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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The relationships between livestock and human wealth, health, and wellbeing in a rural Maasai community of southwestern Kenya Glass, Catherine Sian


Livestock are critical to the livelihood of up to two billion global poor and thus represent an ideal focus for poverty amelioration. For traditional keepers, livestock are: culturally significant, nutritionally important, and serve as “daily currency” and household “savings”. However, they may also increase infectious disease risk, especially via zoonoses which can reduce both human and livestock health and quality of life. Although many studies exist on livestock-dependent communities, including the Maasai and other pastoralists, significant knowledge gaps persist regarding the relationships between traditional livestock-keeping and human wellbeing. This dissertation investigated associations between pastoral livestock and owner health through a series of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies conducted in Olkoroi, a rural Maasai community. The objectives were to: 1) review the literature on connections between livestock health and productivity, and human wealth, health and wellbeing; 2) describe Olkoroi sociodemography and capital; 3) assess local human and livestock disease priorities and livelihood challenges; 4) conduct longitudinal studies of livestock growth, livestock and human infectious disease; 5) measure adult psychological wellbeing; and 6) use the collected data to build predictive models of human wellbeing, herd size, livestock growth, livestock and human infectious disease frequency. I found livestock were the primary livelihood and predicted psychological wellbeing, but 40% of households, primarily female-headed, had insufficient animals to support themselves. Men and women identified similar factors affecting wellbeing but differed in proportional attribution: women uniquely spoke of restrictions on autonomy. Community disease prioritizations were similar to national priorities, however, disease management was inconsistent and causal understanding was low. Households self-rated husbandry practices highly, but felt financial constraints prevented adoption of best practice. Household variables were associated with herd size, but climate was the best predictor of livestock growth, and livestock and human infectious disease: livestock disease prevalence did not predict human disease. My results suggest livestock research must prioritize gender and local context to better understand livestock-human health relationships. Claims about the contribution of livestock to human disease burdens must also be clarified through more consistent research frameworks which allow inter-study comparisons, and more longitudinal studies to better identify causal relationships between exposures and disease incidence.

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