Electronic tracking chip stems cattle rustling

Livestock farmers in Kenya are set to benefit from a technology meant to tame cattle rustling in Kenya with the introduction of an electronic tracing chip at a time when reports indicating that the vice claims over 600 lives and displaces thousands annually.

The initiative which is supported by World Bank and East African Agricultural Productivity Project is overseen by the government of Kenya through the agricultural ministry.  “Pastoral communities in arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya depend on livestock for their livelihood. Mobility is a key strategy used by pastoralists to efficiently utilize available resources, notably pasture and water.

However, this strategy is being interrupted by a vicious cycle of livestock rustling hence the need for the introduction of the creative way to tame the vice, explained Dr. James Kariuki from the ministry of agriculture one of the overseers of the project.

The project leverages on the available telecom and ICT infrastructure as it uses the GPS tracking devices which are inserted in the cows’ rumen. Mobile phone and internet penetration in Kenya currently stands at 77.2 percent and 63 percent respectively. With such advances in the number of mobile phone and internet penetration, it is believed that the improvement of ICT infrastructure has contributed hugely and these are the same infrastructure that the initiative is leveraging on for its success.

The project dubbed Electronic Livestock Identification and Traceability (ELITS) entails usage of a Rumen Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) bolus that contains a microchip which is encased in a ceramic capsule.  The RFID is inserted into the reticulum of an animal using a bolus gun. The bolus confers a unique animal identifier number that is read using a reader and entered into a central computerized data base.

The bolus does not affect the health of the animal since it’s an inert chemical.  “The code on the bolus can be received by any radio receiver and therefore if the herds are stolen, a famer reports the case to the central data units through the anti stock theft and the code in question is blacklisted and the search commences,” explained Dr. Kariuki.  According to him the data base units are stationed at border points and around all the slaughter houses around the counties in the country.  The chip embedded in the bolus emit a signal and the radio receiver detects it and incase the signal is weak the receiver is connected to a directional antennae. The receiver can track over a distance of 15 kilometres.

The bolus battery strength can last for over 5 years and Dr. Kariuki noted that this is the estimated life span of the pastoralists’ herd. “We researched and found that the pastoral communities mainly keep their animals for about 3 to 4 years a period after which their livestock are deemed ready to sale off for beef purpose.” The bolus is re-usable and for economical purpose it’s advisable to insert it in one or two of the lead cows in one’s herd. The technology is already in use through the trial stages in Laikipia ranches and it will retail for about $5. 

“Livestock plays multiple roles in the lifestyle of pastoralists in Kenya, notably as livelihood sources, socio-cultural and religious functions, and asset and security against risks. For example, livestock is the main source of food by providing milk and meat, the basis of traditional social relations, e.g. payment of dowry (from the groom's family to the bride's family) during marriage or compensation of injured parties in tribal feuds, symbol of prosperity and prestige, store of wealth, and security against drought, disease and other calamities. Therefore there is need to safeguard the communities’ source of livelihood which we hope to achieve using the project,” explained Dr. Kariuki.

Cattle raiding in Kenya is often viewed in the legitimizing context of tradition, climate change and resource conflict, but increasingly it has much more to do with organized crime meeting a rising demand for meat, and fueling political violence. According to data from the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, a division of the Kenya police charged with preventing cattle theft, an estimated 580 people were killed between January 2012 and January 2013 as a result of cattle raids.

Similar cases of cattle raiding are also witnessed in neighboring countries like like South Sudan and Uganda. In South Sudan, the vice has result into fatal cases than even in Kenya. In the state of Jonglei, cattle raids in August 2011-2012 left around 3600 people dead and displaced as many as 34,500 in the area around Pibor.