Recurrent outbreaks of the viral livestock disease peste des petits ruminants (PPR), which affects goats and sheep, are exacerbating poor food security in the mainly pastoralist Turkana region of northwestern Kenya.
Community leader Morris Lichokwe told IRIN he had lost 300 goats from a herd of 800 in three months to PPR. The disease, locally known as “Lomoo”, had killed thousands of heads of livestock.
"Lomoo has really brought us down," said Lichokwe, a resident of the division of Kaaling, in Turkana North district.
“Before,” he said, “I could sell some of my goats but that is no longer possible. Goats in good health can retail for up to 3,000 shillings [US$50] each but the price has dropped to as low as 300 shillings [$5] in some areas.” This was due to the closure of the external market as a form of quarantine.
PPR symptoms include lassitude, fever, discharges from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, laboured breathing and diarrhoea.
"There is a need for quick vaccination and deworming to avoid ruining our livelihoods as we have no agricultural land to sustain us," he said.
"Lomoo clears half the herd. With no medicine we are forced to leave the goats to die," John Ichom, a resident, said. Most of the veterinary stores are in the main towns of Lokichoggio and Kakuma, far from the pastoral areas.
Turkana Central District Commissioner George Ayonga said the disease had lowered the purchasing power of the pastoralist community. "You cannot sell a sick goat and even an animal that looks a bit healthy cannot be sold." PPR has been recorded in 16 districts in the north.
"Right now people are not selling their livestock," Ali Abdi, a livestock trader, in the Oropoi area, said. “Occasionally when someone brings a goat, I exchange it for a bag of maize flour,” Abdi, who also runs a food kiosk, told IRIN. A 50kg bag of maize sells for 1,300 ($21.60) shillings. Few centres in the district were stocking food when IRIN visited.
"Most people cannot buy, they come to the kiosk to borrow the flour. What can I do?" he asked. "The people here persevere, it is a hard life. There is no work, no food and no water. Before they used to make roads to get money but now there is nothing to do."
Failed rains in the district forced the movement of livestock from the drier northern and central areas to the southern areas of Kakong and Kainuk in search of water and pasture. The southern areas are insecure, with livestock theft and banditry rampant.
According to George Omori, a veterinary officer, the watering sources are far away, unreliable and few have been recharged, reducing the number of times livestock are watered. Dehydration is a risk among PPR-affected livestock.
Livestock convergence could also increase the risk of PPR, Omori said: "The animals that have moved south could wipe out the rest in case of an outbreak." Most of the affected were the young not covered by past vaccinations.
Omori said there was a need for continuous vaccination for at least three years to control the spread of the disease. The three million goats and sheep in the region were at risk, with at least five outbreaks reported in several areas, he said.
Smaller ruminants have a high turnover and thus require frequent disease prevention and control interventions. The PPR vaccine provides protection for about three years for small ruminants.
So far, at least 61,000 sheep and goats have been vaccinated, with another 70,000 expected to be vaccinated in August. This represents a shortfall of at least two million doses in order to cover the entire region, according to Omori.
At least 1.5 million goats and sheep were vaccinated in 2007 after an outbreak. Since 2006, PPR has led to the deaths of at least 400,000 sheep and goats, he said.
Pastoralists have also had to grapple with rising food prices due to lowered livestock productivity and the failed rains, according to the district crop officer, Vincent Morara.
In the past year, the prices of commodities such as maize, posho (maize meal flour) and sorghum have doubled to 60 shillings ($1) per kilo.
In the agro-pastoral regions along the Kerio and Turkwell rivers, most farmers have also not planted, while crop losses were expected for those who had due to low water flow, Morara said. The rivers provide water for six to eight months each year, allowing for the growth of crops such as cowpeas, maize and millet.
"Little crop production could be sustained," he said.
From January to June this year, only 81.2mm of rain has fallen in the region compared with 366.2mm in the same period last year.
The number of people receiving food aid in the Turkana region has risen to 215,000 from 160,000 in response to the deteriorating food security and nutrition situation, according to a report covering 3-9 July by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Turkana Central recorded the highest rates of global acute malnutrition at 28.9 percent. At least 6,759 pregnant and lactating women were moderately malnourished in April, according to the district nutrition officer, Francis Kidaki.
"We eat wild fruits and other taboo foods when we run out of food aid," Lochur Apochor, a local resident, said.
“The children eat the uji [porridge] we eat, there is no special food for the children,” a resident of Kanakurdio, Pauline Asinyen, said.
“Right now there is no goat milk as the flocks have moved away in search of pasture,” Asinyen said.
Poor access to markets due to a dilapidated road network and insecurity, coupled with inward and outward migrations, have also contributed to the deteriorating food security in the region.