An estimated 80 percent of Kenya's land mass is dedicated to pastoralism - a system primarily based on raising livestock in arid and semi-arid areas - yet it remains a much misunderstood way of life, according to participants in a workshop on pastoralism in Africa, held on 9-11 July in the eastern town of Isiolo. One of the participants, Joseph Mutete ole Kishau, 50, from Naivasha district, Rift Valley Province, spoke to IRIN about the frustrations and challenges pastoralists experience in the course of their nomadic existence:
"I have very little formal education and my life revolves around my livestock; it pains me that a lot of people do not understand that a pastoralist must be a livestock keeper because that is the best use he can put his land to. I have more than 100 head of cattle and about 400 goats and sheep that need pasture and water, meaning I often have to move from place to place in search of these things.
"In my district, we have many pastoralists but the main problem is that we lack recognition of being residents here because of our nomadic existence yet this area is considered an agricultural region. We need to be recognised as rightfully living here, despite the fact that we often move around in search of grazing land and water for our animals.
"Moreover, pastoralists in my area need to have a slaughterhouse nearby so that they are not taken advantage of by traders who buy the animals cheaply from them and take them to Nairobi [the capital] where there is a slaughterhouse. As it is, if you want to take your animals to the slaughterhouse, you have to trek at least 200km to the city; this of course is not possible. So we resort to selling our livestock to traders who transport the animals in trucks. Our standard of living would improve greatly if we had a slaughterhouse nearby as it would also provide employment for our youth and other residents. Such a slaughterhouse would have to be managed by the government, together with the pastoralists, to benefit livestock keepers.
"Many pastoralists also have difficulty accessing veterinary services because of the distances involved. For example, during the recent outbreak [in December 2006] of Rift Valley Fever, a lot of pastoralists in Naivasha and the nearby districts of Kajiado and Narok had no idea what the disease was; fortunately, we were not affected very much by the outbreak. Imagine if it had spread to our areas; veterinary officers are only found in district headquarters, what would we have done?
"I think it is time livestock keepers were recognised and accorded the respect they deserve for their pastoralist way of life; we need more cattle dips for our animals, better veterinary services and a slaughterhouse we can access easily if our lives are to improve."