From poor to well-off: Livestock can make a difference

A survey in Western Kenya reveals that poor families move through six stages of progress out of poverty – from being able to secure food to purchasing a sheep or goat. These stages highlight the relative importance of livestock to the poor.

A recent study in Western Kenya has looked at Stages of Progress into and out of poverty as defined by the communities being studied. A common understanding of poverty was agreed with villagers, and the study found that families do not consider themselves poor if they progress beyond stage 6, referred to as the first poverty line – see below.


The results show the importance of livestock to the poor. Livestock types are a key indicator of where families sit on the poverty scale. Owning chickens is viewed as the most basic level of livestock keeping. Chickens are an important source of protein in the diets of the poor – they can provide eggs that can be eaten and/or sold, or they can be sold or slaughtered for food. Chickens are relatively easy to keep, and are important to the poor, particularly to the many families predominantly made up of women, children and the elderly.

Shoats (sheep and goats) represent the next step up the livestock ladder – they provide milk and manure and are important protein sources in the diets of the poor. The study found that households that have not been successful in progressing beyond Stage 6 consider themselves to be poor and are commonly regarded as such by other villagers.

Although there is broad agreement that most families progress through each of the six stages, and usually in the order defined, the authors noted that beyond stage 6, households tend to diverge in the later stages, for example, some may rent land before purchasing cattle.

The purchase of local cattle is the next step up in the livestock rankings – in addition to being a food source, they also provide manure and draft power. However, cattle are targeted by thieves, and there are some examples of families being stripped of their assets due to persistent cattle thefts. Cattle diseases are also prevalent in Africa, emphasising the importance of education in disease prevention and management. This is a key contributor to families safely remaining above the first line of poverty. The model neatly illustrates how the loss of a household’s cattle – whether it be through disease, thefts, funerals, or bride price – can propel a family back into poverty.

At the highest level in the livestock rankings are dairy cattle, which provide milk for the family as well as milk that can be sold to earn income for the household. Those families who have dairy cattle sit above the second poverty line and are considered to be relatively well-off.

The study entitled “Pathways out of Poverty in Western Kenya and the Role of Livestock” was undertaken by scientists from ILRI, Duke University, and FAO. We thank the authors, P. Kristjanson, A. Krishna, M. Radeny and W. Nindo for granting permission to reproduce extracts.

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