How livestock markets are changing economic landscape in Karamoja

Livestock traders conduct business at Karita Livestock Market, Pokot County in Amudat District following the construction and rehabilitation of the market. Photo | Michael Wakabi

What you need to know:

  • The eight-acre Karita Livestock Market in Pokot County, constructed under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda, formerly notorious for cattle-rustling, is changing the area for better; the cultural transformation is changing attitudes and pointing the local economy in a new direction, writes Michael     Wakabi.

Along the desolate 70 kilometres stretch of the road between Amudat Town Council, the seat of Amudat District Local Government, and Karita Town Council in Pokot County at the southern extremities of the district, a scene that uplifts the spirits unfolds.

As the traveller comes upon the occasional settlement, it is not the traditional mud and wattle dwellings which for long characterised this area that greet the eye.

Instead, one finds a tantalizing blend of the old and new, with the iron roofs increasingly becoming the new status symbol. While the walls are still constructed using mud and wattle and the houses fenced in the traditional Manyatta enclosures, the style of construction and roofing are evocative of the subterranean economic shifts taking place in the mostly pacified parts of southern Karamoja.

In this semi-arid area in north-eastern Uganda bordering Kenya, life has always revolved around livestock.

Cattle hold cultural and economic significance to the population and for decades, this fuelled a vicious and violent, cattle raiding culture that stunted social advancement in the region.

Today, Pokot County, formerly notorious for cattle-rustling, is in the middle of a cultural transformation that is changing attitudes and pointing the local economy in a new direction.

In the dense bushland, the keen observer catches glimpses of hundreds of beehives that form the foundations of an emerging apiary industry. Elsewhere along the road, herders are driving cows, goats and sheep to the Friday livestock market in Karita Town.

“Since this market was reconstructed and furnished with modern facilities, we are seeing many positive changes in the way people live their lives,” says Bashir Ibrahim, the chairperson of the nine-member Karita Livestock Market Committee.

Karita Livestock Market, one of two such facilities in Amudat District commissioned in August 2022, is one of the social infrastructure projects that have been constructed under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU), an overarching €150 million (about Shs595 billion) project funded by the European Union, across 18 districts in northern Uganda.

Karita Livestock Market falls under the €26 million (about Shs103 billion) component of the project that was implemented by the United Nations Capital Development Capital Fund (UNCDF).

The eight-acre market was fenced off, shelters built and a water production well sunk. Loading ramps were also built, easing the loading of trucks with livestock.

“We are seeing better prices for livestock because the market has cut out middlemen and farmers are not selling under pressure. As a result, people are putting up modern buildings in Karita Town and the surrounding areas,” Mr Ibrahim adds.

Domestic violence is also on the wane because women, who are scavenging off the demand for food and beverages from traders in the market have set up food vending businesses and attained a degree of economic independence.

One such woman is Loyce Angura, a single mother of one, who says she is saving up for her one-year-old daughter’s future education. A beverage vendor, Angura says she on average sells three crates of non-alcoholic bottled beverages, every market day.

“This market helps me because it brings people from far who buy my drinks. The money I earn helps me afford basic household needs and healthcare for my daughter. But more importantly, I want to save money that will help me take her to school, when she grows up,” Angura says.

Ibrahim says an average bull now fetches Shs1.2 million while a heifer averages Shs800,000.

About 500 head of cattle and hundreds of goats and sheep change hands in the market every week. Because of improved incomes, parents are sending their children to school. This has reduced delinquency among the youth.

“Attending school also keeps the youth busy and has given them a new focus on life goals, factors that make them less likely to be lured into cattle raiding,” he adds. 

On market day, Ibrahim is a busy man. A para-vet, in addition to ensuring order in the market, he moves around ensuring that all livestock on offer are free of infections such as Blackwater, Foot and Mouth Disease, and Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBP).

“I check all livestock here to ensure that sick animals are not sold. This helps us to prevent the spread of animal disease. I also ensure that no stolen animal is sold in the market. All this was not possible before this market was constructed but now, we have better control,” he explains.

Another spinoff from the market, is improved local revenue. With barely any significant commerce, local governments in Karamoja depend on levies off livestock sakes for 80 percent of local revenue.

“This was an open market before DINU stepped in to fence it off and put modern facilities such as water and sanitation in place. It was difficult to keep track of the goings and comings but now we have a grip over everything and we ensure that the government gets revenue from the activities here,” Ibrahim says.

Shs7,000 is levied on each cow sold, while each goat or ship pays has a Shs2,000 levy. On average, Shs15 million is recovered from livestock levies every month. 

Ibrahim says all revenue from the market is retained by Karita Town Council and that is helping local authorities to provide services.

Mr Mutwalibi Wasala, a cattle trader from Kibuku District, 150 kilometres southwest of Karita, has been buying livestock from Karita for eight years.

“When this market was starting, it was in a bad shape. It was an open ground without any shelter or sanitation,” he recalls.

Among the hazards he used to face was the risk getting sold stolen animals. He says that is now not possible because of the elaborate security system in the market and an authentic paper trail. You can buy and transport your livestock with the knowledge that whatever you have on board is legal,” he says.

“Extortion was rife because anyone could dispute your documents. But now you are armed with a sale agreement complete with a copy of the National ID of the vendor. In the past you had to travel to the sub-county to get the veterinary officer’s certificate but now he comes and does his work from the marketplace, which is very convenient,” Mr Wasala says.

Ms Jennifer Bukokhe, the deputy director of the UNCDF country office in Uganda, says DINU, which was launched in 2018, is a five-year programme, with a focus on reducing poverty and contributing to the consolidation of peace and stability in northern Uganda.

The programme was conceived to contribute to the reconstruction of northern Uganda by restoring the productive capacity of the region, which was destroyed by the two-decade insurgency. It was an area-based programme focusing on northern Uganda including Karamoja and Teso sub-regions because they too were affected when the conflict spilled over into neighbouring areas.

“A lot of things in northern Uganda were destroyed including the local government systems, the social systems, and the economic activities. When you look at the indicators at the national level, you have a low performance on several indicators and one of the regions contributing to that was northern Uganda. This programme was designed to resolve some of the issues that would help northern Uganda to be at the same level as other regions in the country,” she explains.

Some of the achievements under DINU include rebuilding the capacities of local authorities to plan and manage the resources and assets under their jurisdiction efficiently.

As the project winds up, local governments in beneficiary districts have registered improvements in their capacity to procure and manage projects as well as mobilisation of local revenue.

The UNCDF director for Uganda, Mr Dmitry Pozhidaev, explains that unlike other agencies of the United Nations which are tied to a particular area of intervention, UNCDF is unique in that it enjoys the flexibility to invest in any intervention where funding can make positive social impacts.

In the 18 districts where DINU operated for example, the first programme component was rehabilitation of road infrastructure at the local level, district and urban roads, as an enabler of the local economy and access to essential services.

A district road fund structure that allowed districts to identify, design, contract and implement rehabilitation breaks of more than 500 kilometres of roads throughout northern Uganda was put in place to implement the programme.

 The second component focused on food security with an eye on the various benefits that could be spun-off such improved nutrition and health. Food security was approached in a creative way by establishing a financial facility - Support to Agricultural Revitalisation and Transformation (START) through which small and medium agribusinesses are given affordable finance to expand their operations.  

The third component dealt with good governance, where specific solutions were developed in response to different challenges.

The cattle markets in Karita and other areas such as Loro and Amuria for instance, combine elements of improved household incomes and good governance.

“We applied solutions that help local governments to expand their fiscal space and raise additional revenues by applying the Integrated Revenue Administration System, applying advanced asset management procedures, implementing the Local Revenue Enhancement Initiatives as well as creating transparency and streamlining the internal administrative and operational processes in local governments generating sources of local revenue for local government units,” Pozhidaev explains.

Overall, through DINU, the UNCDF sought to improve the fiscal position of districts and expanding their capacity to deliver goods and services to their populations.

The cost

Karita Livestock Market, one of two such facilities in Amudat District commissioned in August 2022, is one of the social infrastructure projects that have been constructed under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU), an overarching €150 million (about Shs595 billion) project funded by the European Union, across 18 districts in northern Uganda. Karita Livestock Market falls under the €26 million (about Shs103 billion) component of the project that was implemented by the United Nations Capital Development Capital Fund (UNCDF).