Tracing technology helps farmers beat stringent export requirements

As small scale farmers struggle to meet the stringent export markets which are locking them from the lucrative business, new innovations are now being developed to position the farmers to give farmers direct access to these markets. Kenya is currently trialling a traceability system based on computer chips, which are swallowed by the animal and linked to a satellite-based global positioning system.

A system being piloted by Practical Action in Mandera district, north eastern Kenya, connects livestock to a database which not only identifies the animal, its owner, district, movement permits, and vaccination records, but also keeps a record of the animal's movements. Having access to such information will not only help cattle herders in meeting the requirements for meat and livestock exports, but could also allow quick action to be taken in the event of cattle rustling.

One concern, however, is that cattle rustlers will use the system to their advantage, tracking the movement of animals using their own computer software. Having a system of passwords may help to prevent this but, according to Abdul Haru, Area Coordinator for a vulnerability reduction programme in northern Kenya, it would also be important to link the system to the peace committees and government security forces operating in the region, which includes parts of Somalia and Ethiopia.

The high cost of the system, he concedes, has also been a setback. However, the system could not be rolled out without government support, because of its implications for security and policy. Haru is hopeful that the government and the regional bodies will support the initial investment, which is far less than the cost of cattle rustling per year. For the farmers, the chips will be very cheap and could be used and re-used for over 30 years.

Patrick Ole Pampa, a pastoralist who owns at least 40 cattle says the technology will need to be strongly advocated if it is to be adopted, especially among Maasai pastoralists. "We are used to the common means of identification, like branding the animals. Changing will be a bit difficult. But maybe if the concept is well explained to pastoralists, some might opt to use it." For himself, he thinks that he would opt to change to the technology if it were affordable and could help him recover stolen animals.

According to officials the new traceability technology could play a big role in helping to control disease outbreaks, such as the recent spread of Rift Valley fever in Kenya's North Eastern province. He notes that for Kenya to penetrate the EU market it is compelled to adhere to food and feed regulations which include animal traceability, adding "The government welcomes any technology that would act as a traceability tool. The system would also protect the citizens of export countries."