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New Agriculturist: Focus on... Tackling an urban issue: keeping livestock in the city
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Tackling an urban issue: keeping livestock in the city

Susan, a resident of Kibera, feeds her goats
Susan, a resident of Kibera, feeds her goats

A thick, stagnant drain snakes through the centre of Kibera, Kenya's largest slum area. Three small children shelter from the sun and watch chickens scavenging amongst the rubbish piles whilst 'flying toilets,' plastic bags filled with faeces, litter the ground. There is no running water or waste disposal, so the stinking sewage remains until the rains wash it into the rivers and surrounding marshes. In what Kofi Annan has called the 'urbanisation' of poverty, urban slums are scarring the face of sub-Saharan Africa at an astonishing rate. In 2005, over 70 per cent of the region's urban population were living in slums or informal settlements. And in the next thirty years, Africa's population is set to double to 1.77 billion.

The rise of urban slums is not restricted to Africa alone. The phenomenon is global, from the 'favelas' of South America to the 'chawls' of India. Rapid migration continues as a result of failed agricultural policies in rural areas, and the hope of employment and more opportunities in urban areas. Urban policy however, has failed to keep up, and most slum areas lack facilities such as clean water and sanitation. Many of those in the slum areas keep animals to increase the food supply. This aggravates the already pressing health and sanitary issues. However, it also contributes to the well-being, incomes and skills of those who practice livestock keeping.

Walking banks

Because owners cannot afford to feed their livestock, many are left to roam the slum areas, while some are kept enclosed in stalls. They feed on human and other waste materials, which could be infected with disease. Parasites like tapeworm lie in the muscles of the animals, and when killed and eaten can be transferred to humans. To tackle these issues, the Kenyan government has warned that keeping animals in enclosed areas is a health hazard, and since the practice is illegal, fines and confiscation of animals have been enforced to ensure that people comply with the law.

But without employment opportunities, and with huge demand for cheap food, many slum dwellers rely on their animals for income. Known as 'walking banks', the animals can be fattened and sold, making them a form of capital or savings, or even a pension scheme. Livestock provide milk or meat, which many cannot afford to buy; the products from livestock owned by individual households contribute substantially to the city food supply. The animals can also be sold to obtain ready cash in an emergency or to pay school fees. When employment is not available or only available temporarily, many say that they have no choice but to keep livestock, even though some know that the practice is illegal.

The political animal

Although keeping livestock is illegal, many of the bylaws are out of date; in Kisumu western Kenya, many date back to 1907. These colonial regulations do not take into account rapid urbanization, and they do not provide alternative means by which farmers can earn a livelihood, or keep their animals in a safer environment. Livestock confiscation is carried out in an unsystematic manner, which often confuses livestock keepers and makes them angry as they are rarely able to afford fines when the animals are confiscated.

In Uganda, urban livestock keeping was not a subject for public discussion until the late 1990s. However, the research organization KUFSALCC, the Kampala Urban Food Security, Agriculture and Livestock Coordinating Committee, was set up to engage stakeholders and support the policy making process. It has brought livestock keeping issues and problems to the attention of the authorities, and, as a result, the Kampala city authority has reviewed and passed new ordinances governing Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture and Livestock activities. User-friendly guidelines based on these ordinances are being pilot tested in communities. Public health information on how to prevent transmission of diseases from livestock is disseminated through the participatory law review.

Looking ahead

In Nairobi, the Nairobi and Environs Food Security and Livestock Forum, or NEFSALF, is also working to promote policy change at municipal level. Lead by an NGO, the Mazingira Institute, the Forum has established regular meetings for a range of stakeholders including the City Council, the University of Nairobi, and the NGO Greentowns. Policy change is a slow process, and while NEFSALF in Kenya is continuing to give a voice to the concerns of livestock farmers from slum areas across Nairobi, urban livestock policy is yet to be considered by the city authorities. The key to progress in Uganda so far has been engaging in forums where representatives from a broad range of those involved can express their views. Despite progress, there is a strong need to address urban slum expansion together with the issues that surround it, and to streamline new ordinances with other local and national laws for sustainability. The challenge ahead will be to do this, while at the same time avoiding conflict and loss of income opportunities in slum areas.

Date published: May 2006


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