Nutritional and health challenges of pastoralist populations in Kenya

  • FO Wayua
Keywords: Food security, livelihoods, nutrition, health, pastoralists, rangelands, Kenya


This paper examines nutritional and health challenges facing pastoralists who inhabit fragile rangelands and are one of the most nutritionally vulnerable population groups in Kenya. The review is based on a synthesis of literature on pastoralist food security, nutrition and health status and livelihoods in Kenya’s rangelands. Documents reviewed included health and nutrition surveys, journal articles, case studies, reports from Non-Governmental Organisations and ‘grey’ literature. The main nutritional challenge is food insecurity leading to high malnutrition rates. Global acute malnutrition rates for the last five years ranged from 10 to 28%. Nutritional status of pastoralists varies with seasons, with high malnutrition experienced during droughts, which have been worsened by increasing climate change. Micronutrient deficiencies include iron, folic acid and niacin. Pregnant women consume restricted diets in the belief that they will have easier delivery. This leads to low birth weight, estimated at 13% among some pastoral groups. Knowledge of breastfeeding and complementary feeding is poor. Infants are introduced to animal milk from a few days old, which is a risk factor for malnutrition and morbidity. Besides experiencing chronic under-nutrition, pastoralists carry a substantial disease burden and are poorly covered by health services. The main diseases are malaria, respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea. Availability of safe drinking water is a challenge, and pastoralists are frequently affected by water-borne diseases. Sedentarisation also presents negative nutritional consequences to pastoralists including inadequate housing and lack of clean drinking water. Efforts to address the challenges should focus on nutrition education around the importance of appropriate weight gain during pregnancy, benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, and sanitation concerning safe drinking water. At the community level, there should be an integrated approach by all stakeholders implementing health and nutrition interventions in pastoralist areas. At the national level, interventions should focus both on relief and resilience building, and be tailor-made specifically for the pastoralist communities. The nutritional impact of such interventions needs to be established.

Key words: Food security, livelihoods, nutrition, health, pastoralists, rangelands, Kenya


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1684-5374
print ISSN: 1684-5358