The multifunctionality of livestock in rural Kenya

This is an interesting research paper from Purdue’s Agricultural Economics department published in 2008. Titled Traits Affecting Household Livestock Marketing Decisions in Rural Kenya (pdf), it’s abstract informs us that:

While many contemporary development programs with regard to Sub-Saharan Africa’s pastoralists promote improved livestock marketing as a way out of poverty, they also fail to take into account the multi-functionality of livestock within these communities, and thus are doomed to failure. While livestock are a main source of income for the pastoralist household, they also serve a purpose as a store of wealth, food source, and status symbol. Furthermore, cattle and smallstock (sheep and goats) fulfill each function to a different degree. Since livestock are so multi-functional, marketing projects could better achieve their objectives if they had a more accurate picture of what motivates household livestock sale decisions.

The findings from the first phase of my fieldwork in rural Philippines and India identified the tendency for livestock purchases to be perceived as investments, maturing at different times over the course of the natural year. A piglet, for example, could be used as an investment – to be sold when adult for 2 or 3 times its original cost or as a cushion against shock – to be eaten as food or sold in times of need. Whereas it was rice or wheat that tended to be used as a store of wealth by the Filipino and Indian farmers, this paper demonstrates that rural Kenya pastoralists display the same behaviour, only changing the form of the stored wealth from grain to livestock.

We cannot look at any rural marketing strategies without first understanding household financial behaviour (or consumer behaviour as traditional marketers are wont to call it, though that can be misleading) and many of the traits so displayed offer a challenge to conventional business practices and market entry strategy.

Here’s a lovely paragraph from their research paper which echoes my findings, giving me confidence that my findings from the upcoming rural Kenyan fieldwork will only underscore the basic patterns of rural financial household management already seen elsewhere.

Given the emphasis placed on the multi-functionality of livestock in the literature, the implication is that households will treat livestock similarly to a savings account or stock portfolio and typically (and perhaps reluctantly) only sell livestock to cover cash shortfalls when certain necessary expenditures arise. Depending upon the household liquidity of livestock, animal sales may take place frequently to cover living expenditures or infrequently to cover lumpy expenses such as school fees, tuitions, and uniforms. Additionally, pastoralist households likely hold livestock as a buffer against future uncertainties and obligations that cannot be completely foreseen.

Lack of liquidity among rural households has often led those evaluating the so called “base of the pyramid” households to inaccurately assess purchasing power based on availability or spending patterns of cash money whereas in actuality cash money is rarely held onto and rapidly converted into tangible goods as a form of investment in a diversified portfolio.

If interested in comparisons, my second link above ‘findings’ is the final paper I’d submitted to the iBoP Asia project in 2009 on the ‘Prepaid Economy’ research.

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