News from ILRI

Processing African cassava peels, potentially a billion dollar business

Bags of high quality cassava peel mash feed, Ibadan, Nigeria

Bags of high quality cassava peel mash feed, Ibadan, Nigeria (Photo credit: ILRI/Iheanacho Okike)

With livestock production expected to more than double in the next 40 years, transforming cassava peels into high quality feed holds huge potential for African economies struggling to meet rapidly rising demand for animal-source products, according to research proposal recently published by three CGIAR centres.

Africa’s estimated 50 million tonnes of cassava peel waste per year could generate at least 15 million tonnes of HQCP, substantially addressing shortfalls in the supply of animal feed and eventually creating a USD 2 billion a year industry.

The research has been proposed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and International Potato Center (CIP), with the support of CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) on Root Tubers and Bananas (RTB), Humidtropics, and Livestock and Fish. Working closely with private sector partners, ILRI is leading the effort to develop and improve innovative technologies for processing cassava peels into high quality livestock feeds.

Within five years, the proposal sets out to facilitate the production of high quality feed from cassava peels, creating approximately 100,000 jobs and eliminating more than 20% of dangerous cassava peels from the environment. According to the projections, the knock on effects could benefit the wider African economy by as much as USD900 million over the project life, enabling the private sector to become independent, and drive increased uptake of related technologies and product uses.

The CGIAR centres are seeking USD25 million to implement the five-year project and the proposed work will be undertaken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, responsible for at least 40% of Africa’s annual cassava production. The research is being led by ILRI Ibadan, in collaboration with IITA and the Humidtropics, Livestock and Fish and RTB CRPs; each of which is present in at least one of the four countries. ILRI and IITA Nigeria will serve as the hub for coordinating, evaluating and fine-tuning the project activities.

Approximately 98% of Nigeria’s cassava peels annually are wasted due to constraints associated with drying and concerns about safety of use, particularly hydrocyanide and mycotoxins-related food poisoning. Drying peels outside—practically impossible during the rainy season—takes two-three days otherwise. Consequently, peels are left to rot in heaps or set on fire—polluting the nearby air, soil and groundwater and wasting a potential feed resource.

In 2015, CGIAR scientists developed low-tech ways of transforming wet cassava peels into high quality, safe and hygienic feed ingredients within eight hours, producing one tonne of high quality cassava peel (HQCP) mash from three tonnes of wet peels. Thus, Africa’s estimated 50 million tonnes of cassava peel waste per year could generate at least 15 million tonnes of HQCP, substantially addressing shortfalls in the supply of animal feed and eventually creating a USD 2 billion a year industry on the continent.

Livestock producers would have access to better and cheaper feed, reducing operating costs and potentially boosting the quality and quantity of animal-source foods produced. In addition to the additional supply of grain available for human consumption, consumers would benefit from the availability of cheaper and better animal-source foods, improving health outcomes, particularly the cognitive health of children.

For a copy of the research proposal summary, Scaling the use of cassava peels as quality livestock feed in Africa, click here:

Climate-smart livestock farming in developing countries is boosted by a £10-million research award


Some of the ‘climate-smart livestock’ being raised in western Kenya (photo credits: C Schubert/CCAFS  and [top left and bottom right] S Kilungu/CCAFS).

Efforts to tackle challenges faced by
livestock farmers in developing countries
have been boosted by a £10-million research award.

Researchers at the Roslin Institute will be using funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to investigate how genetic information can improve the health and productivity of farmed animals in tropical climates, which is a proven approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health is an alliance between the Institute at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Africa-headquartered International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The partner institutions are making additional contributions with a value of £10 million to support the initiative over the next five years.

Teams will investigate the genes that make some animals more resistant to diseases than others. They will also explore why certain breeds are able to thrive in hot and arid conditions.

Their aim is to develop technologies that will help farmers in developing countries to identify the best animals within a herd from which to breed. The research will help Africa’s farmers to improve the quality and productivity of their livestock.

Researchers will also use genetic techniques to identify and track emerging livestock diseases in tropical countries.

The University of Edinburgh’s involvement is being led by The Roslin Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is one of the UK’s National Institutes of Biosciences.

David Hume, Director of The Roslin Institute, said:

This new joint centre will enable us to adapt, develop and transfer knowledge
on improving livestock productivity to developing countries and greatly
improve the lives of smallholder farmers in tropical environments.

Andrew Peters, SRUC’s assistant principal international, said:

‘We are delighted to be partners in this important initiative to improve the genetics of cattle and poultry in sub-Saharan Africa, contributing to the improvement of livelihoods of smallholder farmers. This is a unique and valuable collaboration between the four institutions
all bringing their respective skills, expertise and resources to the table.’

We see it as only the beginning of what will grow into a major
international initiative to improve the lot of poor farmers
and to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by farm livestock.

Africa’s involvement in the centre is led by ILRI, a member of CGIAR, a global scientific research-for-development partnership that advances agricultural research for a food-secure future.

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, said:

‘The work of this new centre comes at an opportune time, when demand for milk, meat and eggs is rising fast in developing countries.’

The centre’s focus on livestock genetics will help the world’s one billion
small-scale livestock keepers to meet that growing demand for animal-source foods,
and thus to improve both their livelihoods and their food security.

This news release is also published on the website of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh: Efforts to tackle challenges faced by livestock farmers in developing countries have been boosted by a £10 million research award, 23 Nov 2015.

For further information, please contact:

In the UK: Ronnie Kerr, University of Edinburgh Press and PR Office; tel 0131 650 9547; email

In Kenya: Muthoni Njiru, Communications and Knowledge Management, ILRI; mobile +254 722 798 321 and landline +254 20 422 3000; email:

Roots, tubers and banana plants: Next-generation pig feeds for Uganda


Pigs (photo credit: N Palmer/CIAT).

The demand for animal source foods in Uganda is rising as the country’s population continues to grow alongside improved income and urbanization.

Pork in particular has become an increasingly important food in the diets of Ugandans, reflected in the significant growth in consumption rates from the 1960s, when it accounted for only 1–2% of the per capita consumption of meat, to today’s level of at least 30% of the 10 kg consumed per capita/year.

Despite its growing popularity among both farmers and consumers, smallholder pig production in Uganda is faced by key constraints including limited access of farmers to a reliable supply of quality pig feed and the high cost of feed which can account for up to 62% of the total production cost.

Among the common fodder given to pigs in Uganda are sweetpotato, banana and other root and tuber ‘residues’, such as vines, leaves and peels. However, new research reveals that at time of harvest there is an excess of feed that is subsequently wasted as small-scale pig farmers in Uganda struggle to conserve this fodder for use during periods of scarcity.


Silage made from crop residue (photo credit: N Palmer/CIAT).

The results are part of a qualitative study entitled ‘Perceptions and practices of farmers on the utilization of sweetpotato, and other root tubers, and banana for pig feeding in smallholder crop-livestock systems in Uganda’, which was undertaken in two districts of Uganda with high pig and sweetpotato production in order to understand how farmers’ use and perceive root, tuber and banana crops as pig feed.

Published in the open-access journal Livestock Research for Rural Development, the study shows that pig production in these districts is dominated by small-scale farmers who produce both crops and livestock, and depend heavily on crop residues for feed.

Sweetpotato in particular was found to be the leading contributor to pig diet in rural areas, with farmers mostly using fresh, raw vines (70%) as compared to roots and peels. In peri-urban areas where farmers have greater access to commercial feeds, they typically mixed crop residues with commercial concentrates.

However, the conservation of crop residues is not a common practice and without access to new preservation technologies farmers can waste between 37–40% of their feed during periods of excess when the amount of feed exceeds demand by the herd.


Piglets eating fresh sweetpotato vines in Uganda (photo credit: S Quinn/CIP).

In contrast, during times of feed scarcity many farmers must sell off their stock to cope, subsequently lowering pig market prices and affecting the profitability of their businesses.

In light of these findings, the authors call for further exploration of strategies to conserve root, tuber and banana crop residues during the harvest period to reduce waste and improve incomes for smallholder pig farmers in Uganda.

This research was conducted by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Potato Center, Iowa State University-Uganda Program and the Ugandan government as part of the ‘Expanding Utilization of Roots, Tubers and Bananas and Reducing Their Post-harvest Losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) project, which is implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. This work also forms part of a portfolio of collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

The RTB-ENDURE project is funded by the European Union and implemented with the technical support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with the aim to improve food availability and income generation through better post-harvest management and expanded utilization of root, tuber and banana crops in Uganda.

This news release is also posted on the website of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.
For more information about ILRI research work in Uganda, visit the ILRI webpage on Uganda.
For more information about ILRI’s research work on pigs, visit the ILRI webpage on pigs.

High-level German delegation visits ILRI for updates on CGIAR livestock and sweet potato research

Visit to ILRI by BMZ delegation

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, giving a presentation during the visit (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Earlier this week (16 Nov 2015) a delegation from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Embassy in Kenya visited the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. The visit—part of an ongoing conversation between BMZ and other German development organizations and ILRI on ways to strengthen the impacts of livestock research for development—was the latest demonstration of the long-standing commitment of Germany and ILRI to advance ‘better lives through livestock’.

German universities, research institutions and funding bodies have partnered ILRI in livestock research and development for more than four decades, starting with ILRI’s two predecessors, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) in Kenya, and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) in Ethiopia.

This year BMZ is funding more than half a dozen projects at ILRI with a total value of over €5 million. Eleven German scientists now work at ILRI, six of them based in Nairobi, including two on joint appointments with German institutions and ILRI. ILRI also hosts six African PhD students under the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarships program and a PhD student from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Two experts from Germany’s Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) and three former CIM experts are also working at ILRI.

During the visit, researchers briefed the visitors on ongoing innovative research supported by Germany. This included research to enhance African smallholder dairy and sweet potato value chains; a novel mobile phone-linked diagnostic test for livestock diseases, including a lung disease in cattle called ‘contagious bovine pleuropneumonia’ (CBPP); research on developing and expanding use of varieties of Africa’s all-purpose (nutritious and drought-tolerant) Brachiaria, or signal grass, to improve fodder production; research on Africa’s livestock and greenhouse gas emissions and other important environmental issues being conducted at ILRI’s Mazingira Centre; and research to improve the safety of Africa’s smallholder dairy products, commonly sold in ‘informal’ markets.

Visit to ILRI by BMZ delegation

Josephine Birungi (left) led a tour of BecA-ILRI Hub facilities (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Researchers from the International Potato Center who are based on ILRI’s Nairobi campus also updated the German delegation on progress to widen the benefits of consuming Vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potato. The delegation then toured two of ILRI’s advanced laboratory facilities and resources: the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub and ILRI Biorepository.

The six members of the German delegation were Christel Weller-Molongua, GIZ division head for agriculture and rural development; Ulrike Meier, of BMZ’s special ‘One World—No Hunger’ initiative; and, from the German Embassy in Nairobi, Julia Kronberg, head of cooperation and development; Andrea Bahm, GIZ agricultural program officer; and Jacqueline Knopp and Christine Telep.

What’s driving Ethiopia’s fast development? Millions of smallholder farmers, of course

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI (photo: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Industrialization is key to economic development, and agriculture—supplying raw materials for processing and value addition—is an essential component of that process. Comprising more than 40% of national GDP and producing the overwhelming majority of the Ethiopia’s food, smallholder farmers are at the centre of the country’s recent economic success. So declared the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Jimmy Smith, in an agriculture panel discussion this week organized by the Economist magazine and held at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa.

The panel discussion, Building on Ethiopia’s agricultural roots, was one of many held as part of the Economist two-day Ethiopia Summit. Energy, finance, investment opportunities and innovation and technology were among the topics highlighted at the summit, which is part of a series of country summits bringing together industry and business leaders, government and ideas people.

‘Some of the work to improve animal feed, health and genetics, which has traditionally remained in the hands of the public sector, could be passed on to the private sector’, Smith said. ‘While it’s useful to look at large-scale farming, we need to focus on what makes agriculture more sustainable and as well as competitive.’

More than 250 policymakers and international, as well as local business leaders, explored the opportunities and the challenges in the government’s recently announced second growth and transformation plan (GTP II). Ethiopia is enjoying real GDP growth, forecast to average 7% a year for the next five years. The summit sessions focused on what more needs to be done for the country to achieve its full potential. ILRI evidence indicates that a major way to do that is to exploit and build opportunities for Ethiopia’s millions of smallholder animal farmers, both contributing to growth in national income and enhanced food security.

The agriculture panel discussion was chaired by Xan Smiley, editor at large at the Economist, with Khalid Bomba, chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, and Zelalem Messele, president of the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers Association.

A major focus of the Ethiopian government in GTP II is livestock. Smith said that’s smart, because the country’s—rising population, urbanization and incomes are stimulating spurring for meat, milk and eggs. A ‘business as usual’ approach to livestock, he warned, will almost certainly lead to severe food deficits in coming years. But with adequate investments in improving animal feed, health and genetics, animal-source foods could form as much as 8% of Ethiopian exports moving forward, fuelling growth and employment and greatly enhancing economic and nutritional security as well as equity.

‘Some of the work to improve animal feed, health and genetics, which has traditionally remained in the hands of the public sector, could be passed on to the private sector”, Smith said. ‘While it’s useful to look at large-scale farming, we need to focus on what makes agriculture more sustainable and as well as competitive.’

‘In future years, it’s predicted that about one-third of today’s African farmer’s will remain non-commercial due to long distances from markets and/or a worsening climate. Another third will transform their farms into commercial operations. The final third could go either way—into subsistence or market-oriented farming. We need to encourage the latter. We need to innovate our institutional frameworks so as to widen market access for smallholders. We need to connect Ethiopia’s many small-scale farmers to viable markets. This would act as a huge technological pull factor.’—Jimmy Smith, ILRI.

Producing, treating and storing animal feed is a real challenge in Ethiopia, but given that the country’s livestock productivity and yield gaps are so large, the potential gains from more and better animal feed are huge, Smith said. In coming years, more than two million smallholder farmers’ could move from substance to market-oriented farming, he said, if the private sector committed greater investments in animal feeds, breeds and health and if the country adopted more sustainable mixed crop-livestock production practices. ‘The spin-off benefits for nutritional security, job creation and economic development are immense.’

Bomba explained how the government’s focus in GTP has shifted from maximizing production and food security to productivity and value addition, and about moving smallholder farmers from subsistence to market-oriented output. Policy responses, continued Bomba, are being adapted by regional governments to meet various local challenges. In response to a prohibition on land ownership, for instance, the regional Amhara government has allowed smallholder farmers to lease farmland to allow other to form larger consolidated farms, which helps prevent land fragmentation caused by rapid population growth.

The government, Bomba added, is looking at many agricultural development models, one of which is ‘clustering’. This approach helps small farmers come together in cooperatives, for instance, to facilitate the acquisition of agricultural inputs and marketing of their produce, as well as determine which agricultural commodities can be most efficiently produced and under what circumstances. With more than 95% of the country’s farmers farming at small scale, the way forward, Bomba said, is not just promoting large-scale farming throughout the country, but rather better linking the country’s smallholders to commercial systems.

Aflatoxin levels in cow milk and feed in the Addis Ababa milk shed—New study


Ethiopian farmer with fresh milk from her cow (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

This article is written by ILRI scientists Dawit Gizachew, Barbara Szonyi, Azage Tegegne, Jean Hanson and Delia Grace

A vibrant dairy sector is important for the economic development of Ethiopia. Dairy offers a pathway out of poverty for a large number of households keeping livestock. At the same time, the dairy industry can provide highly nutritious animal-source foods (milk and dairy products) to meet the increasing food security and nutritional requirements of an expanding population.

Estimates place Ethiopia far below recommended annual milk intake at 17 litres per capita and even below the African-wide average in per capita consumption. However, tremendous potential exists to increase production and consumption of dairy products. As the dairy sector in Ethiopia is growing, attention needs to be paid to testing the quality of both dairy feeds and milk to ensure that the milk is safe for consumers (see USAID/Land O’ Lakes: The next stage in dairy development for Ethiopia, 2010).

We recently published the results of a survey on aflatoxins in cow’s milk and dairy cattle feed in the Addis Ababa area. Our results showed levels of aflatoxin in some of the milk samples significantly higher than that allowed by the European Union and USA standards. While the situation is of concern and definitely warrants action, only one in four samples were above the limits set by the US (but these are more lenient than those set by the EU). On the other hand, other countries are adopting the standards of the USA or EU, which has implications for international trade.

The level of aflatoxin contamination found in this study in milk and feed should prompt action to identify suitable interventions.

As reported in The Parasitologist, aflatoxin secreted in milk ‘is highly stable; heating will not break down the toxin sufficiently. Subsequently, the toxins are further processed into yoghurt, cheese and butter. This means that milk and other dairy product pose a threat to humans, particularly children.’

Drinking milk with aflatoxin levels above standards is not advisable, but in terms of risk, says ILRI’s Delia Grace, ‘there are many things in Addis Ababa that are more dangerous, such as driving a motorbike without a helmet or drinking from surface water. Therefore, we do not recommend that consumers stop consuming milk and dairy products in Addis Ababa, because milk has very high nutritional value.’

The other good news is that we have identified the main culprit—noug cake, an animal feed made from niger seed that is a by-product of noug oil factories.

Though all dairy farmers of different towns use similar types of animal feeds, differences in temperature, moisture and storage conditions might be the cause for the variation of aflotoxin contamination between areas. In addition, the composition of the feed mixture (in particular the proportion of noug cake) will have an effect on the toxin content.

This contamination can be fixed by improving handling and storage,  by using decontaminants or aflatoxin binders in animal feeds, or by avoiding risky feeds. Milk from cows not fed contaminated feed even for a few days is free of aflatoxin. The passing of aflatoxins into meat and eggs is much, much less (beef cattle and poultry probably get much less noug as feed), so we are not so concerned about contamination in meat or eggs, although testing these products for aflatoxin levels would also be useful.

We need further studies to determine how widespread the aflatoxin contamination is in other parts of Ethiopia. Also, we need to test interventions targeting noug cake to reduce aflatoxin contamination in the greater Addis Ababa area.

We suggest the following approaches to move forward:

  • The survey, though statistically sound, was relatively small; conducting a larger survey would help identify hot spots where contamination is most severe as well as areas where the problem may be negligible.
  • With the noug cake dairy feed identified as a major source of aflatoxins, dairy producers can reduce or mitigate contamination by changing or decontaminating their feed and applying other interventions.
  • Other countries have successfully adopted test and certificate schemes for controlling aflatoxin levels, which Ethiopia could explore.
ILRI takes this food safety issue seriously and is seeking funds to support follow-up studies on aflatoxins in Ethiopia.—Barbara Szonyi

Read the science paper: Aflatoxin contamination of milk and dairy feeds in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed, Ethiopia, by Dawit Gizachew, Barbara Szonyi, Azage Tegegne, Jean Hanson and Delia Grace, in Food Control, Vol 59, Jan 2016, pp 773–779.

Read another blog article about these research results in The Parasitologist: Aflatoxin-milk in Addis Ababa, 11 Sep 2015.

Find more ILRI blog articles about aflatoxins, 6 Feb 2014–3 Aug 2015.

Subscribe to the AgHealth news blog and consult AgHealth’s Food Safety page.

View an ILRI infographic on alfatoxin contamination of developing-country food chains, Nov 2013.

Read about 19 aflatoxin briefs published by the International Food Policy Research Institute or the whole publication: Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety, edited by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace, Nov 2013.


ILRI’s Corporate Report 2014–2015 is out: Twenty-one stories of better lives through livestock


The board of trustees, management, scientists and support staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) take pleasure in announcing publication of the institute’s corporate report for 2014 and 2015.

Introduced by ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith and ILRI Board Chair Lindiwe Majele Sibanda (Life at 40), the report offers a quick overview of ILRI and its work (ILRI Snapshot) and resources (Selected ILRI Capacities) before jumping into twenty-one one-page stories briefly describing the useful products, development tools, effective approaches, big impacts and new knowledge generated recently by ILRI and its many partner organizations.

The regions, topics, farm animals and agricultural systems covered are as wide as ILRI’s broad and global mandate and include the following.

  1. The first-ever livestock insurance for remote East African herders
    Seasonal Succour, p 7
  2. Tools to match feed technologies to local contexts
    Snappy Shortlists, p 9
  3. Enhancing Southeast Asia’s capacity to prevent global pandemics
    Stopping the Stopgaps, p 11
  4. Backstopping a national vaccine campaign against classical swine fever in India
    Vaccine Proclamation, p 13
  5. A search for the origins of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Kenyan camels
    Close Encounters of the Camel Kind, p 15
  6. Making better use of crop residues for feeding farm animals
    From Crop Wastes to Capital Wealth, p 17
  7. Transforming small-scale goat raising in India and Mozambique into commercial enterprises
    The Greater Goat (and Good), p 19
  8. Helping the Philippines eradicate foot-and-mouth and revamp its smallholder piggeries for export markets
    A Moveable Feast, p 21
  9. Sustaining dryland development in the Horn of Africa
    Blueprints for More Resilient Livestock Communities and Nations, p 23
  10. Partnering the private sector to process animal feeds tailored for African dairy farmers
    Processed Feed Products Pass Proof of Concept, p 25
  11. Managing manure to enhance food security, generate energy and slow global warming
    A Kiosk for the Dung at Heart, p 27
  12. Elucidating levels of mycotoxins in Kenya’s dairy feed chains
    Milk of Human Unkindness, p 29
  13. Reducing mycotoxin contamination of Africa’s maize food and feed supplies
    Troubling Toxins, p 31
  14. Participatory mapping of the global livestock sector
    Counting Your Sheep, p 33
  15. More efficient livestock farming in developing countries increases production while reducing global warming
    Where BIG Opportunities Lie, p 35
  16. Controlling Rift Valley fever in livestock and human populations in Africa and the Middle East
    Stopping a Virus from Going Viral, p 37
  17. Ensuring fair as well as safe meat, milk and eggs in developing countries
    Dying for Meat, p 39
  18. Participatory tracking and mapping of agricultural investments in Africa
    Resourcing Resources, p 41
  19. Conserving the diversity of plants that feed animals that feed people
    Forages to the Fore, p 43
  20. Developing disease-resistant cattle for Africa
    A More Perfect Union, p 45
  21. Models for better conserving and managing West Africa’s disease-resistant ruminants
    Back to the Future, p 47

We’ll be running one of these stories each week here on the ILRI News blog over the next several months, and we’ll be adding weblinks to each story for those who want to dig further into a topic. So dip into the whole report now or wait to read the individual stories-with-links posted here in the coming weeks.

What we want most to acknowledge here are all of you who have partnered ILRI in this work, who have funded this work, who have augmented this work, who have used this work, who have promoted this work. None of this work would have been possible without this wider community of talented and committed livestock-for-development workers. We are in your debt. We hope that these stories—of course your achievement as much as ours—make you proud to have invested yourselves in better lives through livestock.

Read online or download the whole of the ILRI Corporate Report 2014–2015.

Unlocking the potential of Africa to scale livestock development, high-level conference

Kenya children drinking milk

Kenya children drinking milk (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

The African continent stands at a crossroads. Stimulated by rapid population, urbanization and per capita income rises, African economies are growing at unprecedented rates. The ‘sustainable intensification’ of agricultural systems offers greater food security, incomes, trade, and smallholder competitiveness. Failure could leave African states vulnerable to climate shock, rising food prices, and trade deficits.

Grabbing this bull by its horns, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) have prepared a policy brief for the three-day high-level meeting on ‘feeding Africa’ starting today in Dakar, Senegal.

Only annual livestock productivity of at least 6% will be able to meet rising demand for livestock products domestically.

Improved livestock genetics, health and feed—guided by policies geared towards enabling a sustainable and business-friendly environment—are key to unlocking the potential of agriculture in Africa, according to the policy brief prepared by Barry Shapiro, senior livestock development advisor at ILRI and Simplice Nouala, chief animal production officer, AU-IBAR.

The ILRI/AU-IBAR brief ‘Unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential for transformation to scale African livestock development’, underlines the importance of smallholder mixed crop/livestock and pastoral systems in much of the continent where 60-80 % of rural households keep livestock as mobile and liquid assets, income generators, and for household food security and nutrition. Realistic goals for African livestock transformation over the next 15 years include a doubling of livestock production, of the contribution of livestock inputs into domestic industrial sectors and of exports and export earnings, a halving of domestic livestock product prices and the achievement of livestock relevant sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Projections following a ‘business as usual’ scenario indicate that, despite increases in investment and technological change, African producers will not be able to satisfy the growing demand for livestock products, including: expected consumption increases of 300% for milk and more than 600% for pork and poultry in the continent. This demand will only be met by increases in imports, which would lead to a doubling of the trade deficit to 20%. This is untenable for producers, consumers and the continent’s food security and is not a ‘sustainable’ scenario.

Only annual livestock productivity of at least 6% will be able to meet rising demand for livestock products domestically. This can only be achieved under a ‘sustainable intensification’ scenario, meeting priority development goals and maintaining the current trade deficit until 2050. Such projected increases in demand under this scenario offer major opportunities for market-driven growth for smallholder farmers and large-scale commercial producers.

The high-level conference, Feeding Africa—An Action Plan for African Agricultural Transformation, directly responds to the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Called by the incoming President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, participants—African ministers, civil society leaders and members of academia—will discuss steps forward to develop the agenda for agricultural transformation on the continent. Under the auspices of Macky Sall, President of Senegal, the event is co-hosted with the African Union Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Download the full brief

The sharp divide: Do we need animals to feed this world?

image: CCAFS

On 13 October, the International Livestock Research Institute and Cornell University host a ‘workshop cafe’ at the
2nd International Conference on Global Food Security taking place in Ithaca, New York.

Livestock, the fastest-growing, highest-value and a highly controversial agriculture sector, is at a crossroads. Following a new set of 17 sustainable development goals, the current and potential roles of livestock systems in food and nutrition security and other aspects of sustainable development, including the environment, human health and livelihoods, continue to be debated.

Opinions are sharply divided in the industrialized world between those who consider animals to be more part of the solution and those who consider them to be more part of the problem.

Using the format of lively and critical debate – in plenary and in groups -, workshop participants will identify challenges and formulate actionable responses to advance the roles livestock play in sustainable global food security.

Taking place from 1600-1730 (Venue: Warren #401), the cafe will be opened by Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer and Head of Mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN). She will be followed by three challenging contributions arguing for and against animal-source foods as contributing to food security. These will be given by Delia Grace (ILRI), Christopher Delgado (World Resources Institute) and Tara Garnett (Food Climate Research Network). After group deliberations, Andrew Mude (ILRI) will reflect on the various positions ‘from the field.’

Download full information

The session is chaired by Alice Pell (Cornell University) and Delia Grace (ILRI).

Why communicate agricultural science to non-specialists? A brief for livestock geneticists


At a recent workshop co-hosted by an NGO called Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, ILRI communications staff Susan MacMillan made a short presentation on why the 20-plus animal geneticists in the room should bother communicating their science to non-specialists.

The big picture
‘A scientifically educated citizenry
and a concerned scientific community
is the price of our collective survival.’

The practical picture
To get the obvious out of the way: We communicate to non-specialists to enhance our impacts, fundraising, partnerships and public support and acceptance of our research.

The not so obvious

  • Communicating well is fun and energizing—for you and others.
  • Communicating well is personally and professionally empowering and rewarding.
  • Communicating well is the single thing, aside from the research itself, that will make the biggest difference to your research having impact.

The bad news
Animal genetic resources is a neglected topic.

This is a hard topic to communicate. You can’t just jump in—you have to educate people with no genetics background.

Most people will assume this is a non-sexy topic—that it will be hard to understand

The good news
You have a fresh story. What is blindingly obvious to you is news to others (and vice versa).

People actually like to learn new stuff (they just don’t want to experience pain in their learning). And once you articulate some aspect of this research well, you can recycle that message/story endlessly among very different audiences.

You can surprise people that this is actually a ‘hot’ topic.

Two (related) questions
What we want to do here is to put animal genetic resources ‘on the map’.

  • The question is, ‘What map?’
  • Which is to say, which direction do we want to go?
  • Is the answer less obvious than we think?

Let’s imagine that we and our partners manage to raise this issue in public fora somehow.

  • Then what? What will this and related groups do with the greater attention? What should we do with it?
  • Is all this communicating simply to get more money and public acceptance to do the research we want to do?
  • Do we/should we have a bigger ambition? Idea? Is there something bigger at stake here?
‘In science, dollars are helpful, but ideas are decisive.’

Three principles for communicating controversial stuff

People have a right to be scared. Especially of new stuff. Especially this new stuff. While most people are scientifically illiterate, geneticists are getting their hands on the molecular levers of biology itself. We can already slice and dice the building blocks of life. We’ll soon be doing this very fast and at very little cost. Our technologies are getting ahead of our cultural means of managing them, even of comprehending all their implications, which are profound.

Our job is to help lay people steer a course
through diverse ideological posturings—
to help them move from fear to worry to concern
to thoughtful responses to advanced genetics.

Long before you give information, give people an understanding that you share their basic values. You, too, want a safe and healthy world. You, too, worry about the fate of your children and their children. You, too, understand that scientists can make mistakes. You, too, see that there are many, many things for people to care about, and that this research is just one small part of a much larger picture.

We don’t have to approach agricultural development as a zero-sum game: My loss is your gain, and vice versa. While we must manage expectations, we should not forget to build big visions. Yes, we’re working on some of the biggest challenges humanity is facing. We’re working to liberate people from the deadening weight of hunger and poverty and illness and environmental degradation.

But our resources are just as big. The energy and potential of Africa’s indigenous livestock—which manage to produce and reproduce in harsh environments—are prodigious. Africa’s farmers are radically practical as well as humanity’s very first experimenters. Africa’s donors are deeply committed to great African futures. Africa’s scientists have the future in their bones—they ask questions they think they have a hope of answering.

Together, these groups have created
miracle crops like corn,
miracle animals like the Holstein.
Together, these groups helped eliminate
famine in India and China.
It’s Africa’s turn.
It’s a big continent.
Build a big vision.


For more about this workshop, visit ILRI’s event wiki page.

About B4FA
The aim of this project is to encourage dialogue and to promote a better understanding of the available options for improving agricultural productivity in four African countries – Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria and Uganda. The project aims to work in three general areas.

Opinions and ambitions
Production and dissemination of a scholarly publication which synthesise information and views from opinion leaders about the potential benefits, concerns, application and consequences of new technologies for farming in Africa.

Communication and dialogue–a media fellowship programme
A series of professional development fellowships for media professionals, focusing in particular on the science of plant breeding. Journalists and editors from radio, television, newspapers and journals were offered technical training combined with field visits, mentoring and support and long-term networking opportunities.

Strengthening and enabling implementation
Studies of how to strengthen extension services that deal with the application of the new technologies and processes. Extension agents play the crucial role of linking research institutions to the intended end users of agricultural research products and technologies–farmers.

Biosciences for Farming in Africa is funded primarily by the John Templeton Foundation, which serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. The Foundation takes a particular interest in how major advances in genetics might serve to empower individuals, leading to spiritually beneficial social and cultural changes.

Animal breeding and genetics in the Ethiopia livestock master plan

Animal breeding and genetics in the Ethiopia livestock master plan

High population growth and rising living standards are putting pressure on Ethiopia’s livestock owners to increase the productivity of their animals. Improving the genetic potential of the country’s livestock is one of the keys—with better feeds and better health—to achieving food and nutrition security, and better lives through livestock. This latest research brief by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Animal breeding and genetics in the Ethiopia livestock master plan, outlines how quick-win genetic-based technologies—including artificial insemination (AI) with oestrous synchronization and community-based schemes to improve indigenous breeds as well—can significantly contribute to transformed value chains for cattle, small ruminants and poultry.

Ethiopia will need to develop improvement strategies for each species: undertaking within-breed selection for best-performing breeds and crossing them with other indigenous breeds, and provide training to farmers on genetic improvement activities and improved animal husbandry practices.

Despite the abundance of livestock resources in Ethiopia, the depth of its research and the quantity of available technologies, there have so far been few sustained attempts to improve indigenous breeds using between- and within-breed selection procedures. Despite campaigns to encourage crossbreeding between local and exotic breeds of almost all domestic livestock, the number of crossbreds is still negligible. Even in species crossbred in Ethiopia for several decades, such as cattle and poultry, numbers do not exceed 1% of the total national populations.

Genetic gains can be obtained by crossbreeding Ethiopia’s local (generally hardy but low-yielding) animals with (high-yielding) exotic breeds and by improving local breeds through selection. Analyses by experts who developed Ethiopia’s livestock master plan (LMP) argue that sustained support will be needed from all stakeholders, particularly the Government of Ethiopia, to achieve these gains.

High on the list of national priorities, according to the authors of the LMP, will be the full implementation of the draft government livestock breeding policy to satisfy growing commercial demand, while ensuring animal importation and crossbreeding leads to improvements in the genetic pool and productivity increases; the development of resource maps of the country’s important livestock resources, and the establishment of a national database system. Genetic improvement and progress should also be monitored through monthly genetic evaluations and a feedback system for farmers developed to enable selection of superior bulls.

Ethiopia will need to develop improvement strategies for each species: undertaking within-breed selection for best-performing breeds and crossing them with other indigenous breeds, and provide training to farmers on genetic improvement activities and improved animal husbandry practices. Other priorities include the improvement of the genetic potential and productivity of indigenous breeds by producing synthetic or composite breeds; crossbreeding cattle using artificial insemination and bull services; training selected farmers as artificial inseminators; and testing and scaling up technologies to accelerate the genetic progress.

Since 2014, the Livestock Resources Development Sector (or Livestock State Ministry) of the Ethiopian MoA and ILRI have been collaborating to develop an LMP to provide guidance to the government of Ethiopia on future priorities for livestock research and development activities. The LMP project development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Beyond the plan itself, the project aims to build the capacity of the government to carry out data-driven, fact-based analytics and planning.

Download the Animal breeding and genetics in the Ethiopia livestock master plan and other related LMP materials.

See a Storify post of articles, documents, links and pictures on the Ethiopia livestock master plan.

Open letter to the heads of state attending the 70th UN General Assembly, September 2015, New York


Figure of a woman, pre-dynastic Egypt, 3500–3400 BCE (Brooklyn Museum).

Co-advancement of Agricultural
and Natural Resource Management
within the United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals ¶ The 17 global goals which you have supported the creation of
are an unrivalled span of human aspiration
covering everything from sharing prosperity,
to protecting the planet, to promoting a more peaceful world. The commitments, resources and accountability
that you have offered in support are tremendous,
and have helped to fill a huge political gap by acting collectively. ¶ Reducing rural poverty, ensuring food and nutrition security,
and improving natural resource systems
are key dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These are also the shared strategic goals of the 15 centres of CGIAR. ¶ Together we stand ready to engage and be accountable for
our contributions to the entire SDG ambition, specifically to: SDG1: Poverty
SDG2: Food security and nutrition
SDG6: Water
SDG7: Sustainable energy
SDG13: Climate change
SDG15: Land use ¶ The collective of 15 CGIAR centres is more than 40 years old and works
in over 70 developing countries through extensive partnership networks.
Its 12,000 staff focus on delivering actionable knowledge, robust evidence
for policy and investment decisions and capacity development for, inter alia: Sustainable agriculture practices
Rural livelihood improvements
Improved crop varieties
Biodiversity conservation
Climate change adaptation and mitigation
Sustainable management of landscapes ¶ We have aligned our new strategies with the SDGs
and we offer realistic impacts by 2030 of: → 350 million smallholder farmers
with access to improved varieties and management practices
→ 500 million people—
at least 50% of them women—
no longer suffering from nutritional deficiencies
→ 100 million people
lifted out—and staying out—of poverty
→ 0.8 gigatonnes
fewer greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture each year
→ 190 million hectares
of degraded lands restored ¶ No other group of organizations combines
advances in agriculture development
and natural resource management better,
or more comprehensively,
than the CGIAR centres. ¶ A key to successfully achieving the SDGs will be sufficient means of implementation.
Here the CGIAR centres are concerned by the fluctuating recognition of
coupled research and development endeavours in priorities and financial commitments. Accordingly, at the 70th UN General Assembly in New York next week,
we call on world leaders and key development actors to recognize and document
their appreciation for the importance of groups such as the collective of CGIAR centres. Furthermore, we call on them to incorporate new commitments and continued support
up to and beyond 2030 for advancing our innovative programs
in alignment with, and strongly contributing to, the SDG ambition. ¶ Two main questions for you:
(1) Can we include you
along with other countries and key actors as champions
of the co-advancement of agriculture and natural resource management? (2) Which agencies in your country
should we more actively engage with in this co-advancement? Please respond with answers or any further information required,
either directly to any of the signatories of this letter
or centrally to the CGIAR centre representative: ¶ If we had all the knowledge, technology and capacity we needed,
then we would not need coupled research and development endeavours. We remain at your service to help combine the science of discovery
with the science of delivery of positive agriculture
and natural resource management impacts. ¶

Yours sincerely,

Peter Matlon, board chair, Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), Côte d’Ivoire
Harold Roy-Macauley, director general, Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), Côte d’Ivoire

Christian Samper, board chair, Bioversity International (Bioversity), Italy
Ann Tutwiler, director general, Bioversity International (Bioversity), Italy

Geoff Hawtin, board chair, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia
Ruben Echeverria, director general, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia

John Hudson, board chair, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia
Peter Holmgren, director general, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia

John Snape, board chair, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico
Martin Kropff, director general, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico

Rodney Cooke, board chair, International Potato Center (CIP), Peru
Barbara Wells, director general, International Potato Center (CIP), Peru

Camilla Toulmin, board chair, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Lebanon
Mahmoud Solh, director general, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Lebanon

John Lynam, board chair, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Kenya
Tony Simons, director general, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Kenya

Chandra Madramootoo, board chair, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India
David Bergvinson, director general, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India

Kym Anderson, board chair, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), USA
Shenggen Fan, director general, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), USA

Lindiwe Sibanda, board chair, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya
Jimmy Smith, director general, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya

Bruce Coulman, board chair, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria
Nteryana Sangina, director general, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria

Emerlinda Roman, board chair, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines
Robert Zeigler, director general, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines

Don Blackmore, board chair, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka
Jeremy Bird, 
director general, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka

Beth Woods, board chair, World Fish Center (WorldFish), Malaysia
Steve Hall,
 director general, World Fish Center (WorldFish), Malaysia

Editor’s note:
The 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York starts next week
with a Sustainable Development Summit 25–27 Sep 2015;
the annual general debate begins on 28 Sep 2015.

Ethiopia livestock master plan: Livestock health priorities

Ethiopia livestock master plan: Livestock health priorities

Improved animal health services could hugely increase livestock productivity and the earnings of livestock keepers. Although provision has expanded and improved across Ethiopia, endemic diseases limit livestock productivity and agricultural development. These losses have significant economic, food security and livelihood impacts. As part of the Ethiopia livestock master plan, an analysis of animal health by the Livestock State Ministry (LSM) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) outline the steps needed to transform the livestock sector, published as the latest ILRI brief: Livestock health priorities in the Ethiopia livestock master plan.

The brief highlights key areas for future research in the country, including epidemiological and socio-economic studies on transboundary animal diseases and technology transfer of reliable thermostable vaccines against major livestock diseases.

As part of the plan, the 10 most important diseases were ranked according to their impact on rural households and their livelihoods, markets and value chains, and intensification pathways. The global scores were weighted for total numbers of households affected, total value added generated from the sub-chain, and the animal populations affected. Subsequent discussion with stakeholders generated a top priority list of diseases in the country.

Ensuring key policies such as the implementation of livestock movement control and identification and traceability systems are prioritized was high on the ILRI/LSM list, as was the coordination of effective surveillance systems strategies to meet the challenges posed by emerging infectious diseases, and coordinated emergency preparedness and contingency plans for exotic, emerging and/or re-emerging diseases.

The brief also highlights key areas for future research in the country, including epidemiological and socio-economic studies on transboundary animal diseases and technology transfer of reliable thermostable vaccines against major livestock diseases.

Since 2014, the Livestock Resources Development Sector (or Livestock State Ministry) of the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and ILRI have been collaborating to develop an LMP to provide guidance to the government of Ethiopia on future priorities for livestock research and development activities. The LMP project development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Beyond the plan itself, the project aims to build the capacity of the government to carry out data-driven, fact-based analytics and planning.

Download the Livestock health priorities in the Ethiopia livestock master plan and other related LMP materials.

ILRI deepens its engagement with partners in Asia

ICAR-ILRI work plan signing ceremony

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has, in recent weeks, signed collaborative research agreements in China, India, Pakistan and Vietnam. These build on several years of past engagement and aim to deepen ILRI’s work in these countries.

See this Storify post for more information on these agreements.

Creating an enabling environment for livestock development in Ethiopia

Institutions and policies to implement the Ethiopia livestock master plan

Despite significant progress in increasing livestock production in Ethiopia, analysis of livestock production and consumption by the Livestock State Ministry (LSM) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) show a huge shortfall in the supply of livestock products. Detailed interdisciplinary research provides clear empirical evidence of the potential benefits of a comprehensive livestock master plan (LMP) for Ethiopia. In the absence of investment, these gaps will grow, causing food insecurity and other important economic and social repercussions.

The latest ILRI research brief identifies institutional and policy issues for attention, including… strengthening of targeted policies and practices in the area of animal health, and the dairy, poultry, hides and skins, live animal and meat sectors, breed improvement, and in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas.

The proposed investments of 7.76 billion Ethiopian birr (USD 388.1 million), set out in the LMP, have the potential to improve productivity and total production in key poultry, red meat, milk, and crossbred dairy cow value chains. Using herd and sector models and a baseline assessment of the current state of agricultural development in Ethiopia, the long-term, 15–20 years, potential impact of proposed combined technology and policy interventions was assessed. The findings show that relevant national policies exist but they are held back by a lack of enforcement capacity and the need to update older policies.

A critical dimension to realize these results is an enabling (institutional and policy) environment, facilitating the realization of the proposed investments. The latest ILRI research brief, Institutions and policies to implement the Ethiopia livestock master plan, identifies institutional and policy issues for attention, including:

  1. The availability and provision of land for livestock production and processing;
  2. Research on secondary production, like processing and food manufacturing;
  3. Enhanced capacity in the Ethiopia LSM to undertake the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of new investments, and policy and institutional changes; and
  4. Strengthening of targeted policies and practices in the area of animal health, and the dairy, poultry, hides and skins, live animal and meat sectors, breed improvement, and in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas.

Since 2014, the Livestock Resources Development Sector (or Livestock State Ministry) of the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and ILRI have been collaborating to develop an LMP to provide guidance to the government of Ethiopia on future priorities for livestock research and development activities. The LMP project development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Beyond the plan itself, the project aims to build the capacity of the government to carry out data-driven, fact-based analytics and planning.

Download the Institutions and policies to implement the Ethiopia livestock master plan and other related LMP materials.

Mixing it up—The information ‘black hole’ on crop+animal recipes for climate-smart and climate-resilient farms


Male antelope headdress (chi wara), from the Bamana people, Mali. In Bambara, ‘chi wara’ means ‘labouring wild animal’ and is a representation of Bambara mythos about the creation of farming. Chi Wara, a half antelope, half human figure came to earth to teach humans to sow crops, and thus is honoured at both sowing and harvest festivals, where the figure is used to bless the crops. (Text credit: Wikipedia; picture credit: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; photo by Paolo Manusardi).

This article is written by Philip Thornton

Bunguey is a typical East African farmer. He plants a couple of fields with maize, others with millet. His five cows produce manure to fertilize his crops and milk, a critical source of calcium and protein and micronutrients for his family. His animals stay healthy thanks to a nutritious supplement provided by the leaves and stalks of cereal plants leftover after crop harvests.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, there are millions of similar farms, from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east and down into southern Africa. In fact, the vast majority of food produced and consumed in the region comes from what agricultural researchers call ‘mixed’ farms, meaning simply farms that integrate livestock raising with crop growing to take advantage of the synergies between the two.

This fact might seem unremarkable—unless one looks at the vast global effort under way to ensure farmers around the world can adapt to climate change, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change will be especially difficult for food producers to manage.

In the thousands of pages of analyses produced by the highly influential United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, most of the work on agricultural impacts focuses on how rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall will affect crops.

Livestock are considered separately—and relatively briefly.

Even more absent is any understanding of how climate change is likely to affect food production on the hundreds of millions of farms that integrate crops and animals.

As my colleagues and I note in a perspective published recently in Nature Climate Change, this is a substantial information black hole. For millions of African farmers like Bunguey, feeding their families and generating income for things like school fees and healthcare is tied to maintaining an interdependent relationship between crops and livestock—what they (and the rest of the world until recent decades) would simply call ‘farming’.

Mixed farm-systems, which include both crops and farm animals, hold up the world’s milk and food supply. These farms produce over 90% of the world’s milk and 80% of the meat from ruminants, while providing incomes and livelihoods for millions of people in the tropics.—CCAFS blog

Across sub-Saharan Africa today there is a strong consensus emerging—from both governments and donor countries—that the surest path to increasing food security and reducing poverty lies in helping small family farms become more productive, resilient businesses.

But climate change looms as a major spoiler, posing a threat to existing production levels—which are already often insufficient—while dashing any dreams of an agriculture-led economic boom.

That’s because climate projections show that over the next 35 years, across large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the global build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will pose serious problems for smallholder farming, such as reductions in the length of the growing season and high daily temperatures that can greatly reduce yields of some major staple crops.

But how these problems will affect individual farmers in Africa—many of whom could also see rainfall become more erratic—depends on how they produce food. The millions of farmers depending on livestock-crop interactions could be at once more vulnerable and more resilient to climate change: more vulnerable because losses in one area quickly affect the other, potentially leading to a rapid downward spiral; and more resilient because intermingling crops with livestock can lead to a more efficient use of natural resources and provide a buffer against losses in a particular season. For example, selling a few sheep or goats can help a family overcome a poor maize harvest.

Addressing the vulnerabilities inherent when crops are mixed with livestock and taking advantage of the resilience inherent in this form of farming require greater understanding of these risks and the benefits. Yet we are unaware of any comprehensive studies undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa to explore how mixed farms will be affected by climate change and the cost and benefits of different adaptation options.

How will rising temperatures and shortened rains affect a farmer who is predominately growing maize and tending cattle compared to a farmer focused more on growing yams and tending a small herd of sheep or goats? How will a switch from maize to a crop like cassava that is more tolerant of heat and drought affect the amount of crop ‘stover’ available on the farm for feeding its ruminant animals? How does a farmer plough her fields or get her produce to market when climate conditions aggravate the spread of livestock diseases, including those that sicken or kill her prize cows?

Failure to consider the impacts of climate change on farms that integrate crops with livestock may reflect the bias of wealthy country. In the United States, for example, the overwhelming majority of cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products come from farms that specialize in just one of these. In sub-Saharan Africa as in Asia, on the other hand, the great majority of staples are produced on mixed farms.

Underestimating the importance of livestock in the mixed’ smallholder farming systems that are ubiquitous across the developing world weakens both emissions reduction and climate change adaptation efforts.

When it comes to adapting to climate change, the traditional mixed farming approach offers big advantages. Yes, we still need focused investments in building climate-resilient crop varieties and animal breeds.

But we also need to start investing in a better understanding of how climate change may affect farms where field and pasture, animal and vegetable and (literally) milk and cereal still sit side by side, in a harmonious whole, much greater than the sum of its parts.

Read a recent perspective by Philip Thornton and Mario Herrero published in Nature Climate Change: Adapting to climate change in the mixed crop and livestock farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa, 21 Aug 2015, doi:10.1038/nclimate2754.

Read a recent opinion piece published by Philip Thornton published in Devex: Why farms of the future need to mix livestock and crops, 31 Aug 2015.

Read an article about the Thornton and Herrero Nature Climate Change paper published by CCAFS: Why mixed crop and livestock farming systems are central for future agriculture development, 24 Aug 2015.

Philip Thornton is a principal scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a flagship leader in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Mario Herrero, formerly of ILRI, now works as chief research scientist and office of the chief executive science leader in the agriculture flagship program of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan: Feed priorities

Feed priorities in the Ethiopia livestock master plan

Investment in livestock agriculture in Ethiopia has the potential to halve poverty, improve the food security of rural people and make livestock an increasing contributor to GDP growth. The Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan sets out ambitious year 2020 targets for several livestock value chains—cross-bred dairy cows, red meat-milk and feedlot, and poultry. The 2020 targets aim to increase meat, milk and egg production by 58%, 83% and 828% respectively above 2012/2013 totals.

Yet the high cost and low availability of good quality animal feed is perhaps the most critical constraint to increasing livestock productivity. To meet government targets, the latest research by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Feed priorities in the Ethiopia livestock master plan, outlines how to increase the availability of feeds and productivity of feeding practices.

The feeds brief presents recommendations on how to overcome forage and processed feed shortages in highland areas and feed shortages in lowland pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, the making of suitable land available to private investors for forage seed and feed production….

Analysis by ILRI and MoA shows, however, that feed requirements are projected to exceed available resources in all production zones, except in the lowland grazing and agro-pastoral areas, during all years when rainfall is equal or above the long-term average. Assuming a ‘business as usual’ scenario for feed resources (without major feed development interventions), the future outlook for feed availability is a great cause of concern.

With estimates foreseeing no change in the rates of animal growth—0.2-1.5% annual increases in cattle population—or dry matter requirements per animal—1.86 metric tonnes per head per year in lowland grazing areas—the total feed requirements 15 years from now will rise to more than 165 million tonnes of dry matter per year: 56 million for the lowlands, 33 million for the rainfall-deficient and 76 million for the rainfall-sufficient mixed crop-livestock highland areas. This feed requirement would not be met under any climatic condition.

The feeds brief presents recommendations on how to overcome forage and processed feed shortages in highland areas and feed shortages in lowland pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, including the adoption of more productive forage production technologies, the making of suitable land available to private investors for forage seed and feed production, and accreditation of private analytical service laboratories to ensure quality feed production, among others.

The brief sets out key areas for future research, including the development of crop management technologies for improved forage seed availability, the design of alternative livestock feeding strategies to alleviate the escalating cost of industrial feeds, and engagement in research on the link between climate change and grazing pressure in driving bush encroachment and the consequences on cattle populations.

Since 2014, the Livestock Resources Development Sector (or Livestock State Ministry) of the Ethiopian MoA and ILRI have been collaborating to develop an Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan to provide guidance to the government of Ethiopia on future priorities for livestock research and development activities. The development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Beyond the plan itself, the project aims to build the capacity of the government to carry out data-driven, fact-based analytics and planning.

Download the Feed priorities in the Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan and other related materials.

New DNA analysis of Asian sheep reveals unique diversity crucial to contemporary food and climate concerns


Head of a ram-headed god, Ptolemaic Period, Egypt, 400-30 B.C. (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA).

Scientists look back 10,000 years to rewrite the history
of one of humanity’s oldest farm animals,
with a goal to aid herders eager for more productive breeds.

At a time when the price of mutton is climbing and wool crashing, a groundbreaking new study has used advanced genetic sequencing technology to rewrite the history of sheep breeding and trading along the ancient Silk Road—insights that can help contemporary herders in developing countries preserve or recover valuable traits crucial to their food and economic security. 

The new findings regarding one of the first animals ever domesticated will be published in the October print edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. They are the product of an unprecedented collaboration involving scientists in China, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Finland, and the United Kingdom.

The team analysed the complete mitochondrial DNA of 42 domesticated native sheep breeds from Azerbaijan, Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Finland, China and the United Kingdom, along with two wild sheep species from Kazakhstan.

These data were compared to DNA sequences of 150 breeds
from several other countries to complete the most exhaustive
maternal genetic analysis of sheep ever undertaken.

The DNA of contemporary sheep can now be read like a historical record, allowing researchers to look back 10,000 years to the time when humans first started herding these animals in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.

‘What we found is that sheep in Asia are far more genetically diverse than sheep now common in Europe and we can use that diversity to help herders in places like Mongolia and western China who now want to focus on meat rather than wool production’, said Jian-Lin Han, a senior scientist working at the Joint Laboratory on Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources, established in Beijing by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Han and Meng-Hua Li, a molecular geneticist of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), are the leading corresponding authors of this study.

Not one, but two migratory waves
The scientists found that the rich genetic heritage of Asian sheep is a product of two distinct ‘migratory waves’ of domesticated animals, not one as previously believed.

Han said that DNA analysis of thousands of tissue samples of 150 breeds from many countries confirmed previous findings that domesticated sheep first emerged in the Fertile Crescent about 8,000 to 11,000 years ago. And that they then made their way east to what is now China and Mongolia via the Silk Road, a set of trading routes extending some 4,000 miles that has facilitated commerce and human migration between Asia and Europe for thousands of years.

But Han and his colleagues discovered a second migration with evidence that herders in what are now northern China and Mongolia developed their own unique breeds some 5,000 years ago. These animals later made their way back west along the Silk Road, where frequent trading of breeding females, or ewes, allowed them to be mixed in with the progeny of their ancestors to produce yet more distinct breeds. For example, Han said, warriors of the infamous Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan often rode west with live sheep strapped to their horses.

‘What this study shows is that the genetic lineages of modern sheep were shaped by thousands of years of trading and breeding moving first west to east and then back, east to west, which created a unique collection of beneficial traits’, said Olivier Hanotte, a livestock geneticist and ILRI collaborator at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. ‘This is important information for contemporary sheep breeding programs’, he added. ‘In the world of animal husbandry, to get what you want you first need to know what you have. Until now, we barely knew anything about the genetic makeup of Asian sheep.’

Beneficial traits for breeding

ILRI’s Han said the study lays the foundation for more effective
breeding programs that support Asia’s millions of poor livestock herders,
many of whom are now seeking breeds of sheep better suited for meat production.

Meat animals are now wanted because of a soaring urban demand for meat in developing countries. Mutton prices in China alone have risen more than 40 percent since 2011, presenting new economic opportunities for the country’s poor herding communities. But sheep breeds globally are still dominated by animals developed mainly to produce wool—and prices of wool have dropped steadily since 1996. Furthermore, most breeds raised for meat today are found in Australia and New Zealand, where they dine on relatively expensive feeds and lush pasture grasses.

‘The kind of sheep we need in places like Mongolia and western China are animals that are strong and hardy and can cover long distances every day in search of grass’, Han said. ‘That’s not the kind of animal they’re producing in New Zealand and Australia.’

In China today, Han often encounters herders trying on their own to develop more meat-oriented sheep. He said some herders are even experimenting with breeding local sheep with massive wild sheep known as Argali. But that experiment, he says, could bring along undesirable traits as well. New genomic data and genetic markers can guide this effort to enable the inclusion of beneficial traits, he adds.

Han and his colleagues say the next step in their work is to take the information
generated from this current study and use it to build a foundation
for breeding programs that can efficiently provide herding communities
in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with animals suited
to local conditions, preferences and markets.

There have already been strides in the integration of desirable traits in sheep. For example, in Kenya today, ILRI scientists have helped local livestock keepers develop an improved version of an indigenous ‘hair’ sheep long kept by Maasai pastoralists. These red Maasai sheep are among the ‘climate-smart’ solutions being developed to help farmers and herders adapt to climate change in East Africa. The red Maasai sheep better cope with heat stress and disease (they are naturally resistant to intestinal worm infections) and they convert poor forage grasses into meat and milk more efficiently than other breeds.

‘In China and many other parts of the world today, a small herd of sheep is a family’s most important asset, providing the family with food, income, clothing and fertilizer for their crops’, says ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith. ‘We need to be doing everything we can to ensure that the animals they raise have the genetic traits that will help the sheep endure and progress and herders benefit from new sources of income, such as the growing mutton market.’

‘In coming years and decades, as we face global climate, population and other changes’, Smith said, ‘we need to be able to put our hands on the best traits for diverse and changing circumstances. That’s what research like this is giving us.

To quote leading genomicist and ILRI collaborator Claire Fraser,
‘Doing biology like this—with knowledge of genomes—
is like doing science with the lights turned on.’
—ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith

Read the scientific paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution: Mitogenomic meta-analysis identifies two phases of migration in the history of eastern Eurasian sheep, by Feng-Hua Lv, Wei-Feng Peng, Ji Yang, Yong-Xin Zhao, Wen-Rong Li, Ming-Jun Liu, Yue-Hui Ma, Qian-Jun Zhao, Guang-Li Yang, Feng Wang, Jin-Quan Li, Yong-Gang Liu, Zhi-Qiang Shen, Sheng-Guo Zhao, EEr Hehua, Neena A. Gorkhali, S. M. Farhad Vahidi, Muhammad Muladno, Arifa N. Naqvi, Jonna Tabell, Terhi Iso-Touru, Michael W. Bruford, Juha Kantanen, Jian-Lin Han (ILRI/JLLFGR) and Meng-Hua Li; first published online 16 Jun 2015; doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv139.

This research is conducted at the CAAS-ILRI Joint Laboratory for Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources, within the CAAS Institute of Animal Sciences, in Beijing, China. It is conducted under ILRI’s Animal Biosciences program and within the multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

New study recommends continued research on the possible role pigs could play in transmitting Ebola in Uganda

High-risk areas in Uganda for possible/potential pig transmission of Ebola

The map above shows high-risk areas due to a spatial overlap of three proposed risk factors for zoonotic Ebola virus transmission in Uganda: modelled zoonotic niche, domestic pig distribution and high numbers of people living in extreme poverty; the map is taken from a paper published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, Assessing the potential role of pigs in the epidemiology of Ebola virus in Uganda, by C Atherstone, E Smith, P Ochungo, K Roesel, D Grace, 27 August 2015 (figure credit: ILRI).

This article is written by two of this paper’s authors: Christine Atherstone, an ILRI researcher based in Uganda who leads this work and is lead author, and Delia Grace, who leads ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses research program.

A new risk assessment paper, Assessing the potential role of pigs in the epidemiology of the Ebola virus in Uganda, was published in the science journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases on 27 Aug 2015. The authors are scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Presently, there is no solid evidence that pigs have any role in the past outbreaks of Ebola virus disease.

In recent years the world has seen major problems caused by bird flu, MERS and other new ‘zoonotic’ diseases, which appear first in animals and then spread to people.

Zoonotic diseases cause most damage when they take animal and human health workers by surprise, giving public health and animal disease control workers no advance warning or time get disease prevention practices in place before the infections start to spread widely.

ILRI works with Ugandan partner organizations to carry out research on several pig diseases to help determine the country’s disease risks and the best measures for protecting Uganda’s public health and important pig industry.

In addition to Ebola, some of the animal-to-human diseases the scientists are investigating in pigs are brucellosis, trichinellosis (measles), cysticercosis (pig tapeworm) and human sleeping sickness.

Undertaking this kind of research helps to detect and stop the spread of emerging zoonotic animal diseases before they can jump to humans.

Why study pigs to find disease?
Due to rising demand for pork in Uganda, a massive expansion of pig production is taking place throughout the country. Pigs are preferred to other livestock species due to their relatively rapid growth rate, large litter sizes and potential to provide financial returns in a relatively short time.

Uganda’s expanding pig populations, particularly those reared under free-range systems, overlap with habitats shared with fruit bats. Pigs scavenging for food can thus come in contact with the dropped fruit, excrement, saliva, urine and faeces of fruit bats, which are suitable hosts for the Ebola virus.

Pigs are often a source for human disease, and the pig industry is growing rapidly in Uganda, where the pig sector is of big and growing importance to the livelihoods and diets of many poor households.

The combination of pork sector growth supported by development programmes and Ebola virus risk prompted a foresight exercise using desk, interview and spatial methods.

Over the past three decades, the reported pig population has increased 1500%, from 0.19 to 3.2 million in Uganda. In 2011, Uganda had the highest per capita consumption of pork in East Africa at 3.4 kg/person/year. More than 1.1 million poor households in Uganda own pigs, mostly managed by women and children in backyard activities. Indeed, 80% of pig production in Uganda is carried out by smallholder crop-livestock farmers. Despite this dependence on livestock, there is a strong association between poverty, hunger, livestock keeping and zoonoses.

Greater understanding of if and how the Ebola virus is or could be infecting any of the country’s pig populations will help Uganda expend its limited veterinary and medical health resources most efficiently to ensure the health and the livelihoods of its people through improved food safety and security.

This risk assessment paper indicates that further research on the role pigs may play in Ebola virus transmission in Uganda is warranted due to the following facts and factors.

  • A lack of serological evidence that fruit bats are the reservoir species of the Ebola virus in Uganda
  • A number of human Ebola index cases unable to account for their source of infection, particularly in Uganda
  • Pigs are the only domestic livestock species presently known to be naturally infected with Ebola viruses
  • The overlapping of Uganda’s domestic pig habitat with environments suitable for the Ebola virus
  • Reported interactions at the human-pig-wildlife interface that could support transmission, such as bats and pigs consuming the same fruits and chimpanzees hunting bush pigs
  • The possibility of Ebola virus infections in pigs going undetected in Uganda due to their being mistaken for African swine fever and other common pig infections causing similar symptoms; furthermore, common practices in Uganda such as selling off sick pigs and consuming meat from pigs that have died of unknown causes could help spread an outbreak of Ebola virus in pigs and increase the risk of the virus spilling over to humans
  • Outbreaks of Ebola in people in Uganda are correlated with peak pork consumption, such as during festivals, and anecdotal accounts have been reported of widespread pig deaths before outbreaks of Ebola in humans, although the cause of these pig deaths hasn’t been ascertained

Although there is no solid evidence that pigs have any role in past outbreaks of Ebola in Uganda, ILRI and its Ugandan partners are conducting further studies to elucidate the roles pigs may play in many new diseases. These researchers have identified some best practices, especially reducing pig movements and improving hygiene at slaughter, that can greatly reduce the spread of any disease associated with pigs.

Read the whole paper in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases: Assessing the potential role of pigs in the epidemiology of Ebola virus in Uganda, by ILRI scientists Christine Atherstone, Eliza Smith, Pamela Ochungo, Kristina Roesel and Delia Grace, 27 Aug 2015. DOI: 10.1111/tbed.12394

This research is conducted within ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses program and within the Prevention and Control of Agriculture-Associated Diseases flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Ethiopia recognizes ILRI contribution to the country’s livestock sector growth and transformation

Ethiopian Society of Animal Production Career Awardees with the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock, (from left to right) Gijs van ‘t Klooster of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Jean Hanson, ILRI forage diversity project, H.E. Gebregziabher G/Yonhannes, State Minister for Livestock, Barry Shapiro, ILRI program development specialist, and Layne Coopock of Utah State University.

Ethiopian Society of Animal Production Career Awardees with the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock, (from left to right) Gijs van ‘t Klooster of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Jean Hanson, ILRI forage diversity project, H.E. Gebregziabher G/Yonhannes, State Minister for Livestock, Barry Shapiro, ILRI program development specialist, and Layne Coopock of Utah State University.

Livestock production accounts for approximately one third of the global water footprint, and Ethiopia is no different. A scarce commodity in the country, water availability has been aggravated by climatic fluctuations and rapid economic growth. With the potential consequences for human health of a lack of quality drinking water, as well as for the country’s development, there is a strong case for enhancing the role of research for development in understanding better how limited water resources can be used.

The Ethiopia livestock master plan (LMP) will be officially launched by the Government of Ethiopia in September 2015, but the full report and a series of research briefs on the LMP, livestock feeds, genetics, animal health and an enabling policy and institutional environment can be found on the ILRI website.

Water and Livestock Development in Ethiopia, the theme of this year’s Annual Conference of the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP) from 27 to 29 August, was addressed by speakers from a range of related issues, including rangeland dynamics and human health, sustainable pastoralism, genetics, livestock value chains, and the contribution of the livestock master plan to the national Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) II.

Prior to the official commencement of the event, ESAP officially recognized the contribution of five non-Ethiopian scientists—two present day and two former staff member of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)—to the development of the country’s livestock sector. They were presented with an ESAP Career Award by the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock, H.E. Gebregziabher G/Yonhannes.

 ESAP 2015 annual conference–water and livestock development in Ethiopia

Barry Shapiro, a program development specialist at ILRI, was recognized for his ‘Outstanding collaborative leadership in the analysis and development of the Ethiopian livestock master plan’, while Jean Hanson, who leads ILRI’s forage diversity project, was acknowledged for ’35 years of outstanding achievements in genebank management and the conservation of forage genetic diversity’. Other awardees included former ILRI staff members Layne Coopock of Utah State University and Henry Fitzhugh of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, and Gijs van ‘t Klooster of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Agricultural development is a national priority, and within that the livestock sector is crucial, the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock explained to crowded room of academics and practitioners. Of the rapid growth experienced in recent years in the country, more than 40% has been accounted for by growth in the agricultural sector. Key to further development will be creating an enabling environment to meet the challenges of feeds shortages and the pressures on limited water resources. Trade-offs between higher production and stressed water resources need to be addressed intentionally; this is where research and knowledge sharing come in.

In his address to the conference, Shapiro outlined how investment interventions—better genetics, feed and health services, which, together with complementary policy support—could help meet the GTP II targets by improving productivity and total production in the key livestock value chains for poultry, red meat-milk, and crossbred dairy cows. If the proposed investments—of 7762 million Ethiopian birr (USD 388.1 million), 57% and 43% from the public and private sectors respectively—were successfully implemented, they could massively reduce poverty in livestock-keeping households, helping family farms move from traditional to improved market-oriented systems.

Other ILRI staff members presenting speeches at the proceeding include Tadelle Dessie of the African Chicken Genetic Gain project and Berhanu Gebremedhin of the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains project.

The Ethiopia livestock master plan (LMP) will be officially launched by the Government of Ethiopia in September 2015, but the full report and a series of research briefs on the LMP, livestock feeds, genetics, animal health and an enabling policy and institutional environment can be found on the ILRI website.