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Letter on livestock interventions and gender issues, by Pippa Howell

Dear Field Exchange,

I was interested to see the article in Issue 8 (on the emergency livestock off-take programme in Isiolo district). ActionAid-Kenya works with the Boran people in Merti division and was one of the implementing NGOs mentioned in the article. We had already implemented a similar off-take in 1996, and I went to review the programme in 1997. I found some good examples of how emergency responses can sometimes provide opportunities for increased livelihood security and changed social norms.

Some interesting unexpected impacts from the off-take project related to gender issues. In the trading centres, I noticed several 'kiosks' where women were brewing tea for sale. Boran women are not usually economically active outside the home but it seems the drought provided a 'space' in which to bend the rules. When crowds gathered for the emergency livestock markets, these women had seen a trading opportunity. They started with zero capital, borrowing tea and sugar and paying it back at the end of the day from their profits. A year later, these small businesses had become going concerns: one woman I interviewed was feeding and educating her three children from the proceeds. This is a good reminder to us all that we need to assess the impact of interventions through a broad lens, not only against pre-set indicators and targets.

During a previous drought recovery period, women were included in the community committees (at ActionAid-K's request) which were set up to manage a livestock restocking programme. Their knowledge was particularly useful for accurate targeting. Several Boran elders (male) told me that only due to this did they realise women had special knowledge and were capable of working in committees and speaking in meetings. A change which other 'development' activities had failed to bring about!

As a point of clarification to readers: the article did not explain the reason for offering subsidies to entice traders into the area. It was because of the 200 km journey, which pastoralists usually have to make on foot in order to sell cattle in the Isiolo market. When cattle are already weak due to drought, this results in animal loss on the way, and those who do arrive are in poor condition. Traders know they can buy at a knockdown price - no-one is going to trek the animals back home again - and the pastoralists make a loss. In 1997, the road was also very unsafe due to banditry.

Pippa Howell, Research & Programme Learning Coordinator, Emergencies Unit, ActionAid
e-mail: pippah@actionaid.org.uk

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Reference this page

Pippa Howell (2000). Letter on livestock interventions and gender issues, by Pippa Howell. Field Exchange 11, December 2000. p6. www.ennonline.net/fex/11/letters