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Community Initiatives in Livestock Improvement:
The Case of Kathekani, Kenya

Joyce Njoki Njoro
Intermediate Technology Development Group
Eastern Africa (ITDG-EA)
PO Box 39493, Nairobi, Kenya


Kenya is a country located in East Africa. It borders Uganda to the west, Ethiopia and Sudan to the north, Somalia to the east, and the United Republic of Tanzania to the south. The equator intersects the country. The population of Kenya stands at 28 million people according to the 1999 national population census. Only 20 percent of the land is of high agricultural potential. The rest is arid and semi-arid, best suited for livestock production. Kenya experiences a bimodal pattern of rainfall with the rainy season extending from March to May and from October to December. Occasionally the rains are below normal for consecutive seasons, leading to drought.

The Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) plays a major role in biodiversity conservation, but with greater emphasis being laid on in situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity, particularly focusing on crops. ITDG is an international development agency working with marginalized communities in seven developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop and adopt appropriate technologies to enhance their skills and economic status. ITDG began in 1967 based on the then radical ideas of Dr Fritz Schumacher, author of the best-selling book Small Is Beautiful. ITDG’s vision is "A more equitable and just world in which technology enriches and benefits the lives of the poor. In the context of East Africa it is our wish to improve livelihoods of marginalized people in the region". Its mission statement is to build the skills of poor people in developing countries enabling them to improve the quality of their lives and those of future generations.

ITDG Eastern Africa (ITDG-EA) works in five technology areas - agriculture and pastoralism, small-scale manufacturing, rural transport, building materials and shelter and energy. Since 1996, ITDG-EA has been implementing the Marginal Farmers Project in Kathekani through the Rural Agriculture and Pastoralism Project (RAPP). The objectives of this project are:

to develop the capacity of the community to address its own livestock issues, with access to a range of technical options;

to establish a sustainable decentralized animal health system, with access to its own training capacity and referral system, and incorporation of effective existing local knowledge;

a community-based tsetse fly control project.

Kathekani - the background

Kathekani is a dryland farming area in eastern Kenya. It lies in ecological zones 5 and 6. These zones are characterized by low rainfall and high temperatures averaging 25-40 °C. The rainfall pattern is bimodal, with the distribution and reliability being poor. Average rainfall is about 600 mm per annum. The dominant tree species are Commiphora and Acacia. Grasses commonly found in this area are Cenchrus ciliaris and Eragrostis superba. It is a newly settled area with 3 000 farm families made up of about 17 300 people. The community members in this area are agropastoralists. The area is only suitable for drought-tolerant crop farming because of unpredictable rainfall, which frequently causes crop failure. The crops grown are sorghum, cowpeas, grams and millet. Only one out of four seasons is successful.

The livestock management systems in this area have been extensive. Commonly reared types of livestock are cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. The East African goat is the breed traditionally kept by this community. However, there are other breeds, such as the Galla. Increased human population has resulted in subdivision of the land, leading to changes in land tenure systems. This has increased the demand for food from livestock sources and other resultant socio-economic needs, leading to development of semi-intensive systems of livestock production.

The area borders Tsavo East National Park, a source of tsetse. It is thus highly tsetse infested, leading to heavy cattle losses from trypanosomiasis. This has compounded the land use problem with more land being opened up by the community for cultivation as farmers look for alternative livelihoods. The amount of grazing land has thus been reduced, creating a major constraint in livestock production despite the use of on-farm crop residues for nutritional purposes, a practice that is not adequate.

Efforts to control tsetse through trapping technology supplied by ITDG-EA have helped to reduce levels of tsetse and farmers are beginning to restock. Disease incidence has been lowered as a result of the reduced tsetse population. Nevertheless, farmers prefer to start restocking through goat keeping as a low-risk investment.

The major production constraints in the area are related to poor extension services provided by the government, a low resource base and frequent drought. The community faces many challenges, such as wild animal migration, environmental degradation, poverty and food shortages. The ability of individual households to identify and mobilize resources to overcome difficulties is low. The use of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) surveys combined with workshops to chart the way forward has been very effective in addressing these challenges.

Culture and goat breed conservation

Goats are culturally very important to the Akamba community of Kathekani for various reasons:

Dowry payments. During the introductory visit in a marriage process, the suitor must offer goats as gifts to the would-be parents-in-law as a gesture of a budding friendship between the two families. This implies that if a man has no goats, he has constraints when considering marriage. The colour of the goat used is always white;

Sacrificial purposes. White goats used also to be used for sacrifices to the gods;

Witchdoctor payments. The colour black was an essential feature of such payments;

Social purposes;

Honour. It is honourable to slaughter a goat for a close relative, in-law relatives or a close friend when they visit your homestead or to mark other social occasions;


It is prestigious to own goats and therefore a man who does earns much respect from the other community members. This became clear in an interview in Kathekani, when a farmer stated: "Without goats you are not a man, you are nothing". These cultural requirements necessitated propagation of particular breeds within the community, which was an incentive towards conservation.

Objectives of the community initiative

The farmers’ objectives in improved breeding initiatives are mainly to improve livelihoods of the Kathekani farmers through higher production of their livestock to ensure food security. This can be achieved through:

building a strong local community capacity to address livestock production constraints;

improving household income through the sale of goats for slaughter and the young crosses for breeding;

exploiting the existing local gene pool for goats to achieve higher productivity of goats.

Goat management systems

Land in Kathekani is individually owned and therefore farmers graze within their own farms. The cattle population is 21 000 and that of goats is 60 000 (1997 livestock survey by ITDG). The livestock breeds reared are indigenous. The livestock management system in Kathekani is semi-intensive. Grazing is either done individually or communally. Goats are watered in rivers, which criss-cross the area abundantly.

Although supplementation feeding of goats is minimal, it is still carried out on a small scale. Mineral supplements and on-farm by-products are used. Commonly used farm residues are maize stovers, cowpea and green gram pods. Maasai love grass and acacia pods are also used. Usually, this is used for sick animals, pregnant ones and the rest of the flock when the pastures are inadequate and when on-farm by-products are available. No commercial concentrates are provided.

Minerals for the goats are acquired locally through natural salt licks that are found along the watering points. Almost every farmer has access to these points. Those who cannot access the salt licks, or are unwilling to take their animals there because of mixing, purchase locally made salt. The Ngiluni farmers group from Kathekani makes the salt from bones, termite mounds, bricks and common salt. They sell it to other farmers for 80 shillings (K Sh), or around US$1 per kg.

Existing goat genetic resources

The indigenous goat reared by the Kathekani community is the East African goat. The Galla goat is also reared by a group of farmers but is not widespread. The community became interested in the Galla goat because of its positive traits. Two breeds form the goat gene pool, which the farmers are exploiting to improve their goat production. The major driving force behind the initiative is market demands, which are dictating the product to be produced. A description of these breeds follows.

East African goat

This is one of the most successful domestic stocks in the semi-arid lands. It is found all over East Africa from the desert to the urban areas. The colour ranges from pure white to pure black with various intermixes of roan and speckled brown. Males have pronounced manes running the full length of the back. Horns are 2.5-20 cm in length. Tassels are found in up to 30 percent of the breed. Adult males attain weights up to 35 kg and females 25-30 kg. Sexual maturity is attained at five to six months of age. The East African is superior to the Galla in fertility (89.4:75.5 percent), prolificacy (24:6 percent) and return to oestrus (it has a short postpartum interval, nine days shorter than that of the Galla).

The East African has a slow growth rate. Yearlings rarely exceed 20 kg. They are kept mainly for meat, as their milk is rarely sufficient for more than a single kid. They have potential for selection and are therefore a useful base in an upgrading programme. Their greatest asset is the ability to survive. The East African has more tolerance than the Galla to trypanosomiasis, internal parasites and pasteurellosis. This is demonstrated by low kid mortality.

Galla goat

The Galla is indigenous to the northern areas of Kenya. Its other names are the Borana and the Somali breed. It is further classified into two types: the Degyir, a medium-sized and a larger pure white type, and the Degeun (Devandra and McLeroy, 1982). Bucks have an adult weight of around 70 kg, and does 45-55 kg. The Borana keep them for their milk: yields are higher than the East African. Given favourable conditions, the Galla continues to gain weight until it is eight years of age. At the end of its reproductive life, it still has considerable sale value, for meat.

Characteristics to qualify for registration in the Kenya Stud Book (a quality control farmer's centre for all livestock breeds) are as follows: animals must be white haired with a black skin, nose, feet and undertail. The other subtype is coloured around the head and lower legs with a black stripe along the spine.

Galla females continue to breed and rear kids up to ten years of age. They have a strong dental system and are therefore rarely culled because of dental problems. They are docile, easy to handle and thrive best at low altitudes, preferably in acacia-bush country. They have a remarkable power of compensatory growth after a long dry season. They have high wither height and long bodies, allowing them to utilize browse that cannot be reached by the East African species. Females produce 20-kg kids at weaning. They can loose up to 10 kg of body weight during lactation (10-15 percent) but, given the opportunity, they will regain this in two to three months.

Breeding programme and the involvement of groups

The approach adopted by farmers is communally managed utilization of locally available goat genetic resources among the resource-poor farmers. The Galla and the East African goat are used as a local goat gene pool for the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, which the local community is exploiting to harness positive traits. In the case of Kathekani this is achieved through a group approach. The breeding programme is communally controlled through the formation of groups with the clear goal of improving goat productivity.

Farmers have formed themselves into nine groups. Each group has an average of 15 members. Each farmer selects the best performing East African buck and does. The breeding material is acquired by selecting from the existing flocks. The poor-performing bucks are castrated and the females culled. The farmers are left with the best performers for breeding. This is a prerequisite for introduction of other genetic material of Galla origin. Existing farmers’ by-laws stipulate that:

All the poor-performing East African bucks in a farmer's flock have to be castrated before introduction of the group Galla buck.

Those members unwilling to castrate their East African bucks should ensure physical separation once the Galla buck is introduced. They relocate them to their distant relatives or close friends.

Each farmer within a group should put up a housing structure for all his goats to protect them against extreme weather and predators (the Tsavo national reserve is nearby).

In order to allow for procurement of the Galla buck, each farmer has to make a monetary contribution as stipulated by the group.

For quicker results, farmers have targeted the Galla buck rather than the doe for cross-breeding with the East African. After castration of all the poor performers and physical separation of the other East African bucks in the flock, the only mating option for their does is the group’s Galla buck. However, should the need arise, the East African goats can always be accessed for breeding purposes.

For breeding purposes, the Galla goat is procured from the neighbouring districts. The last batch was purchased from the Orma Borana of Tana River district. Useful background information on the breeding stock is also provided.

Since the rearing system is semi-intensive, the goats graze on natural pastures. Each group member is allocated the Galla buck to utilize and mate with the rest of the herd for one month. The choice of one month is to ensure that other members do not wait too long before getting a chance to have the buck. After one month, the farmer hands over the buck to the next beneficiary. To determine who the next beneficiary will be, members carry out a ballot every month. Those who have already benefited are usually excluded from this ballot. If a member wins the ballot and for some reason does not require the buck during that month, he can pass it on to a member of his choice. Reasons why members sometimes forfeit their chance include: pregnancy of all their does, not having fulfilled the group’s conditions (such as castration and selection of their bucks), and failure to have a housing structure for their goats.

The buck is supposed to rotate among all members in the group. During the period when the goat is in the custody of one member, access should not be denied to other members. Members present their does on heat to the buck for mating and then take them back once they have mated. Once all members have had a chance, after a full rotation, the members exchange their bucks with other groups to prevent inbreeding.

Two economically viable group members have purchased their own Galla bucks. They graze these bucks with their other flock and they are not free for rotation to other members. These members have the long-term intention of being Galla breeders for multiplication and distribution to the other farmers for breeding.

The following measures are taken to prevent uncontrolled breeding:

Bucks are exchanged among the groups once all members of a group have had custody of the Galla buck. So far, a full rotation has not yet been achieved.

Individual members intend to exchange their bucks with each other once the F1s are mature enough to be mated.

Each farmer ensures that he grazes his animals separately to avoid mixing them with those of his neighbours, so that only the Galla buck is allowed to mate.

Watering is either done at home or at a nearby river. To avoid mixing, farmers water their animals after other community members have finished. However, this is not foolproof and accidental uncontrolled breeding may still occur.

To prevent goats mixing at the salt licks, most of which are communal, some farmers have opted to purchase the locally made salt from Ngiluni farmers group.

Records are kept of the bucks used for breeding, especially the Galla bucks.

The breeders association is a steering committee that coordinates all the activities of the breeding group. Each of the nine groups has representation in the breeders group. The group deals centrally with all procurements and also links the breeders to other service providers. The breeders association was the founder of this initiative. This is a forum in which the interests of group members are discussed. They form linkages with other partners in goat breeding.

The community initiative


Several institutions are involved in the support of the community initiative in different areas and capacities.

Technical support:

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) provides technical information required by the breeders through extension services. This concerns the identification of good breeding bucks, the provision of movement permits, animal health and proper goat management practices.

Community-based animal health workers (CAHWs) are farmers trained in basic animal health techniques. CAHWs are selected by their communities. So far, 43 have been trained in Kathekani. They are in the front line of animal health delivery at the community level. They attend to all emerging cases and refer those they are unable to deal with to the government veterinary personnel.

Ethnoveterinary practitioners provide inexpensive services to the livestock breeders for the various livestock ailments they can treat. There are ten of these registered traditional healers.

Logistical support:

On request, ITDG-EA provides the farmers with help to transport newly acquired goats.


ITDG-EA also offers capacity-building through training in small-business skills, fodder conservation, pasture establishment and making salt licks. The farmers have also been taken for study visits to other areas where breeding programmes are being implemented.

Socio-economic support:

Butchers and livestock traders provide the marketing channels for goats reared for slaughter.


1. Sense of ownership

Farmers make a great financial contribution towards this initiative with very little external support, giving them a sense of ownership.

2. Strengthened institutions

The community’s capacity to run the project has been greatly enhanced through relevant training and study visits to other breeding programmes in other areas. The small-scale business skills training helps farmers to view farming activities as business ventures.

Linkages with partners, e.g. MoARD, CAHWs and livestock traders. The community therefore knows where to obtain information and technical advice.

3. Group approach

This ensures that all members are responsible to each other, giving a sense of accountability and transparency with inbuilt monitoring systems.


The farmers monitor the initiative’s progress themselves. This is done in the following way:

Members keep simple records to identify the buck used for breeding. Bucks are identified through their phenotypic qualities and by the group that originally owned the goat.

The health of the buck is also a pertinent issue. In case of sickness, the group member with custody of the goat bears the cost. The member should also report the matter to the group officials and inform them about the nature of the illness and the course of treatment adopted. In such a case, the group takes responsibility if the goat eventually dies. The animal health component is the concern of community animal health workers.

Financial records of the members’ contributions are kept by the groups’ officials.


The anticipated and realized monetary benefits of the project have encouraged farmers to adopt this breeding initiative. The Galla/East African crosses are attaining much higher market weights in a shorter period than the East African goat. The goats are also preferred by butchers and traders because of their size. An East African goat of 25 kg (live weight) fetches K Sh 1 500 (US$20), while a cross of 45 kg fetches K Sh 5 000 (US$67) and a Galla of about 65 kg is worth K Sh 8 000 (US$107).

The farmers’ livestock management practices have improved. Farmers are more in control of their animal health problems than before, which can be seen from, e.g., the improved housing, the prompt treatment of sick animals and deliberate efforts to watch out for breeding diseases. This has led to the production of high-quality carcasses with fewer losses.

Moreover, greater linkages between the community members and other partners with a stake in the breeding initiative have evolved. Farmers are in a better position to network and access information they require for their livestock production needs.


Limited availability of pastures, especially during drought;

Lack of adequate resources to increase the number of Galla bucks to ensure that each farmer has at least one, thus increasing the Galla genetic resource base. This has led the farmers to use their East African goats when the Galla goat is in the custody of other farmers;

Risk of uncontrolled breeding during watering and grazing;

Predation on livestock by wild animals from the national park;

Lack of appropriate breeding policy for the arid and semi-arid lands;

Low level of literacy leading to poor record-keeping. Some members attempt to keep records by committing them to memory;

Inadequate goat nutrition as a result of constant droughts;

Lack of a clear breeding policy.

Lessons learned

The following lessons have been learned by community members and partners:

Community-based knowledge and practices represent a strong tool in community livestock-breeding programmes. This leads to a demand-driven participatory planning approach where the interests of the community are well catered for.

In situ conservation cannot be successful if it is conducted for its own sake. Benefits must be felt at the community level.

Breeding programmes are successful if developed as an integrated livestock production package and not in isolation. Such a package should incorporate the farming systems in a particular area.

Organized community activities lead to faster realization of development objectives.


The initiative is in a nascent stage. At the moment, farmers focus on immediate or short-term benefits as opposed to long-term benefits. The cross-breeding method is criss-cross mating, but instead of using tropical breeds, indigenous breeds are used. Some of the farmers are upgrading their Galla without a firm idea of the level they want to achieve. As a result, it is clear that the farmers are not quite focused on what end product they require. They thus need technical guidance from professional breeders to help them map out their breeding strategy and long-term objectives. Technical guidance could also be a clear breeding policy to guide them on the way forward in their breeding programmes.

At the moment, the Kathekani farmers are responding to market forces in their strategy of exploiting their existing gene pool. But market forces are dynamic. Changes in the social fabric occur, and questions arise as to what incentives will be required to ensure that the farmers conserve their breeds voluntarily, and whether the focus should be on pure breed conservation or indigenous gene pool conservation.


Devandra & McLeroy, G.B. 1982. Goat and sheep production in the tropics. London, Longman.

ITDG-EA. 2000. Community-based animal health care in East Africa. Experiences and case studies with particular reference to Kenya. Nairobi, Intermediate Technology Development Group - Eastern Africa.

ITDG-EA. 2000. Marginal farmers project review report. Nairobi.

ITDG-EA. 2001. The role of community-based animal health care in rural development: ITDG-EA's experiences. Nairobi.

Okeyo, A.M. et al. 1985. Fertility levels, postpartum intervals and other reproductive performance traits in the East African goat, Galla and their crosses at Ol Magogo Collaborative Research Support Programme. Proc. 4th Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Programme. Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Kenya.

Skea, I. 1988. Keeping goats in Kenya. Nairobi, Ministry of Livestock Development.

Skea, I., Lenemiria, D., Skea, R., Neugebauer, S. & Mathewman, R.W. 1990. Study of Galla goat production in a semi-arid environment in Kenya. Nairobi, Embu-Meru-Isiolo Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Programme.

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