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Closure of Garissa (Kenya) cattle market: Food security implications in the Garissa marketshed in Kenya and Somalia

In early October 2003, the Veterinary Department of the Government of Kenyan declared the presence of rinderpest in parts of Garissa district (Northeastern Province) bordering Somalia based on blood samples collected form Amuma and Jarajila locations. These samples confirmed the presence of a low-grade virus causing a mild form of rinderpest, for which mortality rates are low. Previously unconfirmed cases of rinderpest were mentioned among wild animals across the border but that does not disturb the cross border livestock movement and trade.

To prevent further spread of the disease, the Kenyan government closed the Garissa cattle market on October 15. Closure of the market and disruption of cross border cattle trade has had immediate and profound food security implications for pastoralists and agropastoralists on both sides of the border. To determine the impact of this shock on household income and access to food, FEWS NET, FSAU and the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) of Kenya conducted a cross border assessment November 15-21.


In southern Somalia and northeastern Kenya, cattle are an important economic asset, especially among pastoral and agropastoral livelihood groups. Cattle provide sources of livelihood through milk and meat production and market sales. Over the past decade, the importance of the cattle trade among these food economy groups has been increasing due to the high value of cattle and the ever increasing seasonal demand for slaughtering and restocking in other parts of Kenya and Tanzania.

Fig. 1: NDVI Conditions in Garissa Marketshed, November 30, 2003: Difference from Normal

Major cattle markets in southern Somalia include Baidoa, Dinsor, Qorioley, Jowhar, Afgoi, Salagle, Bardhere and Afmadow, among others. Traders buy cattle from these assembly markets and trek them overland to Garissa (Northeastern Province, Kenya) where cattle trade is highly profitable.

Until its recent closure, Garissa was the largest and the most important cattle market in the southern "Somali Cluster." Its marketshed includes southern and central Somalia, part of Somali Region of Ethiopia as well as Northeastern Province in Kenya (encircled area on the map). Garissa is not only terminal market for local consumption of the livestock from these areas but also a major transit market, supplying major markets in Kenya, particularly Machakos, Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as other towns.

In the pastoralist economy, cross-border cattle marketing and its associated service sector provide a range of employment and income-earning opportunities for cattle owners; cattle herders who trek the cattle to their next destination: cattle branders; cattle traders, buyers and brokers; sellers of fodder and water; veterinary professionals and health services providers; money vendors who facilitate transactions; militias who extort illegal taxes at check points and local authorities who generate revenue through taxation.

The collapse of Somalia's national government in the 1990s and the subsequent disappearance of customs and revenue collection systems 'liberalized' livestock trade between Kenya and Somalia. This liberalization is shown by a generally upward trend in the number of cattle sold in Garissa market for last seven years (Table 1). In a normal year, 2000-3,000 head of cattle are sold in Garissa market every week. Of these, about 70% comes from Somalia and the rest from Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya.

The cattle trade peaks during and immediate following the rainy season when fodder and water are available along the trekking routes (Figure 1). Loss of animals due to lack of pasture and water along route is minimal at this time. During the first 1-2 months of each wet season, poor pastoral and agro-pastoral households usually sell some of their animals to get cash income to buy staple foods as well as invest in farming activities.

Closure of the Garissa market has disrupted normal trade volumes and dealt a severe blow to household incomes within all livelihoods associated with cattle marketing in the Somali Cluster. With no sources of income, the poor and very poor are most affected. The market closure has a wide economic ripple effect, extending outward to major markets as far apart as Mogadishu, Mombasa and Nairobi.

Table 1: Garissa Market Livestock Sales
2003 to date
n. a.
n. a.
Source: ARLMP, Garissa

Cross Border Livestock Movements

Somalia and Kenya share a long and lightly patrolled border of about 700 kms. The majority of this border land is most suitable for pastoral production with limited or no farming activities. The area is therefore home for livestock, especially cattle. The porous nature of the border and, more importantly, strong clan affiliations between communities on both sides of the border facilitate unlimited livestock movement back and forth across the border in search of water and pasture.

During the last dry season (Hagaa, July-September) there was a particularly an unusual reverse of cattle migration from Garissa, Wajir and Ijara districts (Kenya) to Afmadow, Badhadhe, Kismayu districts (Somalia) as well as the riverine areas of the Juba Valley. These areas had received good Gu seasons followed by unexpected Hagaa showers. Unrestricted movement of cattle increases the possibility of spreading trans-boundary cattle diseases, as currently found on the Kenyan side of the border.

Objectives of the Assessment

The overall objective of this assessment was to investigate the initial impact of the closure of the Garissa cattle market on the food security -- household income and access to food -- of pastoralists and agropastoral households whose livelihood depends directly or indirectly on cattle trade. These households include poor urbanites, pastoralist and agro-pastoralists on both sides of the border that have been the major beneficiaries of this active cattle trade.

A second objective was to recommend measures to control rinderpest and re-open the cattle market in Garissa.


The multi-national team employed a variety of techniques to assess the initial impact of the closure of the market on the livelihood of the various categories of the population on both sides of the border. Semi structured questionnaires were used to collect basic facts in the market. Focus group discussions and interviews with key informants were also used to collect information on changes in cattle prices across the markets.

Secondary information about the trends of the cattle trade in Garissa market, seasonality of cattle prices, types of major diseases which could result in quarantines and market closures of the market and how often these diseases have broken out over the last ten years, the number of cattle sold for the last seven years as well as revenue generated from cattle sales were collected from Garissa Municipal Council, Garissa Market Traders Association and the Northeastern Province Veterinarian.

Fig. 2: Cattle Price Trends in Selected Markets in Somalia Between mid-October and end-November 2003

Food Security Implications

The cattle trade has a multiplier effect on the local economy in both southern Somalia and Northeastern Kenya through the creation of wealth and employment opportunities and extensive inter-sectoral linkages. As expected, therefore, closure of the Garissa cattle market for the last six weeks has depressed the surrounding economy that primarily depends on the livestock sector and adversely affected different categories of the population on both sides of the border. Money circulation and dollar availability associated with the cattle trade has dwindled to very low level.


Information from Somalia indicates noticeable price decreases for export quality cattle across the main markets in southern Somalia despite high seasonal demand after Ramadan and before Christmas (Figure 2). More importantly, these price decreases are quite significant even after considering seasonal price declines that normally occur at the end of the rainy season. The food security implications of these price decreases are all the more important especially for poor households across the various pastoralist food economy zones (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: Pastoralist and Agropastoralist Food Economy Zones in Southern Somalia

The main implications are:

  • Loss of revenue to local authorities

  • Families of the direct beneficiaries had no cash to make ends meets at the end of Ramadan, typically a month of higher expenses, and are living now on debt. Purchasing power of the community has declined sharply as market activity remains sluggish.

  • The knock-on effect of the Garissa market closure has resulted in low demand for cattle in major markets in the south. Prices of cattle, especially bulls, have dropped well below normal levels. To offset loss of income from the sale of bulls, pastoralists have taken the unusual and desperate step of selling cows and female calves, which fetch relatively good prices because of high demand for local re-restocking. This step may however affect future herd sustainability, especially for poor households in pastoral and agropastoral food economy zones who no longer have their reproductive animals.

  • Now it is the peak market period (rainy season) when livestock prices should be high. Herders count on selling their animals during this time of the year in order to save for the coming dry season when livestock prices are depressed. Closure of the market has disrupted the pastoralist household budgeting system, especially for poor households with no alternative sources of income.

  • Afmadow, in the heart of the cattle pastoralist zone, is one of the Somalia markets where cattle prices always remain higher than markets in other parts of the country due to its relatively close proximity to Garissa, only a 5-day walk away. Prices in Afmadow dropped by 25% compared with the same period last year due to the market closure in Garissa. It is unlikely that cattle prices will improve in the short term because of the depressed economy as traders are unable to sell their livestock in Garissa market.

  • Traders who were unable to sell their animals before the closure continue to incur additional and unexpected expenses. Keeping animals will only increase marginal costs, thereby reducing trader profits once the market reopens -- unless there is such a backlog of unmet demand that prices will be very high at first.

  • Normally, proceeds from cattle trade are used to pay for imported commodities from Mogadishu's Bakara market to other main towns in the south. Closure of the Garissa market has seriously curtailed traders' ability to bring imported commodities into the rural areas in to the Lower Juba Valley and reduced the supply/availability of consumer goods from Mogadishu. As a result, prices of imported commodities like sugar, rice, wheat flour and vegetable oil have increased in many rural markets, such as Qoqani, Tabto, Doble, Salagle and Afmadow.


The population of Garissa district for 2003 is projected at 368,593 persons (excluding the 130,000 refugee population), with an urban population of 92,032. Of the total population, 25% lives in Garissa town, which acts as a safety net for those who lost their livestock during drought and seek part-time jobs to sustain their livelihood. These poor urbanites used to be able to find a safety net in the cattle market, the major employer. The district depends on the market more than any other district in the northeastern province. Up to 3,000 head of cattle with an average price of 8,000 KSh change hands every Wednesday in Garissa cattle market.

  • The direct beneficiaries of cattle business are cattle owners, traders, Garissa Municipal council, Garissa town council, cattle brokers (dalal), truck broker (dalaal), water sellers, herders, trekkers, transporters, loaders, wholesalers, food store owners, and turn boys. All these groups earn income between the point of entry (Liboi, Hulugho, and Amume) to the terminal market in Mombasa and Niarobi. The closure of the market has forced people in all these job categories in Garissa district into unemployment or out of business.

  • The potential for conflict looms between local and outsider herders. Large numbers of cattle were turned away when the market was closed. Unable to trek back, and anticipating the eventual reopening of market, traders are keeping their animals within the district. They have to bear the unexpected expense of feeding and watering their cattle. Currently there is a high concentration of cattle around Garissa town, competing for water and pasture with local herds. Early depletion of fodder has been reported in some areas. Overgrazing will affect local herders, especially poor households, who cannot migrate with their animals due to a variety of reasons.

  • Overcrowding of livestock will likely result spread of endemic livestock diseases.

Case Study

Aden Gudda is the head of a typical poor urban household of six members. He is a loader in the Garissa cattle market and his livelihood revolves around the market. When the market is active and the cattle trade is normal, Aden earns about 1,000 K.Sh per week, which cannot be increased. He has no other income sources. Aden's weekly earnings are used to purchase food and non-food essentials for the family for the week until the next cattle auction takes places. His main expenditure is on staple food, which include maize and maize meal, as well as on non-staples like sugar, vegetable oil, and kales (sukuma wiki). Since the market has been closed for over six weeks, Aden now has to turn to the collection and sale of bush products such as building poles, fire wood, and fodder. It is however clear that Aden's coping strategy cannot make ends meet because many like him have reverted to these same options for survival. His current income from the sale of bush products is 400 per week, only 40% of his normal income, and not sufficient to buy the same amount of food that the household needs. The family has therefore opted to shift all of their income into staple foods and reduce the number of daily meals to one. Households like Aden's will not be able to buy other essential non-food items, like clean water, human drugs and other welfare services. If the market remains closed much longer, it's likely that the nutritional status among children and mothers will deteriorate. Any further shock to this and similar households may lead to extreme coping strategies like disposal of assets and scattering of household members among better-off relatives, if there are any.


The multi-national joint mission recommends that:

  • A sustainable pastoral system has naturally been transhumance based on mobility, flexibility and reciprocal access to resources including market. Moreover cross border and export trades have been recognized as the most profitable and sustainable forms of livestock trade in GHA countries. The Government of Kenya, however should set up quarantine zones to prevent further spread of the disease at the same time reopen the market and allow the flow of the trade

  • Contributions of livestock to cash incomes and purchasing power of various population categories on both sides of the border remains important. Adult cattle above 3 years of age vaccinated during the Pan African Rinderpest Control program, ending in 2000, are not a rinderpest threat and should therefore be allowed into the market.

  • The Pan African Rinderpest Control program should be renewed and made operational until all traces of rinderpest are eradicated.

  • PACE/Somalia program should increase surveillance in southern Somalia. The ongoing vaccination program has to be completed

  • The Government of Kenya vaccination and surveillance system along the border should be intensified to avoid the spread of the trans-boundary diseases.