News from ILRI

New Ethiopian ‘livestock master plan’ aims to take 14 million out of poverty



Gone are the days when the development debate focused exclusively on humanitarian assistance. Some rapidly growing developing economies are trying to ensure the poorest households benefit from growth. And in Ethiopia, where approximately 70% of the rural households possess cattle, sheep and goats, livestock is officially at the centre of that debate.

Over the last 20 years, the Ethiopian government has prioritized the transformation of the agricultural sector, yet the absence of a livestock roadmap has hindered implementation. However, detailed inter-disciplinary research, presented today by Barry Shapiro, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in Addis Ababa, reveals the potential benefits of a comprehensive livestock master plan (LMP) in Ethiopia.

With a relatively modest sum, less than USD 400 million over five years, the joint MoA/ILRI plan aims to reduce poverty among livestock-keeping households by 25%, helping family farms move to market-oriented commercial operations. Beyond the direct impact on rural families, the LMP sees benefits to urban dwellers through lower food prices and the achievement of food and nutrition security at household, sectorial and national levels.

Today’s meeting of Rural Economic Development and Food Security Sector Working Group of the Ethiopian government –attended by UN agencies, NGOs and donors, among others – was called to discuss the establishment of a flagship program for livestock. And the argument in favour of a more focused approach to livestock are strong, as the LMP is projected to meet most of the government’s key Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) objectives.

Contributions from the three pillars of livestock development – breeds, feeds and health – are assessed on key livestock value chains (poultry, crossbred dairy cow, and red meat/milk) for the long-run development of the sector. The plan suggests that investment in crossbred dairy cow development would produce a surplus of milk production over domestic demand by 47%, offering opportunities to enhance nutritional security, industrial output (e.g. in the baking industry) and export earnings. Similarly large gains are expected for red meat/milk production on family farms and among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.

While these gains may not meet rising red meat/milk demand in Ethiopia, the annual growth rate in the cattle population could be substantially reduced if the projected productivity increases were realized. The transformation of the poultry sector is key, enabling Ethiopia to close the projected total national meat production-consumption gap. If chicken is substituted for red meat coming from larger higher-emitting ruminants, this would also help meet the climate resilience target of increasing the share of chicken meat to total meat consumption from 5% to 27% by 2030.

However, Shapiro adds some caveats. The benefits from the LMP will require investment in changing tastes away from red meat to crossbred chickens. Important investments will be needed in other areas: genetic selection, artificial insemination, the rehabilitation of range and pasture lands and veterinary service provision, as well as a range of health and quality regulation and measures promoting private investment.

Equally significant to the ILRI mission is the process for scaling up what has been learned. The development of the plan has bought together experts within the field to discuss how best to tackle an ambitious objective: promote sustainable development and enhance climate resilience and food and nutritional security, while also contributing to ILRI’s strategic objectives of influencing others and promoting capacity development. If implemented, the LMP would go a long way towards meeting these goals.

The LMP project development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and overseen by a high-level technical advisory committee comprising directors of key MoA Livestock State Ministry departments and institutes, as well as representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) and the presidents of the relevant professional associations of livestock experts (the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production and the Ethiopian Veterinary Association).

The key findings of the LMP policy brief can be found here. The full document will be available shortly.

Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century–The Lancet


Marble figurine of a woman, from the Cyclades, Aegean Sea, early Bronze Age, about 2600-2400 BC (via the British Museum).

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change was formed to map out the impacts of climate change and the necessary policy responses. The central finding from the Commission’s work is that tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. See a summary of the key messages of the paper, published this week in The Lancet (22 Jun 2015)—Health and climate change: Policy responses to protect public health.

One of the authors of the paper is ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). Another is her colleague Victor Galaz, professor of politics at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and, like Grace, a fellow partner in the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium led by the STEPS Centre.

6 years ago, the first Lancet Commission called climate change ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century’. Since then, climate threats continue to become a reality, GHG emissions have risen beyond worst-case projections, and no international agreement on effective action has been reached. The uncertainty around thresholds, interactions and tipping points in climate change and its health impacts are serious enough to mandate an immediate, sustained, and globally meaningful response.

Key messages of the Lancet Commission

The effects of climate change represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health
The direct effects of climate change include increased heat stress, floods, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms, with the indirect threatening population health through adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill health.

High-end emissions projection scenarios show global average warming of 2·6–4·8°C by the end of the century, with all their regional amplification and attendant impacts.

Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century
Many mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change are “no-regret” options, which lead to direct reductions in the burden of ill-health, enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty, and address global inequity.

The Commission recommends that over the next 5 years governments:

01 Invest in climate change and public health research, monitoring, and surveillance. 02 Scale-up financing for climate resilient health systems world-wide. 03 Protect cardiovascular and respiratory health by ensuring a rapid phase out of coal from the global energy mix. 04 Encourage a transition to cities that support and promote lifestyles that are healthy for the individual and for the planet.

Achieving a decarbonized global economy and securing the public health benefits it offers is now in political hands
Bold political commitment can ensure that the technical expertise, technology, and finance to prevent further significant climate change is readily available, and is not a barrier to action.


05 Establish the framework for a strong, predictable and international carbon pricing mechanism. 06 Rapidly expand access to renewable energy in low-income and middle-income countries. 07 Support accurate quantification of the avoided burden of disease, reduced health-care costs and enhanced economic productivity associated with climate change mitigation.

The health community has a vital part to play
Health professionals must be leaders in responding to the health threat of climate change and reducing inequities within and between countries.


08 Adopt mechanisms to facilitate collaboration between ministries of health and other government departments (a siloed approach to protecting human health from climate change will not work). 09 Agree and implement an international agreement that supports countries in transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

To help drive this transition, the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change will:

10 Develop a new, independent Countdown to 2030: Global Health and Climate Action to provide expertise in implementing policies that mitigate climate change and promote public health, and to monitor progress over the next 15 years. The Collaboration will be led by this Commission, reporting in The Lancet every 2 years, tracking, supporting, and communicating progress and success along a range of indicators in global health and climate change.

Read the whole paper: Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, The Lancet, 22 Jun 2015.

Read a STEPS Centre blog article about The Lancet paper: Reports on climate change and health forecast gloomy future but ‘no-regret’ options may save the day, 23 Jun 2015.

Read a related recent publication also co-authored by Delia Grace along with her colleagues at ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS)—Info Note, Impact of climate change on African agriculture: Focus on pests and diseases. Findings from CCAFS submissions to the UNFCCC SBSTA, CCAFS, May 2015.

The rise of antimicrobial resistance (lethal) and animal agriculture (critical): Their links in developing countries

E. coli with flagella

E. coli with flagella (via Flickr / AJ Cann).

This Jun 2015, Evidence on Demand, an international development information hub supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), published a 44-page paper identifying key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world and documenting on-going and planned research on this topic by key stakeholders.

The paper, written by veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is titled: Review of evidence on antimicrobial resistance and animal agriculture in developing countries.

In a nutshell, Grace argues that we should be careful not to throw the baby (food, nutritional and economic security) out with the bathwater (antimicrobial use in small-scale animal agriculture). And . . . we should be worried about the increasing use of antimicrobials in developing countries. And . . . we need to collect reliable data on such use in developing countries. And . . . medical and veterinary use of antimicrobials should be looked at together and holistically.

As the rise of antimicrobial resistance puts all of us at increasing risk of no-longer-treatable diseases, it’s in the interest of all of us to inform ourselves about what are, and are not, the causes of what threatens to be a ‘post-antibiotic era’, so we can take rational actions to prevent it.


Part of an infographic on record-high antibiotic sales for meat and poultry production in the United States in 2011 (via the Pew Charitable Trusts).


At the start, Grace gets some definitions out of the way. ‘Technically, an antibiotic is a substance produced by a microorganism that at a low concentration inhibits or kills other microorganisms and an antimicrobial is any substance of natural, semisynthetic or synthetic origin that kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms (bacteria, virus or other) but causes little or no damage to the host.

All antibiotics are antimicrobials, but not all antimicrobials are antibiotics. . . . In this document, antimicrobial is used but generally refers to antibiotics. Summary

‘This short paper aims to identify key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world, and to document on-going or planned research initiatives on this topic by key stakeholders.

‘The antimicrobial resistant (AMR) infections in animals that are of most potential risk to human health are likely to be zoonotic pathogens transmitted through food, especially Salmonella and Campylobacter. In addition, livestock associated methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA MRSA) and extended spectrum beta lactamase E. coli (ESBL E. coli) are emerging problems throughout the world.

In developing countries, AMR pathogens are commonly found in animals, animal food products and agro-food environments, but the lack of surveillance systems means there are no reliable national data on the level of AMR in animals and their products.

‘While AMR pathogens in animals and their products undoubtedly contribute to AMR infections in people, the literature from developing countries is insufficient to draw firm conclusions on the extent of this contribution.

‘The key driver of agriculture-related AMR is the quantity and quality of use of antimicrobials in livestock production and aquaculture. We don’t have accurate information on antibiotic use in developing countries but

  • agricultural use probably exceeds medical us
  • most use is probably in intensive production systems
  • use is probably increasing rapidly

‘The underlying driver for antimicrobial use and development of AMR is the livestock and aquaculture revolutions, by which is meant the rapid growth in intensive production systems in response to increased demand for livestock and fish products. This demand in turn is driven by population increases, urbanisation, improving economic conditions and globalisation in developing countries and is predicted to continue to increase.

Based on livestock intensification patterns, China, Brazil and India are current hotspots, and future hotspots are Myanmar, Indonesia, Nigeria, Peru and Vietnam. Based on aquaculture trends,China is a hotspot and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and Chile are other countries where antimicrobial use in fish production may be problematic.

‘Many interventions using educational, managerial, regulatory and economic approaches to improve drug use have been studied. Training by itself is relatively ineffective but if combined with strategies to change market conditions (by changing incentives and accountability environment) better success has been achieved.

There are many animal husbandry options that can allow production without non-therapeutic antimicrobials, but these options have not been widely used in, or adapted to, developing countries.

‘In developing countries, there is a dearth of evidence on most aspects of agricultural related AMR. . . . At the same time, AMR is intrinsically a global problem that can only be managed at supra-national scale and the current strong momentum to take action on AMR provides an opportunity to address the problem globally and comprehensively, addressing both medical and veterinary use. This should be done in an evidence-based way which includes filling knowledge gaps, careful piloting of interventions, and rigorous evaluation of successes and failures.Antibiotics

Discovery of antibiotics (via Flickr / AJ Cann).

‘Human infections caused by pathogens that have become resistant to the medical drugs impose a large burden of illness and death and entail enormous costs.

Recent reports predict drug resistance will increase substantially, causing millions of extra deaths and costing trillions of dollars by mid 21st century . . . .

‘While many disease-causing organisms show resistance to drugs this report focuses on infections caused by bacteria that are potentially linked to agricultural use of antibiotics in developing countries.

‘Bacterial infections in people and animals have been successfully treated with antimicrobials since the discovery of these drugs in the first half of the 20th century. However, the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture (both livestock and fish production) has been debated for decades because of its potential impacts on human health.

In recent years there is increasing consensus that there are links between veterinary drug use and drug resistance in human pathogens, and that it is desirable to reduce antimicrobial use in agriculture.

‘Agriculture is of crucial importance for food security and development.

Worldwide, one in three people work in agriculture and farming produces 4 billion tonnes of food to feed over 7 billion people a year.

‘Rising populations in developing countries, alongside increasing wealth, urbanisation and changing dietary preferences are driving a dietary revolution, in which consumption of eggs, milk, meat and farmed fish is increasing much more rapidly than the consumption of staples or pulses. This in turn is driving changes in how animals are farmed. Poultry, pig and fish production is increasing fastest, and ever more animals are kept in high input-high output intensive systems.

‘These increases in animal numbers and changes in farming systems, against a background of high levels of endemic and epidemic disease would be expected to increase use of antibiotics in developing country agriculture.

Because the quantity of antibiotics used is the main driver of development of resistance to these antibiotics, animal agriculture in developing countries could have an increasing role in the development of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens.

‘While discovery of novel antimicrobials would support management of infectious bacterial disease into the future, over the last decades there has been a dramatic slow-down in the development of new antimicrobials, which increases the need to safeguard existing antimicrobials.

‘The report aims to identify key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world and to document ongoing or planned research initiatives on this topic by key stakeholders.’

A Man With Many Phone Numbers

Outdoor slaughterhouse, Abeokouta, Nigeria, 2010 (via Flickr / Christopher Walker).

Other salient facts and developing-country issues

We do not have good data on the prevalence of AMR pathogens in livestock and fish and their products in developing countries. This is because systematic, national, iterative (repeated) surveillance programs are needed to generate good information on AMR in livestock, fish and food, and these types of programmes exist only in some EU and north American countries (WHO, 2014).

The large number and consistency of results make it very likely that AMR pathogens are common in animals, animal food products and agro-food environments in developing countries, but the literature is insufficient to draw firm conclusions on drivers or management of AMR or the contribution of AMR in agricultural systems to AMR illness in humans or animals.

There is some evidence that suggests agricultural use of antibiotics may not have very important human health impacts in developing countries:

  • Most experts agree that use of antibiotics in human medicine is by far the major cause of antibiotic resistance in people (Aarestrop, 2005; Olivier et al., 2010; CDC, 2014). . . .
  • In a recent survey, chief veterinary officers reported African countries used an average 418 tonnes of antibiotics in agriculture each year (Grace et al., in press). This is less than half the amount used by the average OECD country (864 tonnes per year) (van Boeckel et al., 2015) suggesting antimicrobial use in some African countries is not excessive compared to use in OECD agriculture.
  • The main human health threats from drug resistance are: malaria; tuberculosis; streptococcus pneumonia; gram negative infections (ESBL Klebsiella pneumonia and E. coli infections) and MRSA (Vernet et al., 2014). Veterinary drug use is only likely to contribute directly to ESBL gram negative bacterial infections and MSRA, and the extent of its contribution to AMR in these pathogens is not known. . . .
Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year in Europe and the US . . . and some estimate that drug-resistant infections will cause 10 million extra deaths a year and cost the global economy up to $100 trillion by 2050 . . . , with most impacts due to E. coli, malaria and tuberculosis (of these, only E. coli resistance could be linked to agricultural use). Reliable estimates of the true burden of AMR infections in developing countries do not exist. . . .

In developing countries there is a dual problem of overuse and lack of access to veterinary antibiotics. Many more animals die from lack of access to antibiotics than from resistant infections. Meta-reviews of studies from Africa suggest 10% of adult ruminants and 25% of young ruminants die prematurely each year, most from disease. . . . Others estimate livestock disease in Africa costs from $9 to $35 billion annually (Grace et al., in press). . . .

In developing countries there are related challenges of low livestock productivity and lack of animal source foods contributing to 2 billion cases of ‘hidden hunger’ due to micronutrient deficiencies. Antibiotics reduce feed requirements and increase weight gain by 2–15% . . . .

[S]topping antibiotics without putting alternatives in place could seriously affect the ability of intensive systems to provide cheap, abundant animal source foods. . . .

[M]ost (in some cases nearly all) antimicrobials in developing countries are applied without veterinary oversight . . . . [A] prescription-only system with direct veterinary oversight not feasible in the foreseeable future. . . .

In many developing countries, human antibiotic use is relatively uncontrolled, and most community care is provided by the informal sector . . . . Most low and middle income countries report poor enforcement of antibiotic use policy and when human drugs cannot be well controlled, it is unlikely that veterinary drugs will be.

New approaches are needed to improve the performance of human and animal health markets, particularly in meeting the needs of the poor. This cannot be achieved by simply importing regulatory frameworks and approaches from the advanced market economies . . . .

Extensive and smallholder production appear to use relatively small amounts of antibiotics, and most is used for treating sick animals rather than disease prevention or growth promotion. . . .

Despite heightened awareness in high-income countries and recognition that antibiotic resistance is a global problem, the issue is still not on the agenda for most low-income countries and some middle-income countries. . . .

There is consensus that antimicrobial use requires oversight, and that medical and veterinary use needs to be considered holistically. . . .

In poor countries, many more animals die from lack of access to antibiotics than from resistant infections. . . . [T]he OIE estimates that 25% of livestock production is lost due to disease globally . . . . In this context, measures to restrict the use of antibiotics in agriculture could have unintended consequences on income derived from livestock, livelihoods and nutrition.


Bacteria (via Flickr / AJ Cann).

Read the whole paper by Delia Grace:Review of evidence on antimicrobial resistance and animal agriculture in developing countries. Evidence on Demand, UK. 2015. iii + 39 pp. DOI:

Read about another paper on this topic co-authored by ILRI’s Tim RobinsonFirst global map of the rising use of antimicrobial drugs in farm animals published in PNAS, 25 Mar 2015.

Scientists from France and Kenya meet in Nairobi to sketch out plans for joint livestock research projects in Africa


French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and ILRI scientists met in Nairobi, 9-10 Jun 2015 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

On 9–10 Jun 2015, a delegation from CIRAD, the French agricultural research and international cooperation organization, visited the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi.

Led by Jacques Lançon, the CIRAD regional representative for East and Southern Africa, a team of eight scientists from CIRAD research units linked to livestock research in France, Kenya and Mozambique worked with a team of ILRI scientists to develop concrete ideas for collaboration between the two organizations.

CIRAD research units in animal and integrated risk management, emerging and exotic animal disease control, InterTryp (host-vector-parasite-environment interactions in neglected tropical diseases due to trypanosomatids) and Mediterranean and tropical livestock systems were represented at the meeting by Alexandre Caron, Thierry Lefrançois, François Thiaucourt, Sophie Thévenon, Alexandre Ickowicz, Denis Bastianelli and Philippe Vernier.

The two-day meeting followed a visit by Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI, to CIRAD offices in Montpellier, France, earlier in the year.

The meeting concluded with an open seminar by CIRAD’s Alexandre Caron, who gave a presentation on ‘Disease ecology in multi-host systems at the wildlife and domestic interface: Concepts and application’.

Caron, who is based at the veterinary faculty of the Eduardo Mondlane University, in Mozambique, presented findings from his research in wildlife and livestock interactions in southern Africa and their ‘implications for disease ecology in arid and semi-arid socio-ecosystems where wildlife, livestock and humans are competing for resources.’

The research evaluated interactions between wildlife and livestock in national parks, conservancies and communal farmlands in the transfrontier conservation areas of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In one study, GPS collars were used to track the frequency and intensity of interactions between cattle and buffalo in communal areas and national parks and how these interactions influence the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine tuberculosis. The researchers found a ‘clear relationship between incidences of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle and contact between buffalo and cattle’ in southern Africa.

A different study has assessed the spread of avian influenza between wild birds and domestic poultry, with findings showing need to control contact between poultry and ‘bridge birds’, such as quelea, barn swallows and cattle egrets, through better management of food, water and roosting sites.

Caron argued that a combination of ecological and epidemiological research is needed to study wildlife-livestock interactions so as to help researchers better understand and control the emergence and spread of animal diseases.

Two approaches used to reduce disease spillovers in Southern Africa, he said, are providing separate water sources for domestic and wild animals to prevent their mixing in the dry season and strategic vaccination campaigns.

Download the presentation by Alexandre Caron.

Small producers are big opportunities for a healthy, safe and sustainable global livestock sector

Slide 01

Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave a keynote presentation at the International Federation for Animal Health–Europe conference Healthy Animals, Healthy Food, a Healthy Future, held in Brussels on 11 Jun 2015.

Smith had four key messages:

  • Demand for animal source foods is increasing rapidly—almost all the increase is in developing countries
  • Despite this, food and nutritional challenges remain
  • Small producers dominate the food economy in the developing world and can respond to the demand pull and do so in environmentally sustainable and healthy ways
  • New markets for European agriculture and agri-food industry are emerging

The challenge, Smith said, is feeding the world sustainably by the time the global human population stabilizes about 2050, by which time 60% more food than is produced now will be needed, 75% of which must come from the same amount of land. In addition, the higher production should be achieved while reducing poverty and addressing environmental, social and health concerns. And all this greater food will have to be produced with temperatures likely to be 2−4 degrees warmer than today’s.

All of which are tall orders.

Global demand for animal-source foods—meat, milk and eggs—is rising fastest, particularly in the world’s emerging economies.

Slide 04

This rising demand for meat, milk and eggs is due largely to rising populations as well as incomes and urbanization in developing countries. Take a look.

Slide 05

Slide 06

Slide 07

Gains in meat consumption in developing countries are outpacing those of developed.

Slide 08

Slide 09

The nutritional divides among the world’s seven billion people today are dramatic.

Slide 10

And while we have done much in recent years to reduce food insecurity, much still remains to be done.

Slide 11

While much of the above is common knowledge among development experts, what is less commonly understood is the central importance of the world’s small-scale food producers in developing countries, who are feeding most of the developing world’s people.

Slide 12

Jimmy Smith argued that the rising demand for livestock commodities in developing economies will be met—the only question is how. He presented three plausible scenarios.

Slide 13

Developing sustainable animal food systems—Scenario #3—is a must for several reasons, he said.

Slide 14

Just one of those reasons is the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

Slide 22

Slide 23

As to why the European animal health sector should pay attention to developing-world livestock production, Smith presented some eyebrow-raising stats.

Slide 24

Whether you are in the business of processing animal-source foods, or veterinary pharmaceuticals, or animal genetics or feeds, the developing world is ‘where it’s at’.

View a short (2:34-minute) filmed interview of Jimmy Smith at the IFAH conference:
Livestock sector development—Jimmy Smith interview at IFAH-Europe 2015 conference, produced by Nik Wood.

View Smith’s full slide presentation: Food security and animal production: What does the future hold?,
with Dieter Schillinger, Delia Grace, Tim Robinson and Shirley Tarawali at the IFAH Europe Sustainability Conference, Brussels, 11 June 2015.

View a Pinterest board of all of Jimmy Smith’s recent slide presentations:
Livestock Slide Presentations by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith, 2011–present.

Climate change impacts on livestock: ‘This information does not exist’


Rock engravings depicting long-horned cattle with their heads bowed, from the Early Hunter Period and found at the base of an inselberg at Tegharghart, south of Djanet,Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria, a site known as ‘Crying Cows’ because of the way teardrops appear to roll down the faces of the animals (via David Coulson/©Trust for African Rock Art [TARA]).

A new working paper from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has been published on the impacts of climate change on livestock across Africa. Lead author of the new paper, Philip Thornton, is a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and CCAFS.

The good news is that there are interventions that can help livestock keepers and their stock adapt to climate change. The bad news is that every widely applicable option available has its downsides when it comes to small-scale farmers adopting it.

While we have evidence of how climate change is impacting crop agriculture, and thus can prepare ourselves for how to adapt, there is as yet little evidence for how climate change is affecting the world’s cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and other livestock. With demand for livestock products exploding in developing countries—it’s expected to double in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by mid-century (and with livestock’s share of agricultural GDP on average 33% and rising)—this dearth of basic livestock information is a big deal.

Future predictions are scary—climate change is likely to reduce the growth of grass and other forages that feed livestock in these regions, as well as reduce the quality of the forage—substantially in some regions—which will directly reduce the incomes of poor and malnourished livestock-dependent households in these regions and the amount and quality of food their human members consume.

Take maize, for example, whose grain is a staple food in Africa and whose stalks and leaves feed ruminant animals in the dry seasons, when green biomass is finished, on smallholder farms across the continent. A big reduction in maize yields, which is just one expected result of climate change, will starve animals as well as people. In addition, the greater heat in a warmer world will reduce just how much feed farm animals can consume, how much they reproduce and how productive they are. Most livestock species, for example, perform best at temperatures between 10 and 30°C; at temperatures above 30ºC, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens all reduce their feed intake 3-5% for each 1°C increase. Less feed, less milk, meat and eggs.

As Thornton and his ILRI colleague Tim Robinson say:

Livestock are a critically important risk management resource; for about 170 million poor people in sub-Saharan Africa, livestock may be one of their very few assets.

The implications are clear:

The 2014 IPCC assessment contains only limited information on the projected impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems; more robust and detailed information is urgently needed.

Among the limited information in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) on the projected impacts of climate change on livestock in Africa is this.

  • In Botswana, the cost of supplying water from boreholes could increase by 23% due to more hours pumping under drier and warmer conditions.
  • In Africa’s lowlands, fewer households will attempt to keep dairy cows and many will shift to sheep and goats.
  • In East Africa, the amount of maize stover per head of cattle will drop (on the other hand, the higher temperatures could benefit livestock keeping in the cool highlands).
  • In South Africa, dairy yields decrease by 10–25%.

Add to that the impacts of climate change on African rangeland ‘above-ground net primary productivity’ (aka grass, herbs, shrubs, trees)—obtained using a ‘G-Range’ model developed at the University of Colorado at Fort Collins—which indicate substantial, largely detrimental, changes in livestock feed resources.

‘Finally’, the paper notes, ‘no options stand out that have high potential for enhancing food security and addressing resilience, diversification or risk management that do not also have constraints to their adoption: their feasibility will depend on  local conditions and their implementation will incur costs.

‘Further, no options stand out that have strong impacts on increasing resilience of households, suggesting that there are limits to what can be achieved in increasing resilience through livestock management.

The importance of the policy and enabling environment with respect to adaptation is clear, but identifying the bounds of what endogenous adaptation can achieve in relation to incomes and food security in livestock systems is critical for informing national policy debates. This information does not yet exist.

Read the working paper by Philip Thornton, Randall Boone and Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Climate change impacts on livestock: CCAFS Working Paper no. 120. 2015. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Read an article on the CCAFS site by Cecilia Schubert about this new working paper of theirs: Climate change impacts on livestock: What do we know?, 10 June 2015.










CGIAR Innovation Platform Case Study Competition: And the winner is . . .


Innovation platforms mind map (graphic by former ILRI scientist Birgit Boogaard, Wageningen UR).

The CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (CRP Humidtropics), led by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), uses structured multi-stakeholder platforms to drive its research for development program, as well as agricultural innovation systems to ensure active participation of key stakeholders in program delivery. Humidtropics’ R4D and innovation platforms ensure stakeholder equity, accountability, transparency and inclusive decision-making. The program also facilitates development of partnerships and networks among the various stakeholders that encourage innovations that are sustainable and can be scaled up broadly.

In Nov 2014, to better assess the efficiency of these innovation platforms and to document their successes and challenges in different developing countries, Humidtropics launched an Innovation Platforms Case Study Competition. In Feb 2015, twelve candidates were selected to participate in a writeshop focused on writing­ strong, reflective and cohesive case studies.

Earlier this month (Jun 2015), jury members in an editors’ meeting reviewed all the final submissions and chose eight cases to be featured in a Humidtropics Anthology to be published by an academic publisher before the end of 2015; the jury also recommended that two cases be published separately.

When judging the cases, the editors assessed the ‘maturity’ of the platforms in terms of four themes—systems trade-offs, multiple commodities, scaling up agricultural interventions, and learning from failure. Other criteria used in judging the case studies were the following.

Content: The problems/challenges being addressed by the platform are clearly defined and a detailed and descriptive narrative shows how various stakeholders used the innovation platform to create solutions and encourage further thinking and debate.

Writing: The logic of the case is strong, the presentation memorable, the level of exposition high.

Utility: The case study features interventions/programs that meet the assessment criteria and demonstrate long-standing impacts and the solutions featured are replicable, scalable, sustainable, reliable and relevant for the broader agricultural community.

Rebecca Kalibwani

The winning case study was written by lead author Rebecca Kalibwani, of Bishop Stuart University, Mbarara, Uganda, and entitled ‘Can an innovation platform succeed as a cooperative society?: The story of Bubaare Innovation Platform Multipurpose Cooperative Society Ltd.’ The editors found this case to present an interesting legal precedent for transforming an innovation platform in Uganda into a cooperative, something other platforms might consider. The case also does a good job of illustrating how a truly ‘multi-purpose platform’ can scale up a mix of technological, market and policy innovations to benefit all its members. And it tells a compelling story about what makes a platform sustainable as well as impactful.

The following were the two runners-up in this Humidtropics competition.

Thanammal Ravichandran

Thanammal Ravichandran, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), lead author of a case entitled ‘MilkIT innovation platform: Changing women’s lives—one cow and one litre of milk at a time—deep in the foothills of India’s Himalayan mountains’. This MilkIT case demonstrates a clear pathway for addressing constraints faced by India’s small-scale dairy farmers, with impacts on policy as well as development and with powerful lessons to offer others.

Perez Muchunguzi

Perez Muchunguzi, of IITA, lead author of a case entitled ‘Overcoming challenges for crops, people and policies in Central Africa–The story of CIALCA stakeholder engagement’. The CIALCA case provides an interesting example of how the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) emerged, and identified many of its successful elements, which can benefit other innovation platforms.

The competition organizers—Iddo Dror (head of capacity development) and Jo Cadilhon (senior agricultural economist), both of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Marc Schut, of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen UR; Michael Misiko, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT); and communications consultant Shreya Maheshwari, from India—congratulate the winner, the two runners-up and the other nine participants in this competition.

Find a slightly modified version of this story posted on the Humidtropics website.




Scarce, but real, resources (a little essay on the dairy cow prototype and refineries of the future)


Scarce, but real, resources Patterns of living have changed little over the centuries in many villages of the developing world. Material possessions are few; luxuries come in the form of a regular rainfall, a fertile womb, a disease-free harvest. Life is intimately bound to the land and the changing seasons. Peoples’ needs in many of these regions are still in balance with their natural resources. But the resources are scarce, the balance fragile, the changes coming fast. New ideas beget new possibilities Informa­tion, ideas and technologies generated by re­search provide the skeleton on which hu­man develop­ment everywhere and at all times de­pend­s. New ideas, embedded in techno­logical change, drive human growth, allow­ing us to escape the grim statistics that haunt peoples of the developed world and the hardships that face peoples of the developing world. New ideas beget new products, new markets, and infinite new possibilities for sustain­able development. Especially in places with severely limited natural resources. Refineries of the future Refineries of the future will be small, mobile and chemical, able to search out their own inputs, to self-heal and to replicate without human interven­tion. The dairy cow, pro­duc­ed through millions of years of evo­lu­tion, is such a refinery. Millions of recipes also exist for com­bin­­ing elements—atoms and genes—in ways we have not yet dis­covered. We under­estimate the dairy cow prototype—the power and number of ideas yet to be discovered. New ideas New know­ledge, which begets new technolo­gies and policies, is generated through research. Develop­ment and diffusion of new ideas creates growth. Solving problems that have been with us for millennia requires support for the whole of the innovation process—encompassing basic research, technology development and community action. This is the only kind of development the world has sustained over the long term. A Happy and Productive
World Environment Day
from all of us at the
International Livestock Research Institute

with thanks to Japanese artist Miroco Machiko for her endless verve and inspiration

Happy World Environment Day!


Happy World Environment Day Don’t forget to celebrate the world’s domestic farm animals! The world is populated with more than 5 times as many farm animals as people. At any one time, there are more than 37 billion animals being raised to feed today’s population of 7 billion people: 4.5 billion cattle, sheep, goats and other big animals; 1.5 billion pigs; 30.5 billion poultry; and just over 1 billion less common livestock species, such as rabbits and hares. The great majority of these animals (some 80%) are being raised not in the industri­al­ized countries but rather in countries across the developing world.

New project promises more productive chickens for Africa’s smallholders


Irma Stern, Zanzibar Woman with Chicken, 1957 (via Wikiart).

Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.
—Frank Lloyd Wright

The most common of all the world’s livestock species, and till now one of the least attended to by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is flying straight into ILRI’s research agenda for Africa through a new five-year African Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project involves several institutions and will run from 2014 to 2019. It will work to genetically improve Africa’s chickens and to better deliver the superior chickens to small-scale farmers. It has four main aims: reduce poverty, raise productivity, increase consumption of animal protein in poor households and empower rural women. Beyond the project’s three target countries—Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania—the germplasm, data and knowledge generated should also benefit millions of poor households in other countries where backyard chicken production remains a mainstay of rural and peri-urban livelihoods.

Employing the latest technologies in ‘new genetics’, the multidisciplinary and multi-institutional project team will work with national experts and partners to improve Africa’s local breeds—with the aim of producing pre-vaccinated high-producing birds with low-feed requirements and well-suited to local conditions—and to speed their delivery to those who need them most. The project will also be working with farmers to test their preferences for “exotic” strains, especially those from India, and where these are preferred, to enhance farmer access to the strains and potentially improve the strains in-line with farmer preferences.

The African Chicken Genetic Gains project plans to leverage existing research and innovative approaches to develop and supply improved chicken genetics for the poultry value chains of the three target countries. The project will emphasize:

    1. High-producing birds well-adapted to low-input production systems
    2. Farmer preferred breeds
    3. Innovation platforms to help develop and spread solutions across value chains
    4. Public-private partnerships to advance the breeding, multiplication and delivery work
    5. Targetting poor women

The project will work to achieve all of the following:

  • Data-driven and culturally relevant understanding of the types of chickens poor farmers, especially women, prefer
  • A productive multi-country network of public-private partnerships for long-term chicken genetic improvement that employs modern tools to drive accelerated genetic gains and to deliver more productive, farmer-preferred breeds
  • Smallholders access to their preferred local breeds that have been pre-vaccinated and genetically enhanced so as to be at least 200% more productive
  • Evidence that adoption of the improved chicken genotypes indeed leads to significantly increased production, productivity, income, and household consumption of animal-source foods among smallholders
  • Evidence of increased empowerment of women smallholder farmers in chicken value chains

First announced during one of ILRI’s 40-year anniversary events on 1 November 2014 (when the project was officially funded), the project actually officially kicked off 18–19 May 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At the project’s first management team meting, all the partners promised strong integration across all three countries and all thematic teams. Tadelle Dessie, an Ethiopian animal geneticist and breeder based at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, is leading the project, which contributes to ILRI’s global livestock genetics program, LiveGene. Dessie spelt out the broad outlines of ACGG at the project management meeting in a slide presentation (below).

In addition to ILRI, the main partners in the ACGG project are Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria supported technically by the Federal University of Agriculture, in Abeokuta, Nigeria (FUNAAB); the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) supported technically by Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania; the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) in Ethiopia; the Animal Breeding and Genetics Centre at Wageningen University and Research Centre, in the Netherlands (Wageningen UR); and PICO Eastern Africa.

Find out more about the ACGG project

See all the slide presentations made at the first ACGG project management meeting (May 2015):

African Chicken Genetic Gains: A platform for testing, delivering, and continuously improving tropically-adapted chickens for productivity growth in sub-Saharan Africa

Long term genetic gains implementation plan for the African Chicken Genetic Gains

Facilitating partnerships and institutional engagements for effective implementation of the African Chicken Genetic Gains program

Baseline activities and data management for the African Chicken Genetic Gains program

Communications and knowledge management in the African Chicken Genetic Gains program

‘We’re having all the wrong debates’–Tamar Haspel


Robert Indiana, Eat/Die, 1962.

Award-winning journalist Tamar Haspel makes the case in her latest Washington Post column for exchanging our polarizing arguments about food issues for debates about stuff that really matters.

As polarizing ideas go, . . . the green revolution’s got nothing on genetically modified crops, and in Africa, as here [USA], that topic is dominating the debate about food. And there, as here, GMOs are a proxy for the excesses and dangers of an industrialized food system.

[Five things to stop saying about GMOs, pro and con.]

In the United States, that means we’re having all the wrong debates.

‘We’re arguing about whether genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops have increased or decreased pesticide use, rather than trying to figure out how systems such as integrated pest management can help farmers grow food with fewer chemicals. We’re arguing over how evil Monsanto is, rather than asking how government can effectively regulate a system in which corporate, agricultural, consumer and environmental goals are often at odds. We’re wasting time, money and ever so much energy.

Take that proxy — arguing about GMOs instead of industrialized agriculture — to the developing world, and the stakes are much higher. Lives and livelihoods are on the line, and overwrought arguments about genetic modification will cost both.

‘. . . While I was in Africa, I talked with scientists who were trying to improve agriculture from just about every angle. Some organizations have opted against using genetic modification (as AGRA has); Ravi Prabhu, at the World Agroforestry Centre, is looking for ways to improve farm productivity by incorporating trees. Others are going the GM route; Leena Tripathi, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, has developed a banana resistant to bacterial wilt. Nobody was very focused on genetic modification per se; they were all too busy solving problems. . .

‘After spending many hours talking with scientists, touring labs and visiting farmers, I came away convinced that the most important conversation we can have isn’t about GMOs, and it’s not about traditional crop varieties. It’s not about corporate control of the food supply, and it’s certainly not about dignity. It’s about money. Because there’s one thing — and, as far as I can tell, only one — that we absolutely cannot export to the developing world, and that’s the idea of farms that don’t make any. . . .

Widening options to help farmers lift themselves out of poverty is, I think, about as honorable as work gets. Any attempt to narrow them is advocacy gone awry.

Haspel writes about food and science and farms oysters on Cape Cod. Unearthed, winner of a 2015 James Beard Foundation award for the nation’s best food column, appears monthly in the Washington Post. Follow Haspel on Twitter: @TamarHaspel

Declan McKeever: ILRI and ILRAD lose a friend, with a personal tribute by Brian Perry

Cow, tree, hut

Declan McKeever,a former scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and its predecessor, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), brilliant immunologist, great friend, Irish wit and agent provocateur for all things unashamedly intelligent, has died.

ILRI staff last saw Declan in mid-December, when he came to the ILRI Christmas party in Nairobi, where he was looking good, telling old and new stories, many about his sickness and his ongoing recovery, and things and people and insights that had moved him in his battle against cancer. His focus at that Christmas party was on other people’s trials, old friends, things that matter. He was tender as well as smart. His heart was open, his wit still dry.

He was looking forward to coming out to ILRI and Kenya again this weekend, to participate in a newly formed consortium to beat back an old foe of his and ILRI’s and ILRAD’s, East Coast fever, a cattle killing disease devastating the livelihoods of the poor in Africa.

He will be badly missed. We will not be the same without him.

An age-mate of his, Brian Perry, another illustrious former ILRAD/ILRI scientist, has written the following personal tribute.

‘We learnt with immense sadness that Declan McKeever died last night [23 Jan 2014]. He was diagnosed with myeloma in December 2012, underwent chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem cell graft in April 2013, had been recovering well, and was back at work full time later in the year. We send our sincerest condolences to his widow Christine, to Luke and Saoirse, and to Aoife and Leo.

‘Declan has been the closest of friends and confidants for the last 27 years, and I will miss him immensely. In the vibrant days of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), Declan epitomised the dedication to scientific discovery and innovation which consumed the institute at the time, in the search for an understanding of the immune responses to Theileria parva, and how these could be captured and deployed in disease prevention through vaccines. In its mission to tackle two of the most intractable and complicated African livestock diseases, ILRAD bred and nurtured many scientists and thinkers, almost all of whom had different views and approaches to tackling vaccine development, in a funding environment impatient for results, a scenario captured in the Science article of April 1992 entitled ‘Nairobi laboratory fights more than disease’.

‘Declan rose to the occasion, thriving on scientific debate, and complementing his acute intelligence with a subtle, penetrating, wit that epitomised his multiple contributions. ILRAD became ILRI in 1995, and Declan left ILRI in 1999 after 13 years with the CGIAR, taking a chair in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Edinburgh University, and joining a cluster of former ILRAD scientists continuing on their search for a vaccine against East Coast fever, this time in colder climes. Having separated from wife Mary Lou, he remarried former ILRI scientist Christine Thuranira, and in 2007 they moved on to positions at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London. Declan was Chair of Immunoparasitology, and Head of the Pathology and Infectious Diseases department, and had recently been appointed Vice Principal of RVC. A sudden and untimely end to a successful career. . . .

‘Declan was also an artist, well known for his cartoons of various staff members during the ILRAD days, and for his Christmas cards; while he lived in Kenya he donated the humorous artwork in the Christmas cards to various charities every year. There are some classics, such as the one on the left!


‘From the cartoons, perhaps my favourite is that of the ILRAD Director General, Ross Gray, taking one of his unannounced trips to the labs in 1994 and encountering Jed Lamb skateboarding towards him (below left)!

ILRAD director general Ross Gray

He also drew a cartoon of Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty (below centre)

ILRAD board member Peter Doherty

and one of ILRAD director of research Jack Doyle

ILRAD director of research Jack Doyle

and one for my 50th birthday present (below right), which hangs with pride in our house.


‘Despite the impression on occasions of being quite irreligious, Declan had a strong belief, and a committed faith, which he drew on regularly. He was a devoted family man, exuding pride in his elder children, and taking on with ease the new roles and responsibilities of a father with young Luke and Saoirse. The reunion of all his children over Christmas 2012 gave him immense joy. . . .

‘When Declan became ill, he called me on skype to tell me of his condition. My wife Helena wrote to him and thanked him for letting us know. He replied: “Helena I was very touched by your message – it really brought home to me how important old friendships are. Niall MacHugh told me that I should tell my old friends because they will have something to contribute, and he was so right”.’

Brian Perry, Gilgil, Kenya, 23 Jan 2014

All drawings by Declan McKeever.

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ILRI films on research helping Africa’s small-scale livestock keepers better adapt to changing climates

Watch the following playlist of climate change films produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

These films describe how climate change is affecting millions of poor livestock herders and mixed crop-and-livestock farmers in Africa. Unpredictable and often extreme climatic events mean that overall, most of these livestock keepers struggle as droughts and floods devastate their increasingly fragile agricultural lands.

The first 8-minute film, ‘Heat, Rain and Livestock: Impact of climate change on Africa’s livestock herders’, shows how research-based interventions carried out by ILRI and its partners are helping livestock herders in northern Kenya cope with climate change.

Increasingly overcrowded lands and increasing competition for resources are contributing to more conflict between pastoral communities in many parts of Africa, but ‘scientific research, through projects such as ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) and a shift to raising animals that produce more (and more efficiently) and that are better adapted to climatic changes is making a difference.’

The second 4-minute film, ‘Climate, food and developing-country livestock farming’, describes many of the challenges experienced by small-scale livestock farmers in African countries, which remain under-appreciated by policymakers and the media in rich countries.

According to the ILRI film, ‘research can provide these farmers with the means to increase their production to meet growing demand for food in many countries while at the same time managing their environments.’

View the full climate change playlist on YouTube.

Read recent ILRI news articles on climate change:

Storming the ivory towers: Time for scientists to get out, ‘get social’, to learn better, faster–Nature commentary

Want ‘climate-smart’ farming adopted in Africa? Then better start collecting data on how much greenhouse gases African countries are emitting

Climate change–Wholesale reconfiguration of diets, livelihoods, farming will be required in some regions

Read research outputs from ILRI’s climate change research.

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Storming the ivory towers: Time for scientists to get out, ‘get social’, to learn better, faster–Nature commentary

Framework for building an evidence base on impacts of social learning

An evaluative framework for assembling an evidence base on the impacts of social learning. Figure 1 in Social learning and sustainable development, article by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey, Marissa Van Epp and Philip Thornton, published in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

Most of us like learning new things. But while learning alone is no fun, it’s hard to convince scientists, who spend their professional lives attempting to learn new things, to adopt ‘social learning’ approaches. These could help bring about new understandings, and help transform such understandings into development benefits, by helping scientists learn with, and from, a diverse group of stakeholders, including non-scientists, holding common purpose.

Those assumptions are held by social learning advocates, who include Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist at the World Agroforestry Centre and lead author of a commentary on social learning published in the 20 Dec 2013 online edition of Nature Climate Change. Kristjanson gives a main reason for the reluctance of her agricultural research colleagues to take up social learning. ‘First and foremost’, she says, ‘is the worry of scientists about the large transactions costs of the “many conversations and messy partnerships” such joint learning necessarily entails.’

‘Yet many of the same scientists also worry about the slow pace of agricultural development in many parts of the world’, Kristjanson says.

Those of us attempting to use science to help solve complex agriculturally related development problems—like how to help hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers adapt to harsher, more erratic, climates while producing more food and lifting themselves out of poverty—need to try new approaches. If we keep doing science the way we’ve always been doing it, we’re going to run out of time.’

This Nature Climate Change commentary includes a ‘call to action’.

Kristjanson and her colleagues say it’s time for climate change scientists to step up—to help effect a step change. ‘We need the “social engagement” of many, many more scientists working on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. We need them to help us build a solid body of evidence on the benefits—and the costs—of applying social learning approaches.’

The commentary provides a framework that can be used to assess when social learning is likely to be ‘really worth it’ and begins with an introduction, summarized here:

Agricultural research-for-development bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, CGIAR and their partners are under mounting pressure from their funders to link their research knowledge to actions that achieve faster and more substantive and long-lasting ‘development outcomes’, such as CGIAR’s four ‘system-level outcomes’ of reduced rural poverty, increased food security, better nutrition and health, and sustainable management of natural resources. To bring about the many changes in behaviour, policies and institutions as well as agricultural practices needed to achieve such broad benefits, the authors argue that researchers and their projects need to be continuously informed by, and engaged with, many others, including the individuals and societies they are working to benefit, so as to better understand, and more effectively use, the processes by which people and communities, and policymakers and government officials, learn and adapt their behaviour in the face of climate and other changes and pressures.

Among the many advantages the authors cite of agricultural scientists employing social learning approaches are the following:

  • joint learning and knowledge sharing and co-creation are enhanced among diverse stakeholders around a common purpose
  • the established traditions of participatory development are built on, with learning and collective change placed at the heart of such engagement
  • diverse knowledge and value systems are integrated in ways that help us tackle so-called ‘wicked’ (highly complex) socio-agro-ecological problems

The Nature Climate Change commentary provides a table of examples of agricultural development projects and programs that are already using social learning approaches.

On the face of it, the authors says, social learning approaches should help research-for-development institutions become smarter and more effective. But while iterative learning processes appear to be critical to adapting to environmental and other big changes, it’s difficult to apply ‘learning tools’ in many developing-country situations, they say, where there is high uncertainty and great poverty. ‘And we have as yet little evidence of the impacts of social learning approaches on “hard” development outcomes’, says Kristjanson. Scientists are also concerned, she says, about a lack of demonstrated ability to replicate and scale out the benefits of localized social learning.

The authors of this commentary include Philip Thornton, an agricultural systems analyst and climate change specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Thornton says that the authors are embarking on a ‘systematic evidence-gathering initiative, using a common evaluative framework to track new initiatives from a range of institutional settings that incorporate social learning approaches’.

‘The practical guidelines we provide’, he says, ‘should help those interested in applying social learning approaches to use the best available knowledge, information and tools to implement and document their initiatives’.

Patti Kristjanson and Philip Thornton both lead work of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Program (CCAFS), where Kristjanson leads its Linking Knowledge to Action Theme and Thornton its Data & Tools ThemeCCAFS is funded by the CGIAR Fund, AusAid, Danish International Development Agency, Environment Canada, Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (Portugal), Irish Aid, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UK Aid, and the European Union, with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

An authors’ version of this article is available for all to read on Cgspace.

Journal subscribers can read the whole article, Social learning and sustainable development, by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre, Canada), Marissa Van Epp (International Institute for Environment and Development, UK)) and Philip K Thornton, in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2080 (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

A lively article about this Nature commentary was published by CCAFS yesterday (8 Jan 2014): Want sustainable development? Then it’s time to get social.

CCAFS, ILRI and their many partners invite you to join our efforts to create an evidence base on the impacts of social learning approaches. Leave your comments and ideas in the commentary section below or on the CCAFS website.

This Nature commentary article was produced as part of a continuing social learning process — see their wiki here: Climate Change and Social Learning initiative — in which knowledge is being co-constructed through many different channels. We are grateful and indebted to all who have participated in this process.

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Happy New Year! 20 top posts on ILRI News Blog in 2013

Goat shelter by night

Improved goat shelter (illustration vy ILRI/Birgit Boogaard).

Thanks for your readership of, and participation in, ILRI’s News Blog in 2013. Before jumping full tilt into 2014, you might want to check out these top posts in 2013 you might have missed.

A Happy New Year to you all!
May 2014 bring you peace, prosperity and joy.

20 top ILRI News Blog posts


29 Dec: Further unlocking the potential of maize: Dual-purpose is the new purpose of the world’s most important cereal


17 Dec: As livestock eat, so they emit: Highly variable diets drive highly variable climate change ‘hoofprints’–BIG new study

30 Sep: Improving the environmental sustainability of livestock systems in the developing world–ILRI’s Jimmy Smith


17 Sep: Why tackling partial truths about livestock matters so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 2

16 Sep: Why the world’s small-scale livestock farms matter so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 1

04 Apr: Livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’: What are the published facts?

03 Apr: Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act–and a balanced account


17 Oct: ILRI’s Jimmy Smith on global health and food security: Why developing-country livestock matter so much


16 Oct: ‘The health of the poor is the wealth of the poor’: A little film for a big World Food Day and World Food Prize


15 Oct: The IPCC of the livestock sector? Global Agenda of Action on building a sustainable livestock sector

17 Jun: Working together for viable livestock futures: Stakeholders at the Global Agenda of Action speak out


18 Jun: Jimmy Smith on the global development agenda, and livestock’s role in it — 13-minute film

12 Jun: Launching ILRI’s new long-term strategy for livestock research for development–15-minute film

31 May: Three presentations on livestock for–and in–development by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith

23 Jan: Taking the long livestock view


27 Jun: Livestock present Africa with huge – ‘right now!’ – opportunities for food, prosperity, environment


21 Jun: More meat, milk and fish — Big interventions for ‘farm-to-table’ livestock value chains in poor countries


17 May: Dialing back on the drivers of global disease outbreaks: A look inside the ‘black box’


01 May: New advances in the battle against a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa


30 Mar: Cultivate the future! How learning together can mean learning better and faster–speeding research into use

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Further unlocking the potential of maize: Dual-purpose is the new purpose of the world’s most important cereal


Maize field at Kampi ya Moto, Kenya (photo on Flickr by C Schubert/CCAFS).

September 2013 special issue of the scientific journal Field Crops Research describes research to improve, and make wider use of, dual-purpose maize (or corn) varieties, which are used for their stover — the stalk, leaves and other residue of the plant after the grain has been harvested — as well as for their grain. Among smallholder farmers in Africa and other developing regions, maize stover is a common, and critically important, supplementary feed for ruminant livestock.

The special journal issue was edited by edited by Elaine Grings, of South Dakota State University (and formerly of ILRI); Olaf Erenstein, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center; and Michael Blümmel, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The following statements are excerpted from a synthesis paper written by the editors, which presents key findings in 12 papers about the potential for dual-purpose maize varieties to meet changing maize demands.

This special issue substantiates that dual-purpose maize varieties are technically feasible and have a large potential market, particularly in many emerging markets. The reported findings argue the case for continued investments in maize stover R&D and thus reigniting earlier dual-purpose crop research in general.


Children weed a maize plot at Kampi ya Moto, Kenya (photo on Flickr by C Schubert /CCAFS).

Among the findings are the following.

‘Maize — or corn (Zea mays L.) — now is the most important global cereal in terms of production reflecting its versatility in use, including human food, animal feed and fodder, industrial products and biofuel.’

‘Despite being a versatile crop, maize production and maize breeding efforts over time have typically had a single-purpose orientation [on improving grain yields]. . . . Even smallholders within mixed maize-livestock systems typically focus on maize grain yield . . . , with maize stover as additional byproduct and benefit.’

There are prospects within the range of stover quality to increase fodder quality without compromising grain yield.

‘It is this potential of dual-purpose varieties that has reignited research interest and some of the research underlying this special issue. Indeed, despite earlier skepticism only a decade ago, substantial progress has been made in developing dual-purpose maize options for both grain and fodder purposes . . . .’

‘Maize germplasm differences in fodder quality can be exploited without compromising on grain yield.’

‘Confirmation of the relatively favorable feed value of maize stover vis-à-vis other coarse cereal residues — having at least par if not better feed quality traits compared to sorghum and millet, which have been the focus of prior dual-purpose crop improvement research and have been reported to contribute substantially to gross crop production values.’

‘Confirmation of being able to rely on a few key laboratory indicators . . .  as good proxies for feed quality . . . as this enhances the ease of screening for feed quality traits.’

‘From a livestock nutrition viewpoint, an increase in stover quantity is only useful (unless making stover cheaper) if livestock can respond with increased intake, which is stover quality dependent.’

Dairy cow on a Kenyan smallholding

 A dairy cow on one of Kenya’s many smallholder farms consumes maize stover, an important supplementary feed in East Africa (photo credit: ILRI).

Read the synthesis paper, as well as other papers, in this special issue of Field Crops Research 153 (2013) 107–112, edited by Elaine Grings, Olaf Erenstein and Michael Blümmel. The papers authored by ILRI scientists include the following.

Blümmel M, Grings E and Erenstein O 2013:
Potential for dual-purpose maize varieties to meet changing maize demands: Synthesis

Erenstein O, Blümmel M and Grings E 2013:
Potential for dual-purpose maize varieties to meet changing maize demands: Overview

Homann Kee-Tui S, Blümmel M, Valbuena D, Chirima A, Masikati P, Rooyen AF van and Kassie GT 2013:
Assessing the potential of dual-purpose maize in southern Africa: A multi-level approach

Anandan S, Khan AA, Ravi D, Sai Butcha Rao M, Reddy YR and Blümmel M 2013:
Identification of a superior dual purpose maize hybrid among widely grown hybrids in South Asia
and value addition to its stover through feed supplementation and feed processing

Ravi D, Khan AA, Sai Butcha Rao M and Blümmel M 2013:
A note on suitable laboratory stover quality traits for multidimensional maize improvement

Ramana Reddy Y, Ravi D, Ramakrishna Reddy C, Prasad KVSV, Zaidi PH, Vinayan MT and Blümmel M 2013:
A note on the correlations between maize grain and maize stover quantitative and qualitative traits
and the implications for whole maize plant optimization

Lukuyu BA, Murdoch AJ, Romney D, Mwangi DM, Njuguna JGM, McLeod A and Jama AN 2013:
Integrated maize management options to improve forage yield and quality on smallholder farms in Kenya

Ertiro BT, Twumasi-Afriyie S, Blummel M, Friesen D, Negera D, Worku M, Abakemal D and Kitenge K 2013:
Genetic variability of maize stover quality and the potential for genetic improvement of fodder value

Ertiro BT, Zeleke H, Friesen D, Blümmel M and Twumasi-Afriyie, S 2013:
Relationship between the performance of parental inbred lines and hybrids for food-feed traits in maize (Zea mays L.) in Ethiopia

Zaidi PH, Vinayan MT and Blümmel M 2012:
Genetic variability of tropical maize stover quality and the potential for genetic improvement of food-feed value in India

Vinayan MT, Babu R, Jyothsna T, Zaidi PH and Blümmel M 2013:
A note on potential candidate genomic regions with implications for maize stover fodder quality

Read about this special issue in the ILRI Clippings Blog:
Field Crops Research special issue on dual-purpose maize for food and feed, 15 Nov 2013.

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Reducing aflatoxins in Kenya’s food chains: Filmed highlights from an ILRI media briefing

Last month (14 Nov 2013), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) held a roundtable briefing/discussion for science journalists in Nairobi to highlight on-going multi-institutional efforts to combat aflatoxins in the food chains of Kenya.

Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic by-product of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts. Researchers from across East Africa are joining up efforts to address the significant human and animal health challenges posed by these food toxins in the region.

Watch this 6-minute film, which highlights some of the interventions being used to tackle aflatoxins in Kenya. The film features interviews with the five panelists at the media briefing, who came from the University of Nairobi, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Kenya, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub, and ILRI.

‘Even though the presence of aflatoxins in Kenya dates back to the 1960s, the first recorded outbreak of aflatoxins that affected humans was recorded in the early 1980s,’ says Erastus Kang’ethe, a professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Nairobi.

‘The biggest risk of aflatoxins comes from long-term exposure to these toxins, which leads to chronic aflatoxicosis,’ says Abigael Obura, of CDC. ‘The CDC in Kenya is working closely with the Ministry of Health to improve aflatoxin surveillance measures in Kenya’s districts through better sample collection and analysis.’

At the same time, Johanna Lindahl and other scientists at ILRI are assessing the risks posed by aflatoxins in Kenya’s dairy value chain; cows that consume aflatoxin-contaminated feeds produce milk that is also contaminated with the toxins.

According to Charity Mutegi, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, one of the key strategies in managing aflatoxins in Kenya is by using a ‘biological control technology that targets the fungus that produces the aflatoxins while the crop is still in the field.’ Known more popularly as ‘aflasafe,’ this technology, which is expected to be available in the country soon, is in use in other parts of Africa where ‘farm trials have yielded aflatoxin reduction of over 70 percent,’ says Mutegi.

Jagger Harvey, a scientist with the BecA-ILRI Hub, says the hub has established a capacity building platform for aflatoxin research that is being used by maize breeders from Kenya and Tanzania to, among other control efforts, come up with maize varieties that are more resistance to the aflatoxin-causing fungus.

Read a related ILRI news article about a filmed interview of two scientists leading work of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Delia Grace, of ILRI, and John McDermott, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who describe some of the risks aflatoxins pose, new options for their better control and why research to combat these toxins matters so much.

View an ILRI infographic of the impact of aflatoxins in the food chain.

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World’s largest agricultural research partnership, serving 1 billion poor, marks $1 billion funding milestone–CGIAR

Tanzanian Maasai helping to treat cattle against East Coast fever

Tanzanian Maasai help vaccinate their calves against lethal East Coast fever (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

CGIAR has doubled its funding in the last five years, from $500 million (in 2008) to $1 billion (in 2013).

Officials say harvesting the fruits of this historic commitment could, among other benefits, lift 150 million people in Asia out of poverty by boosting rice production, provide 12 million African households with sustainable irrigation, save 1.7 million hectares of forest from destruction, give 50 million poor people access to highly nutritious food crops, and save up to 1 million cattle from dying untimely deaths each year due to a lethal disease.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one of 15 global research centres belonging to CGIAR, which works with hundreds of partners to develop innovative solutions, tools, and technologies for the benefit of the world’s poorest people. It seeks to bring cutting edge science to bear on a wide range of issues facing millions of farmers and other poor smallholders in developing countries who collectively generate nearly 70 percent of the world’s food production.

‘The $1 billion in funding will help finance CGIAR’s 16 global research programs and accelerate the development of scientific, policy and technological advances needed to overcome complex challenges—such as climate change, water scarcity, land degradation, and chronic malnutrition, greatly improving the well-being of millions of poor families across the developing world’, said Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium.

For more than 40 years, CGIAR and its partners have transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people with the tangible outcomes of agriculture research, including improved crop varieties, sustainable farming methods, new fish strains, novel livestock vaccines, climate-smart solutions, and incisive policy analysis.

For example:

In eastern Africa, a ‘live’ vaccine against the deadly cattle disease East Coast fever developed by ILRI with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other partners and now being distributed by GALVmed, has saved 620,000 calves, benefiting up to 50,000 poor households that rely on cattle for food and income. The vaccine could benefit 20 million more people in the region, with annual benefits of $270 million.

  • Drought tolerant maize has increased farmers’ yields by 20-30%, benefiting 20 million people in 13 African countries.
  • ‘Scuba rice’, which can survive under water for two weeks, is protecting the harvests, incomes, and food security of poor farmers and consumers across monsoon Asia.
  • Newly developed potato varieties that withstand late blight disease and yielded eight times more than native varieties in the region have made the difference between having enough to eat or not in the Paucartambo province of Peru, where late blight threatened to devastate staple food supplies.
  • By integrating food crops with trees that draw nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil, an innovative agroforestry practice captures carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while improving soil fertility, rainwater use efficiency, and yields by up to 400% for maize in the Sahel region.
  • Across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nepal, and Pakistan, high-yielding wheat varieties resistant to Ug99, a highly virulent disease, have protected the livelihoods and food security of 500,000 farming families.

Read the CGIAR press release: CGIAR doubles funding to $1 billion in five years, 17 Dec 2013.

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As livestock eat, so they emit: Highly variable diets drive highly variable climate change ‘hoofprints’–BIG new study

Cattle being watered at the Ghibe River in southwestern Ethiopia

Cattle being watered in Ethiopia’s Ghibe Valley (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The most detailed livestock analysis to date, published yesterday, shows vast differences in animal diets and emissions.

The resources required to raise livestock and the impacts of farm animals on environments vary dramatically depending on the animal, the type of food it provides, the kind of feed it consumes and where it lives, according to a new study that offers the most detailed portrait to date of ‘livestock ecosystems’ in different parts of the world.

The study, published yesterday (16 Dec 2013) in an early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the newest comprehensive assessment assembled of what cows, sheep, pigs, poultry and other farm animals are eating in different parts of the world; how efficiently they convert that feed into milk, eggs and meat; and the amount of greenhouse gases they produce.

The study, produced by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), shows that animals in many parts of the developing world require far more food to produce a kilo of protein than animals in wealthy countries. It also shows that pork and poultry are being produced far more efficiently than milk and beef, and greenhouse gas emissions vary widely depending on the animal involved and the quality of its diet.

There’s been a lot of research focused on the challenges livestock present at the global level, but if the problems are global, the solutions are almost all local and very situation-specific’, says Mario Herrero, lead author of the study who earlier this year left ILRI to take up the position of chief research scientist at CSIRO in Australia.

‘Our goal is to provide the data needed so that the debate over the role of livestock in our diets and our environments and the search for solutions to the challenges they present can be informed by the vastly different ways people around the world raise animals’, said Herrero.

‘This very important research should provide a new foundation for addressing the sustainable development of livestock in a very resource-challenged and hungry world, where, in many areas, livestock can be crucial to food security’, said Harvard University’s William C. Clark, editorial board member of the Sustainability Science section at PNAS.

For the last four years, Herrero has been working with scientists at ILRI and the lIASA in Austria to deconstruct livestock impacts beyond what they view as broad and incomplete representations of the livestock sector. Their findings—supplemented with 50 illustrative maps and more than 100 pages of additional data—anchor a special edition of PNAS devoted to exploring livestock-related issues and global change. Scientists say the new data fill a critical gap in research on the interactions between livestock and natural resources region by region.

The initial work was funded by ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

By the numbers

Livestock production and diets
The study breaks down livestock production into nine global regions—the more developed regions of Europe and Russia (1), North America (2) and Oceania (3), along with the developing regions of Southeast Asia (4), Eastern Asia (5, including China), South Asia (6), Latin America and the Caribbean (7), sub-Saharan Africa (8) and the Middle East and North Africa (9).

The data reveal sharp contrasts in overall livestock production and diets. For example:

Of the 59 million tons of beef produced in the world in 2000, the vast majority came from cattle in Latin America, Europe and North America. All of sub-Saharan Africa produced only about 3 million tons of beef.

Highly intensive industrial-scale production accounts for almost all of the poultry and pork produced in Europe, North America and China. In stark contrast, between 40 to 70 per cent of all poultry and pork production in South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa is produced by small-scale farmers.

Almost all of the 1.3 billion tons of grain consumed by livestock each year are fed to farm animals in Europe, North America, Eastern China and Latin America, with pork and poultry hogging the feed trough. All of the livestock in sub-Saharan Africa combined eat only about 50 million tons of grain each year, relying more on grasses and ‘stovers’, the leaf and stalk residues of crops left in the field after harvest.

Greenhouse gas emissions
Scientists also sought to calculate the amount of greenhouse gases livestock are releasing into the atmosphere and to examine emissions by region, animal type and animal product. They modelled only the emissions linked directly to animals—the gases released through their digestion and manure production.

Some important findings include:
South Asia, Latin America, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest total regional emissions from livestock. Between the developed and developing worlds, the developing world accounts for the most emissions from livestock, including 75 per cent of emissions from cattle and other ruminants and 56 per cent from poultry and pigs.

The study found that cattle (for beef or dairy) are the biggest source of greenhouse emissions from livestock globally, accounting for 77 per cent of the total. Pork and poultry account for only 10 per cent of emissions.

Analyzing efficiency and intensity
Scientists note that the most important insights and questions emerging from the new data relate to the amount of feed livestock consume to produce a kilo of protein, something known as ‘feed efficiency’, and the amount of greenhouse gases released for every kilo of protein produced, something known as ‘emission intensity’.

Meat v. dairy, grazing animals v. poultry and pork
The study shows that ruminant animals (cows, sheep, and goats) require up to five times more feed to produce a kilo of protein in the form of meat than a kilo of protein in the form of milk.

The large differences in efficiencies in the production of different livestock foods warrant considerable attention’, the authors note. ‘Knowing these differences can help us define sustainable and culturally appropriate levels of consumption of milk, meat and eggs.’

The researchers also caution that livestock production in many parts of the developing world must be evaluated in the context of its ‘vital importance for nutritional security and incomes’.

The study confirmed that pigs and poultry (monogastrics) are more efficient at converting feed into protein than are cattle, sheep and goats (ruminants), and it further found that this is the case regardless of the product involved or where the animals are raised. Globally, pork produced 24 kilos of carbon per kilo of edible protein, and poultry produced only 3.7 kilos of carbon per kilo of protein—compared with anywhere from 58 to 1,000 kilos of carbon per kilo of protein from ruminant meat.

The authors caution that the lower emission intensities in the pig and poultry sectors are driven largely by industrial systems, ‘which provide high-quality, balanced concentrate diets for animals of high genetic potential’. But these systems also pose significant public health risks (with the transmission of zoonotic diseases from these animals to people) and environmental risks, notably greenhouse gases produced by the energy and transport services needed for industrial livestock production and the felling of forests to grow crops for animal feed.

Feed quality in the developing world

The study shows that the quality of an animal’s diet makes a major difference in both feed efficiency and emission intensity. In arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where the fodder available to grazing animals is of much lower quality than that in many other regions, a cow can consume up to ten times more feed—mainly in the form of rangeland grasses—to produce a kilo of protein than a cow kept in more favourable conditions.

Similarly, cattle scrounging for food in the arid lands of Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan can, in the worst cases, release the equivalent of 1,000 kilos of carbon for every kilo of protein they produce. By comparison, in many parts of the US and Europe, the emission intensity is around 10 kilos of carbon per kilo of protein. Other areas with moderately high emission intensities include parts of the Amazon, Mongolia, the Andean region and South Asia.

Our data allow us to see more clearly where we can work with livestock keepers to improve animal diets so they can produce more protein with better feed while simultaneously reducing emissions’, said Petr Havlik, a research scholar at IIASA and a co-author of the study.

No absolute indicators of sustainability
While the new data will greatly help to assess the sustainability of different livestock production systems, the authors cautioned against using any single measurement as an absolute indicator of sustainability. For example, the low livestock feed efficiencies and high greenhouse gas emission intensities in sub-Saharan Africa are determined largely by the fact that most animals in this region continue to subsist largely on vegetation inedible by humans, especially by grazing on marginal lands unfit for crop production and the stovers and other residues of plants left on croplands after harvesting.

‘While our measurements may make a certain type of livestock production appear inefficient, that production system may be the most environmentally sustainable, as well as the most equitable way of using that particular land’, said Philip Thornton, another co-author and an ILRI researcher at CCAFS.

That’s why this research is so important. We’re providing a set of detailed, highly location-specific analyses so we can get a fuller picture of how livestock in all these different regions interact with their ecosystems and what the real trade-offs are in changing these livestock production systems in future.’

Read the full paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Biomass use, production, feed efficiencies and greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock systems, by Mario Herrero (ILRI), Petr Havlík (ILRI and IIASA), Hugo Valin (IIASA), An Notenbaert (ILRI), Mariana Rufino (ILRI), Philip Thornton (ILRI), Michael Blümmel (ILRI), Franz Weiss (IIASA), Delia Grace (ILRI) and Michael Obersteiner (IIASA), in a Special Feature on Livestock and Global Change, early online edition of 16 Dec 2013.

119 pages of supporting online information, including 50 maps, is available at PNAS here.

Read the introduction to this Special Feature on Livestock and Global Change: Livestock and global change: Emerging issues for sustainable food systems, by Mario Herrero and Philip Thornton, in the early online edition of 16 Dec 2013.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research on efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock—ensuring better lives through livestock. The products generated by ILRI and its partners help people in developing countries enhance their livestock-dependent livelihoods, health and environments. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium of 15 research centres working for a food-secure future. ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other offices in southern and West Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia.

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Building capacity for better conservation and use of Africa’s animal genetic resources: Burkina Faso workshop

Jeremy Ouedraogo, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, Burkina Faso












By Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn

Jeremy Ouedraogo, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries in Burkina Faso, attended a Regional Capacity Development Workshop in Animal Genetic Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, held in the capital of Ouagadougou, 4 to 6 November, 2013.

Sub-Saharan Africa has only a handful of qualified livestock breeders and geneticists. Regional collaboration among scientists and institutions in this area provides rare opportunities to exchange information, pull together resources, network with other professionals, and partner strategic organizations.

Addressing more than 75 representatives from 22 sub-Saharan countries before meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on 6 November, Minister Ouedraogo highlighted the need for regional cooperation among individuals and institutions given the region’s scarcity of qualified livestock breeders. He pointed out the urgent need for more appropriate breeding strategies and schemes that will ease access by poor farmers herding livestock in harsh environments to superior livestock germplasm. He thanked ILRI and its partners for supporting Africa’s Global Action Plan on Animal Genetic Resources, which was endorsed by African governments in 2007.

The minister referred to collaboration between ILRI and partners that has effectively built investments, programs and capacity in this area. Best practices must be captured for replication and scaling up, he said. While research should benefit local communities, he said, the scale of the impacts of research depend largely on whether national policies, national budget allocations and national development plans reflect the importance of better use of native livestock resources and allocate funds for developing national capacity in this area.

The minister encouraged the workshop participants to engage actively with those developing a second State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources report, due to be published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2014.

 How can we unlock the genetic potentials of local livestock breeds?

The workshop was organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). In partnership with FAO, the African Union/Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU/IBAR) and the Tertiary Education for Agriculture Mechanism for Africa (TEAM-Africa), ILRI and SLU are holding regional back-to-back workshops this November in Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Botswana. The purpose is to strengthen regional platforms boosting knowledge exchange, collaboration and capacity in improved conservation and use of Africa’s animal genetic resources.

CGIAR and ILRI have worked together with SLU for a decade to develop capacity in animal genetic resources work. Groups of selected ‘champions’ of this work have been given training in their home institutions by the ILRI/SLU project to advance animal genetic resources teaching in higher education and research work within and outside the university.

Abdou Fall

Abdou Fall, ILRI representative for Burkina Faso and West Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

In an opening address to the workshop, Abdou Fall, ILRI’s country and West Africa’s regional representative, commended the strong representation from 22 countries in the region: from Senegal to Congo and from Benin to Ivory Coast, Guinée Bissau and Niger.

This geographic breadth’, Fall said, ‘should help provoke dynamic discussions on better and more sustainable use of Africa’s livestock breeds and genes and the capacity development programs that underpin this.

Training has long been a central element in the capacity development approaches ILRI and SLU have taken to strengthen Africa’s use of animal genetic resources; indeed, for many partners and donor organizations, Fall said, this training has been a hallmark of the project’s achievements over the past decade. But Fall highlighted that capacity development work in CGIAR/ILRI goes beyond training and transferring knowledge and skills to individuals, and now embraces work effecting change in organizations, institutions, cultures and sectors.

Fall said capacity development activities can serve sustainable use and appropriate management of the continent’s diminishing livestock genetic resources only if they are embedded within broader policies, strategies and frameworks. ILRI takes a systems approach to capacity development, he said, which addresses up front institutional and organizational shortcomings and regulatory and cultural barriers to sustainable development.

Progress in this kind of capacity development work is measured at the following three levels:
Environment: The policies, rules, legislation, regulations, power relations and social norms that help bring about an enabling or disabling environment for sustainable development;
Organization: The internal policies, arrangements, procedures and frameworks that enable or disable an organization to deliver on its mandate and individuals to work together to achieve common goals
Individual: The skills, experience, knowledge and motivation of people.

Taking such a systems perspective, Fall explained, requires finding the right balance between, on the one hand, responding to expressed demand for agricultural research-based knowledge and interventions, and, on the other, jumping on emerging opportunities and innovations with potential for accelerating agricultural development.

This workshop should help AU-IBAR increase its animal genetics work through a 5-year project funded by the European Union and through strengthened collaboration with FAO in this area. Outcomes of the 4-day Burkina Faso workshop — including lessons learned from the past, a prioritized list of new topics/problems for new MSc and PhD students to take on, a list of key messages, and action plans for animal genetic resources work in Western Africa — will help lay the foundations of the West African Platform on Animal Genetic Resources.

More information on ILRI’s contribution to capacity development for animal genetic resource work can be found here: and here

About ILRI
ILRI is one of 15 CGIAR research centres and 16 multi-centre research programs located around the world and dedicated to reducing poverty and improving food security, health and nutrition, and natural resource management. Like other CGIAR centres, ILRI leads, co-leads or supports cutting-edge research on sustainable agriculture and designs, conducts and monitors in-country research-for-development programs and projects with the aim of producing international public goods at scales that make significant difference in the lives of the world’s poorest populations. ILRI does this work in collaboration with many public and private partners, which combine upstream ‘solution-driven’ research with downstream adaptive science, often in high-potential livestock value chains engaging small- and medium-sized agri-businesses and suppliers. In this work, ILRI and its partners are explicitly supporting work to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals and their successor (now being formulated), the Sustainable Development Goals.

ILRI envisions a world where all people have access to enough food and livelihood options to fulfill their potential. ILRI’s mission is to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research for efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock, ‘ensuring better lives through livestock’.

Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn is a staff member in ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit.

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