Boost for livestock sector as focus shifts to camels

African Union gives Kenya Sh70 million to study ‘surra’, a common and often deadly disease

Although agriculture is generally appreciated to be one of the key sectors for economic transformation, food security, and nutrition in the country, the use of drought-resistant livestock as a climate adaptation strategy has received scant attention.

However, this is about to change owing to renewed interest by the government and international organisations in boosting production of camels – known to be much more resistant to drought. Various counties in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) and other international organisations are fast-tracking bold strategies to scale up development of the camel sub-sector.

For example, African Union (AU) has granted Kenya Sh70 million to carry out an intensive surveillance in Isiolo and Marsabit counties and North West Somalia (Somaliland). 

The study aimed at improving camel husbandry for higher meat and milk production through integrated control of trypanosomiasis disease (Surra), a fatal infectious disease will result in unveiling of a new drug to help increase productivity in the country. The current drug being used to treat camel has been in the market for over 20 years and has been showing resistance and ineffectiveness.

The disease is blamed for high mortality rate, significant reduction in milk production and loss in body condition thereby exacerbating poverty and food insecurity in the region.

Unlike other livestock species kept, camels are affected most by Surra due to abundance of its biting flies that lead to infection rates of 20 to 70 per cent in camel herds.

The research project is being administered by Kenya Agricultural Research & Livestock Organisation (Karlo) through its institute Biotechnology Research Institute (BioRI).  

BioRI director Judith Chemuliti said during the launch of the study at KARLO Muguga centre recently that the survey will help in investigating diseases that affects camel, new ways to tame the infections and recommend strategies to enhance camel trade.

“The study will benefit camel farmers through increased production of milk, higher off-take of live animals and reduced produced costs. The project will also build the capacity of animal health workers in the region to better manage and control diseases,” said Dr Chemuliti. She said once completed the study would contribute to pro-poor pastoral development through sustainable intensification of camel health and productivity in the horn of Africa.

County Director Veterinary Service from Isiolo County Joseph Githinji said the research could not have come at a better time especially to over 45,000 camels that the county has.

“Our county has over 45,000 camels.  As a government we are pursuing tough strategies to enhance sale of milk which is a major  source of economic activity for the community,” he said, adding that group of women –Anolei every day transport 3,000 litres to Nairobi’s Eastleigh area.

Marsabit County Chief Officer in charge of Livestock, Wario Sori said that there has been very lean literature on camel and any study to be done on the animal will be coming closer to the community to promote their livelihoods.

“Population of camel Marsabit county stand at 200,000, with 80 per cent of the local community depending on the livestock. This research will be a good opportunity for use since we have been having a challenge on camel diseases especially with no reference in terms of disease control,” he said.

The latest development comes at a time when consumption of camel in the Horn of Africa has intensified trade between Kenya and Ethiopia.

Kenya Camel Association explained that live camels being exported through Ethiopia border end up in Egypt market which has high demand.

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