With a three decade career in agriculture and livestock research and development, Christie Peacock has turned to increasing the productivity of poor livestock farmers through her own initiative. By establishing a needed national network of Livestock Service Centers managed by franchises that will provide reliable access to affordable and high-quality products and services for livestock farmers, Christie is making it possible for farmers to effectively invest in long ignored valuable assets.
The New Idea
Christie recognizes the transformative power that well-managed and healthy herds can have on many of the region’s poorest people—pastoralists who currently find themselves cut off from all means of investing in their livestock, and thus, unable to effectively capture value from what should be their most valuable asset. Therefore, she has set out to bring vital value-enhancing products and services to these remote communities. Through Sidai Africa Ltd, the Kenyan social enterprise she started in 2010, Christie is building a national network of branded and carefully managed franchises that will provide vaccines, improved feeds, diagnostic tests, insurance, and other financial services to pastoralists. The first network of its kind, such franchises will be owned and staffed by qualified veterinarians and livestock technicians, thus further increasing pastoralists’ immediate access to value-adding resources.
By employing a franchise model, Christie can promise (i) quality assurance (counterfeit veterinary medicines and feeds are a large-scale problem in Africa) (ii) fairer prices for key products through economies of scale, and (iii) robust professional development training for members of the network—veterinarians and livestock technicians—thus enabling them to better serve their customers. Sidai is a business that aims to become financially viable and will be able to offer services to herders in the long-term.
Christie knows that success lies not only in a strong business model, however, but in a real economic opportunity: There is potential for far greater productivity in this sector and the development of entire new markets for livestock which would improve the lives of rural livestock farmers across the region. This opportunity is driven by the rapid demand for meat and other livestock products in East Africa, as the growing urban middle-class’ purchasing power increases. (In fact, the global livestock production sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sector.) Sidai is leveraging this trend while also helping open new markets in East Africa and beyond.
The benefits of launching the first national (and ultimately regional) franchise extend in several directions. As Sidai grows, so too will their nationwide database and their understanding of the challenges and opportunities in this space. Data that is captured will help the central team manage the network and the specific inventories and offerings of each franchise, with the goal of positioning the Sidai network as the most appropriate vehicle for public good vaccines and nationwide herd management initiatives.
In pastoralist areas of Kenya today, livestock are generally not viewed as an asset, and in the limited cases where they are, this value remains untapped. While some people point to cultural norms to explain this e.g. greater status associated with keeping larger herds of cattle, the reality is few lucrative opportunities exist to convert livestock to cash. In other regions, where selling animals more regularly is an option, pastoralists have embraced it, as well as a cash-based economy.
Keeping the majority of one’s wealth in the form of cows (goats or sheep) carries significant risks. This is true not just in times of drought or disease—significant threats in their own right—but whenever whole communities are effectively “cut-off” from markets, as overstocking and overgrazing lead to boom and bust cycles.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that veterinarians are few and far between. Livestock technicians or “para-professionals”—numbering about 7,000 in Kenya—are far more numerous than the few thousand vets in the country, but they are overstretched and only legally allowed to operate under the supervision of licensed veterinarians. The impact of this becomes apparent when one considers that while some 70 percent of people living on less than a $1 a day depend at least partially on livestock for their income and food security, 25 percent of livestock die each year of preventable and epidemic diseases.
The combination of these factors leads to a situation where livestock are not a “bankable” asset. In a new way of working, there are great opportunities to provide assurances for the maintenance of animal health, offering insurance and savings products, and in the process creating the conditions for new markets for livestock to flourish. Yet no one has ventured to make these linkages.
Looking at the system that has sprung up in response to the meager demands of livestock herders and pastoralists, what appears is—not surprisingly, perhaps—an uncoordinated network of single vets and associated shops scattered across the country, and few within the most remote rural areas. Given the lack of coordination and networking, issues from disease forecasting and prevention, quality assurance of medicine, the prohibitively high cost of many agricultural inputs, and the absence of bulk purchasing opportunities, all contribute to undermine efforts to properly value and invest in livestock.
The failings of the present system have lingered for decades. Until the 1980s, livestock services were primarily provided by governments in East Africa and were often heavily subsidized or supplied free of charge. Structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund resulted in a scaling back of government supplied services. While the assumption was that the private sector would step in to take over some of the roles previously provided by the government, in most cases in Africa there has been little development of private veterinary services. Some of the reasons include lack of capital to establish private practices, lack of business skills on the part of veterinarians, and the difficulties of establishing a business in more remote areas. Citizen organizations (COs) have sprung up to fill the gap left by retreating government services, but the short-term and basic nature of their interventions has been insufficient and are unsustainable.
Through Sidai, Christie seeks to rebrand livestock holders and livestock service providers as professional, bankable, and profitable businessmen and women. Much of this is accomplished by launching and then building a strong, nationwide franchise network. As is the case in all franchise models, business and loyalty will grow based on their ability to deliver on their brand promise of quality goods and services at competitive prices. The role of the franchisor is critical; in training and managing the franchisees as well as providing inputs at low prices, leveraging economies of scale, and passing along savings to the owners and their customers. Farmers and pastoralists will go to Sidai shops for quality and prices, but also for new products, training, and better information. With a nationwide network in place, Sidai provides professional development and skills-building programs for its franchisees, who will in turn train farmers or promote new techniques and products.
After developing a comprehensive business plan, Christie has obtained initial investment capital from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which covers Sidai’s costs and potential losses for the first four years of operation, at which time it hopes to have launched 150 stores. Christie has assembled a top-notch team, begun negotiations with veterinary suppliers, and thoroughly explored market demands. She has also engaged in important negotiations with other stakeholders in Kenya, including quasi-governmental bodies, the professional veterinary association, and educational institutions to secure buy in.
As the network grows, the extension of products and services to rural pastoralist areas will be profound. Sidai’s size and stature allow it to negotiate with major veterinary suppliers directly; ensuring quality products are delivered through its franchises, often at a lower cost. This direct relationship with suppliers will be critical in overcoming skepticism of many existing products on the market which are substandard and often counterfeit. In addition to diagnostic services, quality medicines and trainings, financial services e.g. payment plans and insurance programs will be launched through partnerships with well-regarded regional companies such as Equity Bank.
Each shop will be owned and operated by a trained veterinarian or livestock technician supervised and supported by a Sidai veterinarian. “Trained” veterinarian means that they not only hold degrees, but have also gone through a business planning training and receive ongoing management support from Sidai. Additionally, students will be able to have “attachments” or internships, a signal of Christie’s awareness of the need for young people to re-engage in agricultural activities and their growing awareness of the opportunities in livestock keeping.
Finally, going to scale is not only a goal, but a critical part of the Sidai strategy. Only with nationwide coverage, brand recognition, reach, and data can Sidai provide a platform for disease forecasting and prevention, administering public good vaccines, public awareness campaigns, conducting agricultural censuses, and the like. Christie’s vision for Sidai over the next four years is that it will reach 300,000 farmers in Kenya and will be treating 2.9 million animals (5 percent national herd). She also sees household incomes of affected farmers increasing by 20 to 40 percent. Christie sees meeting these milestones as critical to proving and refining the concept in preparation for an ambitious strategy that will spread her work all over Africa in the next decade. Having secured a grant of US$5.1M to fund her four-year plan, Christie has hit the ground running and hopes to gather more support along the way for her expansion strategy. Christie describes her work as a transformational and disruptive model that will serve as an example of excellence in service delivery in the agricultural sector all over Africa.
Christie has had a 30+ year career as a livestock specialist. She came to Africa in 1979 as an agricultural student working in Kenya’s remote Pokot and Turkana regions. The next year, she returned to Kenya to do her doctoral research, this time living with the Maasai. It was in these early interactions with pastoralists that she became fascinated with their way of life. Of course, Christie saw firsthand how hard it was, especially for the women. It wasn’t until 1988—after doing research and teaching in South East Asia—that she returned to East Africa, this time to Ethiopia, where her task was to start FARM-Africa’s programs in the region.
With limited resources and political unrest, Christie proved her entrepreneurial quality by conceiving, and successfully implementing East Africa’s first and only regional goat farming development project across the regions arid and semi-arid areas. Such areas are dry, barren and unproductive if utilized for crop cultivation. Communities that inhabit these areas are among the poorest in the region and rely on livestock farming for their livelihood. The harsh climatic conditions they live in affect their livestock as well, sometimes wiping out entire herds at peak of the dry season. Because acquiring new cows is too expensive, arid land communities often resort to cattle rustling which is many times a precursor to civil conflict and loss of life. Christie saw dairy goats as an appropriate alternative to cows for their unique properties, including; faster rate of multiplication, goat milk sells at three times the cost of cow milk, goats can be owned by women while cows are seen predominantly as men’s property, goats can consume shrubs unlike cows and are therefore less susceptible to drought, the loss of one goat is less of a financial blow compared to the loss of a single cow, goats need relatively smaller grazing land compared to cows and therefore fit well with women who often don’t own land or have access to very little. Starting in Kenya, the East African Goat Development Network quickly got the attention of the regions development sector as it got replicated in Uganda and Tanzania. The initiative targeted poor rural women and focused on helping them leverage dairy goat farming as a sustainable means out of poverty. Specific interventions included education on farming practices to boost goat productivity, access to microcredit and input services, and training of certified community animal health workers which was a first in Ethiopia. Starting in 1988, her project got 2,000 families out of poverty by 1994 and increased their incomes by between 15 to 30 percent. Following her success, Christie went on to write a highly-regarded textbook, Increasing Goat Production in the Tropics: A Manual for Development Workers, for use by other development workers. To further accelerate the spread of her work, she created a regional network of development organizations called the Eastern Africa Goat Development Network, as a platform for knowledge sharing and advocacy.
Christie rose to become FARM-Africa’s Chief Executive Officer in 1999 and over the eleven years that followed, her work was nothing short of transformational. She redefined the organizations strategic direction—transforming it from a small informal group to a major professional development organization. Christie improved the organization’s governance and management structures and systems and increased its funding base by six-fold from US$3M to over US$18M. She initiated FARM-Africa’s international policy work and engaged strategically with the African Union, NEPAD, DFID, African governments and the U.K. Parliament where she helped set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development to raise awareness of the need to invest in smallholder farmers. During this time she grew increasingly frustrated with the traditional donors funding model supporting short-term project interventions. Determined to chart a different path for FARM-Africa, Christie experimented with a number of different approaches for the delivery of livestock services and the generation of revenue. However, even with her creativity and unstoppable drive, her efforts were limited within the confines of a CO structure. This gave her the impetus to start Sidai.
The idea for Sidai came to Christie in a classic “aha” moment. After attending a short course on social enterprise at the Harvard Business School she was challenged to think about how poorer livestock keepers could access new livestock vaccines in a sustainable manner—while helping GALVmed obtain a grant of US$24M from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for livestock vaccine development. The idea of course, was launching a social franchise business that could transform the lives of the people Christie had devoted her career to helping, while also creating a vehicle for nationwide interventions. Christie has noted, “I have a passion for getting the best science, technology, and good practice to the poorest people and believe that the livestock kept by poor people in Africa should be doing much more to support the families that keep them.” Through Sidai, Christie is demonstrating how this can be done.