Cattle rustling in Africa has, in recent years, usurped the economies of some African communities, thereby retarding their growth potential. Livestock owners in Kenya for instance, lose up to $30 million yearly owing to an upsurge in cattle theft among the country’s pastoral communities. But the emergence of a new tracking technology, Chipsafer will try to tackle this problem, starting with Kenya.

The four-year-old Uruguayan startup Chipsafer, makes use of a remote chip-tracking system to identify and geolocate individual livestock. The startup uses this technology to offer security against theft and disease. Chipsafer is, therefore, demonstrating a growing trend in the use of Internet of Things (IoT) in Africa’s agricultural system.

Over the years, many Kenyan grazers have used the pastoral system where open-ranges expose cattle to the risk of rustling. In a bid to curb theft, researchers in the region have long experimented with a variety of livestock farmers that allow them to monitor and track their herds. However, most of these devices use radio-frequency identification (RFID) implants that can only relay information at close range. As such, this system has recorded very little success.

Chipsafer, however, works at a longer range, automatically updating users on their livestock’ locations in real-time. The company has also begun developing new algorithms capable of analyzing anomalies in livestock behavior, often signs of disease or theft. With bigger datasets, the algorithms may learn to determine the exact cause of these anomalies.

“Different diseases cause animals to behave differently. We’re working on algorithms to tell us exactly what that anomaly is, based on the behavior of the animal.” Says Victoria Alonsoperez, Chipsafer founder, and CEO.

Cattle rustling in Africa
Victoria Alonsoperez, Founder, and CEO of Chipsafer

According to Bernard Bett, a senior scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute, Chipsafer is destined to face a series of challenges as it ventures into Kenya’s market. He acknowledges that livestock farmers and traders in Kenya can be hesitant to adopt tracking devices.

More than just tracking

Using tracking technology, this startup aims to monitor and assess the impact of climate change. Climate change has withered the traditional ranges of herdsmen both in Kenya and other parts of Africa. This has made droughts more severe and pastureland more constrained.  

Agriculture as Africa’s backbone

In agricultural economies of Africa, the livestock sub-sector supports livelihoods of a large proportion of households. The performance of the agricultural sector is the main determinant of the year-to-year changes in poverty levels and food security. Within the agricultural sector, a large contribution, on average 57%, comes from livestock. Livestock’s contribution to Africa’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranges between 10 to 20 percent.

Chipsafer tackles cattle rustling in Africa
Agriculture remains Africa’s backbone

In 2014, research indicated that Kenya had a beef deficit of 4,500 tons due to high local consumption and export demands. This just goes a long way to demonstrate the economic strength of livestock farming in Africa’s Eastern nation. However, this promising sector remains one of the most attractive to attackers in the country.

East Africa has a long history of cattle rustling. However, West and Central Africa are increasingly reporting cattle rustling, particularly in countries like Nigeria and Cameroon.

In Nigeria, for instance, the practice was traditionally less pronounced than in East Africa and the Horn. Recently, cattle theft has taken on a new worrisome scale in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s tussle with cattle rustling

Between 2013 and 2014, approximately 7,000 cattle were rustled from commercial livestock farms and traditional herders in Northern Nigeria, promoting military intervention and political contestation.

At the moment, the Zamfara State in Northwestern Nigeria remains a major hotspot for cattle rustling activities.

Chipsafer tackles cattle rustling in Africa
Herder looking after his cattle

Cattle rustling can also be traced to activities of the extremist Boko Haram group in this part of Nigeria and other parts of the Lake Chad Basin. The situation is no better in South Sudan, where the number of illegal small arms held by civilians is estimated to have increased to over 3.2 million since the violence started in December 2013.

The ongoing violence has seen cattle raiding occurring in tandem with the trade in illegal small arms.

Loboyi Monoo became a beggar in Lokichoggio town in Turkana after his legs were amputated during a raid by cattle rustling
Loboyi Monoo became a beggar in Turkana and lost his legs during a raid by cattle rustlers.

In more serious cases, guns and bullets trade for cattle. At least, 50 people lost their lives in 2017 after a tribal militia launched raids in eastern South Sudan. As a result, armed men from rival ethnic groups burned down civilian homes and stole a good amount of livestock.

In early 2017, in Laikipia, Kenya, about 10,000 pastoralists armed with automatic rifles raided farms, wildlife reserves, and conservancies, driving out 135,000 head of cattle. A few months later, security forces in Kenya intervened, killing hundreds of cattle in a gunfight with pastoralists.

Cameroon bleeds into debt

In 2017, one of the sectors most affected by violent attacks is the breeding activity, through cattle thefts.

This practice, which has always existed in Cameroon’s main beef production area, has worsened with the war against Boko Haram.

Statistics indicate that these thefts have resulted in losses of FCFA 8 billion over the past three years. In 2016, the Cameroonian government shut down the biggest cattle market in the Far North region of the country when Boko Haram militants began trading stolen livestock to purchase weapons and food.

A 2014 study revealed that cattle rustling cost the government approximately FCFA 1.3 billion of direct value of stolen animals in terms of meat equivalent and an extra FCFA 100 million cost in the search of stolen cattle between 2008 to 2012.

The solution

Chipsafer’s innovation could be Africa’s best chance of bringing cattle theft to its ultimate end on the continent. More importantly, it could prove a formidable force for African governments to revitalize and revamp this once promising sector.

The impact of cattle rustling has become devastating. East Africa now has the chance to effectively counter this scourge before it spreads to other parts of Africa. But until African governments put in place stringent laws around cattle rustling and implement livestock identification systems, East Africa in particular, and the Horn will struggle futilely to combat this plague.


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