LOKICHOGGIO, Kenya – At the foot of Songot hills, in the remote village of Aposta, a small hut stands out from several Turkana settlements.
It is not someone’s home, however, but an animal drugstore for over 300 households in Songot.
As drought worsens in arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya, weakening livestock animals and exposing them to diseases such as goat plague, pastoralists in Turkana County, northwestern Kenya, have set up a drugstore to treat animal diseases without involving veterinarians.
“The closest veterinary officer or drugstore is 95km away,” said Simon Lomor, the chairman of the Songot Community Disaster Management Committee, a self-help group that runs the drugstore.
The entire county faces prolonged periods of drought, with over 6,000 goats and sheep succumbing to goat plague in Laisamis, a sub-county, in the past two months.
“During dry seasons herders move long distances – sometimes trekking for an entire day – with their animals in search of pastures,” said Johnson Wamalwa, chief livestock officer in Turkana West Sub-County.
“Animals become weaker from walking long distances, and can easily perish from diseases due to dry grazing fields.”
The problem is worsened by the fact that any water point is shared by thousands of animals in dry weather, making it a hotspot for infectious animal diseases, Wamalwa added.
“In 2011, I lost 150 goats and sheep in less than a month,” said Ramathan Ekai, a member of the self-help group who manages the Songot drugstore on behalf of the group.
Lomor said he lost about 100 goats and sheep and to goat plague.
It was because of such losses that 25 pastoralists from Songot region came together to form a self-help group for disaster management in 2013, and secured a grant from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) to build an animal drugstore with Veterinary San Frontiers (VSF) Germany.
The drugstore initially provided animal vaccines and drugs at a cost subsidised by almost 99 percent by VSF Germany.
But after just one year, the community took over the management of the drugstore and turned it into a private business where anyone can buy drugs from at market prices.
Although the drugs’ cost has significantly increased – it is now about 30 times more expensive – the pastoralists see it as a cost worth paying to treat their animals.
“It is now a sustainable business which is generating income for the members,” said Ekai, the store’s salesman. Since 2015, the group has made 80,000 Kenyan shillings ($770) – which serves as both payment for Ekai and investment in other initiatives, like opening another branch in Turkana.
To supplement the effort, local animal health experts trained community members – 15, so far – as community veterinary workers so they could administer basic drugs and vaccinate animals on their own.
Since the drugstore started operating in 2014, less than 1,000 animals died due to diseases in Songot – about 30 times less than in 2011, according to Elim Tirkamoi, a village elder.
Although the community workers are not recognised by the Kenya Veterinary Board, Wamalwa says they play a vital role for animal disease control.
As a pastoralist community, herders move from one place to another, making it difficult for veterinary officers to track them. But the community workers are always aware of where the animals are, and can follow them for vaccination or identification of any emerging disease.
According to the International Livestock Research Institute, pastoralists incur significant losses from livestock diseases because of misuse of veterinary drugs and misconceptions about animal health – like the belief that exposing strong animals to strangers could kill the animals.
Whenever a local animal health worker can’t fill a task themselves, they involve the county livestock officers.
“We’ve seen a huge difference in animal survival now that we vaccinate and treat our animals,” said Ekai.