As in other African countries, poultry production in Kenya is an important livelihoods activity. Eighty percent of the national poultry population is managed in small-scale, non- or semi-commercial, village, or backyard poultry systems (MOLFD 2007). These systems are characterized as low-input and low-output, mainly involving rural or peri-urban households that generally keep indigenous breeds. The few studies on the role of poultry in Kenyan livelihoods suggest that poultry plays an important role in the livelihoods of small-scale poultry producers, contributing to their incomes, wealth, insurance against shocks, diet quality, culture, religion, and tradition (Njenga 2005; Kimani et al. 2006).
Kenya is highly susceptible to the introduction and spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) due to its location along the migratory route of wild birds and the presence of the virus in neighboring Sudan (Omiti and Okuthe 2008). Limited biosecurity measures combined with close and frequent contact between birds and humans also increase the risk of HPAI introduction and spread. The possibility of HPAI in Kenya raises much concern given the generally poor and inadequate human and animal health services, a large backyard poultry population, and lack of resources to control the disease (Geerlings, 2007).
Though Kenya has not had an HPAI outbreak, there were two scares in 2005 and 2006, and they had adverse impacts on poultry production and trade. Kimani et al. (2006) assessed the demand and supply shocks caused by the 2005 scare and found them to be highly significant: 25 percent of farmers panic-culled their birds prematurely, and all farmers interviewed reduced their flock sizes between 2 to 39 percent due to various reasons related to the scare (e.g., premature selling, postponement or cancellation of day-old-chicks, and unavailability of new chicks as hatcheries reduced production). The scare also resulted in depressed poultry and poultry product prices. The overall financial losses associated with the HPAI scare are estimated to be Ksh2.3 billion (US$30.7 million).
Despite the potentially devastating impact of an HPAI outbreak that can be inferred based on what happened during these scares, rigorous research assessing the potential impact of an HPAI outbreak on Kenyan households’ livelihoods is lacking. Knowledge regarding the role of poultry in the livelihoods of small-scale poultry producing households and the livelihoods impacts of HPAI is critical for the design of control and mitigation strategies. This study aims to fill this gap by using the nationally representative Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey (KIHBS, 2005-2006) data and employing quantitative methods to (i) predict and profile those households most likely to be poultry producers and those most likely to keep larger flocks to understand who would be most affected in case of an HPAI outbreak, and (ii) to assess the impact of a potential HPAI outbreak on livelihood outcomes, including income and wealth (value of assets). Such information is expected to assist in the design of efficient, effective, and equitable interventions for mitigation and control of HPAI.