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Dr. Simon Wagura: Potential for Research in Marginalised Regions


Scientists have repeatedly sounded alarm bells on the grave impact of climate change on the world. The ice sheets and glaciers in the Arctic are melting faster due to rising global temperatures thus leading to increasing water levels in oceans and seas. Closer home, the water levels in the lakes in the Great Rift Valley are rising at alarming rates. In the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, which account for 84% of Kenya’s land surface area and receive less than 625 mm of rain per year, the shifting weather patterns threaten food production and livestock.

Dr. Simon Wagura Ndiritu has been working with pastoralists in semi-arid areas to assist them adapt to climate change as part of the project Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies (PRISE). The project ran from 2014 to 2018 across multiple countries. PRISE researchers worked in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Senegal, Tajikistan, and Tanzania with stakeholders in government, business, civil society, and regional economic organisations. With 2.5 billion people living in dry lands worldwide, PRISE set out to deepen the understanding of the threats and opportunities that semi-arid economies face in relation to climate change, and by generating new knowledge about ways in which economic development in semi-arid regions can be made more equitable and resilient to climate change.

Locally, Dr. Ndiritu, a Senior Lecturer at the Strathmore University Business School, examined the beef value chain and identified climate change adaptation and investment options in Laikipia North and Kajiado. “We wanted to demystify the myths that these are wastelands, with nothing good to offer. So we sought to find out, how can the beef value chain be improved to increase the resilience?”

Laikipia North, located in County number 31, is largely classified as pastureland. Laikipia is well known for its privately-owned conservancy-style ranches such as Borana, Ol Jogi and Solio, which provide a significant source of beef for local consumption and export besides luxury tourism. Pastoralists also inhabit the area and are the worst hit when it comes to climate change.

The climate of the area is typified as semi-arid, in that it receives an average annual rainfall of 400–750 mm. Consequently, the area experiences cyclic drought. Ordinary dry spells, with the longest starting in April and ending in October when the short rains arrive, leave the pastoralists with large animal losses and emaciated livestock. Global warming exacerbates these losses.

A brief history of drought in the country shows that before 1990, droughts occurred every seven to ten years on average. Since then, five severe droughts have occurred, namely in 1992–1993, 1999–2000, 2004–2005, 2009–2010 and 2014. Pastoralists consider the 2009–2010 drought as the worst in living memory: at least 75% of their cattle succumbed to the drought, leading to acute vulnerability in their livelihoods (Tully, 2014).

To reduce the losses that come with the drought, Dr. Ndiritu proposes to strengthen the beef value chain: The private sector, especially the pastoralist, needs to invest in fattening to increase the quality of the beef they produce, which in turn fetches higher prices at the market.

“What we need is to have functional feedlots which would become a market for the animals. Pastoralists can sell animals at two years to the feedlots instead of waiting until they are seven years old. The feedlots can then spend three months fattening the animals which can later be sold at 400 – 450 kg.” The current model of fattening of feedlots is to rely on emaciated livestock. The problem with this, he says, is that despite using expensive animal feed, the animal might attain the right weight but not the quality meat that the market is looking for. “The current market price does not support this model of fattening.”

The Kenya Market Trust took up this advice and is now working with investors on finishing and fattening that works for each region.

“The basic raw material for the feedlot is the animal. You are empowering the poor by ensuring that the pastoralists have a consistent market. Because of the nature of the drylands, it is difficult for animals to attain the weight required for the market. So the pastoralist becomes the breeding stock of the feedlots. Through this system you increase the resilience of the pastoralists and increase their ability to sell.”

He will present his findings in an upcoming public lecture on “Building a Competitive Meat Industry and Re-Shaping the Livestock Sector in Kenya Through Value Chain” which will be held by the President’s Delivery Unit in partnership with SBS on November 18.

He is also currently working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation to facilitate the adoption of good practices by private sector stakeholders along the poultry value chain in Kiambu and Nairobi counties. Once this is done, he will embark on a millet project that involves leveraging remote sensing and ICT to facilitate yield maximisation, structured trading and inclusive value chain participation for smallholder staple grain farmers in Kenya.


Dr. Wagura holds a PhD. in Economics from School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In addition to his doctoral degree, Dr. Wagura’s academic attainment also includes, MA (Economics) degree with the best master thesis and a Bachelor of Education (Economics and Mathematics) degree (First class honours), all from the University of Nairobi. He also participated in the project management, agribusiness and post-harvest management program at Galilee International Management Institute, Israel. Read more of his profile here.


This article was written by Wambui Gachari.  


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