and feed are available, livestock stay at home. The watering holes that were dug by the Nasukuta Centre have enabled Mrs. Ironya and other women to look after their own livestock.
She says: “I have brought my animals [to the watering hole] to drink, and I am taking them back home. Everyone now keeps their livestock at home.”