A First for Africa – Microchips for NRT Cattle

NRT Trading is trialling a cattle microchip, never before used in Africa, which will revolutionise the Livestock to Markets Programme and benefit thousands of pastoralists in northern Kenya.

The NRT Trading Livestock to Markets (LTM) Programme bought over 2,360 cattle from 10 different conservancies in 2014. Identifying each animal bought is vital to prove ownership, measure performance, monitor disease and medication, and access information about age, breeding and origin. But traditional methods of identification include hot iron branding, paint marks, and ear tags, each of which is subject to a number of challenges. Paint comes off, ear tags can be tampered with, and hot iron branding can become illegible. Reading and recording a given identification number is also subject to a large amount of human error, as notes from the field have to be manually transferred to a computer database.

The tiny microchip is inserted behind the ear 

In response to these challenges, NRT have been trialling an electronic identification (e-id) system with LTM partners, Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The e-id system, currently only in use in the USA and India, is based on a small microchip inserted behind the animal’s ear. This can be read using a specialised scanner. Information is automatically recorded in a database, along with any other desired details, to provide a comprehensive history of the animal and its products. The trial in Ol Pejeta has shown that implementing this system across the entire LTM Programme will save time, money, labour and cut down error margins. Not only that, but the database can be made readily accessible to high-end market customers, providing assurance of the origin and quality of the product and justifying the levy of premium product prices.

Using a specialised scanner, details about the animal’s age, origin, and medical history can be read from the microchip

Revenue to pastoralists from the NRT Livestock to Market (LTM) Programme totalled Ksh. 68.3 million last year, and benefited over 1,063 pastoral households. It is an innovative approach to the marketing challenges faced by pastoralists in the region. Herders often trek cattle for days to market, only for transporters to pay poor prices for low-grade livestock. The LTM program provides an alternative market, paying fair prices, purchasing directly from the conservancies, and buying selectively to reward good conservancy performance. Cattle are quarantined on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and fattened and slaughtered on Ol Pejeta, with profits covering NRT Trading’s costs and contributing a levy to source-conservancy revenues. This market aims to incentivise conservancies to practice effective, transparent governance and sustainable natural resource management by linking local livestock owners in high performing conservancies to ready markets. Besides directly benefitting the livestock owners, the LTM Programme has provided employment opportunities and revenue to the county government. Check out the LTM infographic for more information.

LTM Programme cattle markets are held in the bush, and attract hundreds of people from nearby communities 

With support from The Nature Conservancy, the LTM Programme is expanding across a much larger area of northern Kenya. There has already been a 300% increase in sales since 2013, with over 3,400 cattle now involved in bunched grazing schemes. The area of land under coordinated rotational grazing management now stands at 1,832,560 hectares. Support from USAID has enabled NRT to engage young warriors in peace and planned grazing initiatives, which has further improved rangeland health. The Royal Netherlands Embassy and DANIDA have been also important supporters of the NRT rangelands programme.

The new ‘e-id’ scheme will significantly boost the Programme’s expansion, and enable it to benefit and empower more pastoralists in northern Kenya. To find out more, read the interim report from the 6-month trial by Chris Daborn [Consultant], Patrick Ekodere [NRT] and Richard Van Aardt [OPC]