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By Christie Peacock, Sidai Africa
Livestock are kept by most farming families in Africa and are often the family’s main asset, source of protein as well as a means of making money. For very poor families the income they earn from their livestock can help to lift them out of poverty. It is therefore crucial that farmers are able to protect their livestock against life-threatening diseases, as well as having access to good advice and the inputs they need to improve the production and marketability of their stock.
Historically in Africa veterinary services were provided free of charge by government veterinary staff. However this all changed in the 1990’s when these subsidies were withdrawn and government staff numbers cut back. A small private sector emerged with qualified vets and livestock technicians setting up shops to sell drugs and other inputs and offer basic clinical services. However this emerging private sector remains focused on selling products to the more accessible market-orientated smallholder dairy and poultry farmers. Likewise most commercial suppliers of drugs, feeds or semen for artificial insemination also focus on the higher potential farming areas leaving most livestock keepers poorly served or not served at all.
Regulation of the livestock input sector is also weak allowing unqualified people, or ‘quacks’, to open shops selling veterinary pharmaceuticals; many of which are counterfeit or under-strength. This leads to extensive misuse of drugs through poor diagnosis and mis- treatment of disease.
Kenya is well-known for its smallholder dairy sector where competition among so-called `Agrovets’ (both qualified and unqualified) can be intense in the urban centres, but even 50km off the tarmac road quality products and services can be hard to find. In the dry areas inhabited by nomadic pastoralists and their livestock, services are very sparse indeed. A small number of, poorly-qualified, people sell generally poor quality products to people whose very existence depends on livestock.
Pastoralists have to travel hundreds of miles on poor, or non-existent, roads to find even the most basic of livestock treatments. They are very willing to pay for these products but all too often obtain ineffective smuggled or counterfeit products. During periods of drought such as the well-publicised 2011 drought, donor-funded humanitarian interventions include free drug and vaccine distribution.
These interventions, while well-meaning, undermine and distort the market for the small number of people struggling to make a living in the private sector and do nothing to build long term service delivery solutions.
Sidai Africa Ltd is a new social enterprise which aims to solve many of the problems described above. Sidai is setting up a national network of 150 branded franchised Livestock Service Centre across Kenya with the aim of delivering quality products and services to livestock keepers through a sustainable business model. Sidai aims to build a brand farmers can trust by only working with qualified people, purchasing of quality products for the network and revolutionising the way livestock services are provided to farmers. In one year 25 Sidai Livestock Service Centres have been established in the remote North-East as well as the Rift Valley and east of Mt Kenya.
Most franchisees were already in business but see the advantage of being part of a larger network. Sidai offers franchisees access to: business and technical training; marketing support; finance; quality products at competitive prices and innovative new products and business opportunities. Suppliers find the Sidai network offers them a well structured route to market for their products.
Sidai Livestock Service Centres have clear and attractive branding and an open-plan supermarket-style layout which is very attractive to farmers who find qualified staff able to discuss livestock issues and offer quality products at fair and fixed prices.
Sidai is already showing that it is possible to deliver professional services to livestock keepers in even the most remote locations in a financially sustainable way.