THE CONSERVATION OF
INDIGENOUS LIVESTOCK BREEDS
A case study in Kenya looking at ways to prevent the loss of genetic diversity
Kenya is located on the east coast of the African continent. The land stretches from sea level
in the Indian Ocean in the east to 5,199 meters at peak of the snow capped Mount Kenya.
The Great Rift Valley bisects the country’s highlands into an Eastern and western section.
Ethiopia and Sudan border Kenya, Somalia to the northeast, Uganda to the west, and Tanzania
to the south.
The population of Kenya is estimated to be 28 million and consists of 42 different tribes.
70% of Kenya is arid or semi arid land which supports 20% of the human population and
more than 50% of the livestock. Grazing livestock is the only viable form of food production
for most of these area and forms a critical part of the food security strategy in regions where
marginal farming. These areas provide 80% of Kenya’s meat supplies.
Importance of livestock to local communities
Livestock is very important to pastoralists and marginal farmers. It is the main source of their
livelihoods, which centre around the number of livestock they own and the need to ensure
The species patoralists rely on include cattle, camels, sheep, goats and donkeys from which
they obtain meat, blood and milk, which form their staple diet.
In marginal farming areas, poultry and rabbits are kept for meat and eggs. Among the
Samburu for example, livestock also plays an important socio-cultural role such as serving as
payment for dowry. Livestock is the main source of wealth, and income is derived from the
sale of livestock and its products.
At the national level the livestock sector in Kenya contributes about 10% of the gross
domestic product and over 30% of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Importance of local breeds
In addition to providing food security for the respective local communities, indigenous breeds
have further significance for sustaining and increasing food production in Kenya. By allowing
use of marginal environments, they maximize production. They are also valuable reservoirs of
genes for adaptive and economic traits, providing diversified genetic pool, which can help
meeting future challenges resulting from changes in production sources and market
requirements. For these reasons, the country needs to keep options open by maintaining wide
Local livestock breeds
Because local communities have bred livestock for different purposes, different breeds are
linked to different communities.
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