By Mike Lorikuni
Over the years, life for pastoralist women in Narok County has been very challenging. Women have always been viewed as property of their husbands and have had no rights over anything. Besides, most of them have never earned an income or owned property.
Household duties like fetching water and firewood, caring for their children, building and maintaining their homes, tending to livestock, and cooking are what the women do mostly.
However, this way of life is changing as many women in Narok County are turning to income-generating activities to support their families. Most of them are now shifting from villages to the nearby trading centres to sell mainly hides and skins.
“I started my business three years ago selling Maasai beads and ornaments, but recently I opened a small stall to sell hides and skins, which I now mainly focus on. The two businesses afford me some financial independence and freedom to manage my own resources,” says Lucy Nashipae, a resident of Ololung’a area on the outskirts of Narok town.
However, since she embarked on the leather trade, the business has not been good due to middle men.
“I sell one goat or sheep skin at Sh30 or sometimes even less, a cow skin fetch Sh100 to Sh150, but considering the distance I walk to get the product and deliver it to the buyers, the price is still low,” she says.
In Narok County hides and skins business is largely done in the villages by women from Masai community. In this community a man’s job is to slaughter an animal and it’s a woman’s job to cook the meat for the family.
“Most of our men do not care about skin and hides, they just slaughter the animal and that is all. When a friend introduced me to the business I started buying from the skin and hides in the villages and selling them to other business people in Olulunga trading centre,” she explains.
Ms Nashipae is among many women in her village who are involved in this business; however the completion of Ewaso Ngiro Leather Factory in Narok County is promising to make their business better.
Mr Sammy Naporos, the CEO of Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority (ENSDA), an Agency under the ministry of Devolution and Planning that is in charge of the factory, stated that the traders mostly in pastoral counties will see improvements in the price of hides and skins. The factory will process up to 4,000 tonnes annually and directly employ 250 youths and women
“Local traders mostly women have suffered a lot in this business, but now they have a reliable place to sell their skins and hides since the factory will open in August this year. We have already established buying centres to make it easy for them to sell their products,” he noted.
According to the Economic Survey 2016, Kenya’s hides, skins and leather industry contributes around 5 per cent of agricultural portion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 1.5 per cent of overall GDP.
Government statistics also show that in recent years the country produced over 2 million hides (mainly cattle, with some camel) and around 4 million skins from goats and sheep.
The livestock sector contributes 10-15 per cent of Kenya’s GDP, accounts for over 30 per cent of the farm gate value of agricultural commodities and employs over 50 per cent of the agricultural labor force.
However, value addition in the livestock sector has been minimal, and most of Kenya’s exports have been in the form of unprocessed, raw hides and skins.
“The Ewaso Ngiro Leather Factory is the Government’s strategy to develop the leather industry from its Vision 2030 Programme that aims at promoting industrialization and value addition in key sectors. The industry contributes to economic growth through expanding exports of finished leather goods,” said Mr Naporos.
The Sh700 million factory aims at securing improved livelihoods among small hides and skins traders in Narok, Samburu and Kajiado counties to address some of the key challenges being faced by pastoralists that include poverty, food insecurity, low income, gender inequality and marketing constraints.
“The rationale of this factory is to benefit small hides and skins traders in the three marginalized counties who are used to selling hides and skins at give-away prices to traders due to the monopoly status of those buyers and lack of accurate information on market prices,” says Dr. Richard Lesiyambe, Principal Secretary Ministry of Agriculture.
Traders interviewed in Narok said they spend a lot of time looking for buyers and they also risk being robbed of their hard earned cash on their way home. The pastoralists, who slaughter large numbers of livestock in markets in the region, have also not been spared by the poor prices.
Activities under the factory will include construction of buying centres as part of the decentralization of the market and bringing the buyers closer to the factory. “Skin traders will also benefit from training on quality of hides and skins needed, livestock production and management, business management, negotiation and advocacy skills, service providers and markets’’ explained Mr Naporos.
In Narok, Kajiado and Samburu, areas where the leather factory is targeting, livestock and their products serve as currency. When community members lose their investment in livestock holdings, they lose their economic security.
During the long periods of drought most families and communities lose almost all their resources. At the end of a drought, people are left with almost nothing and are forced to rebuild their lives.
For a long time livestock keepers in these regions have not been able to successfully market their products in main urban areas where demand is high and in the export market due to lack of support services.