News from ILRI

Kenyan cattle found to have much smaller faecal carbon footprints than those used in climate change inventories


A visitor (left) tours an ILRI Mazingira Centre lab (left),
Mazingira scientist David Pelster (right)
(photo credit: CCAFS/Vivian Atakos).

Greenhouse gases emitted
by Kenyan cattle excreta
are found to be much lower
than estimates derived from
models in industrialized countries. African cattle nitrous oxide (N2O) faecal emissions are 10–20 times lower—
and their faecal methane (CH4) emissions two times lower—
than IPCC estimates now being used to determine
the carbon footprints of African livestock agriculture.
§ § § ‘The diets used in this study were consistent with those used
in smallholder farms in the region and similar in digestible energy
to the low-quality fodder category used
by the IPCC to estimate livestock emissions,
suggesting that emission factors used for
GHG inventories in this region may need to be revised.’
—From the conclusions to the paper
More studies—performed under different climatic seasons,
linked with measurements of enteric fermentation
and with measurements performed over extended periods—
will be needed to confirm these results. § § §

The following is excerpted from ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment blog site:
‘For a long time, African countries have relied on default emission factors provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to develop strategies on reductions of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. This is because there are very limited GHG measurements from cropping and livestock systems in most developing countries. However, there has been a growing concern on the applicability (or lack thereof) of data from IPCC to sub-Saharan African agricultural systems, and the subsequent development of mitigation interventions that may not be tailored to these systems. . . .

‘Part of the research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) focuses on understanding and managing the environmental footprint of livestock. At ILRI’s Mazingira Centre, this research aims to provide accurate context-specific information on the environmental impacts, particularly on nutrient cycles and GHG emissions of current livestock production systems, to enable predictions of intensification in these systems, and opportunities to mitigate GHG emissions. . . .’

In an important first for Kenya,
research from ILRI’s Mazingira Centre
has generated greenhouse gas data
measured and analyzed for Kenya, in Kenya.

The Mazingira Centre is a state-of-the-art environmental research and education centre established at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The goal of the Mazingira Centre (mazingira is the Kiswahili word for ‘environment’) is to enhance the infrastructure and capacity for environmental research in East Africa with a focus on livestock systems and land use change. It has capacity to measure and analyze environmental parameters brought about by agricultural and livestock production. Established in 2014 and now fully operational, the centre promises a step change in Africa’s environmental research infrastructure and capacity.

Read the full ILRI article about this new paper on ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment blog: Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock waste in East Africa are significantly lower than global estimates: New study reveals, 16 Jun 2016.

Access the ILRI paper here: Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from cattle excreta on an East African grassland, by David Pelster, Betty Gisore, John Goopy, Daniel Korir, James Koske, Mariana Rufino and Klaus Butterbach-Bahl.

For further information about the study and Mazingira Centre, contact Lutz Merbold (L.Merbold[at] or David Pelster (D.Pelster [at]

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) project on ‘In situ assessment of GHG emissions from two livestock systems in East Africa’ provided technical and financial support for this ILRI project.

Elite cultivars of the livestock feeding kind–‘FORAGES for the FUTURE’


A new strategy and newsletter set out the argument for, and the specifics of, better conservation and use of tropical and subtropical forages.

A much-declined skills and resource base for tropical and subtropical forage work is occurring in the face of increasing demand for livestock products and forages across livestock systems in the tropics. Greater efficiencies, effectiveness and collaborations in tropical and subtropical forage collection, conservation and use will help maximize the diversity, rationalize the conservation and optimize the health and use of germplasm held in international and national genebanks. The newsletter

Author of the forage strategy, consultant Bruce Pengelly, a forage specialist who formerly worked with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the CGIAR Bioscience eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, along with Brigitte Maass, a forage agronomist  and associate professor at the University of Gottingen and formerly of the CGIAR International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), have just announced the first issue of a forage newsletter they are producing, under the auspices of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, that is a first step in fulfilling on the new strategy.

Here is how Pengelly and Maass describe their newsletter.

It is our pleasure to share the first Newsletter on Forages for the Future with you. The newsletter is meant to start building again a community that is interested and engaged in tropical and subtropical forage genetic resources, their conservation and utilization.

In the lead story of the newsletter, Pengelly reports on the results of a 2015 global survey: ‘There are at least 6 large genebanks and a number of smaller centres focusing on tropical and subtropical forages. The main centres were the international centres of CIAT and ILRI and the national centres of Australia, Brazil, USA, and South Africa. All of these have collections of between 7,000 and 21,000 accessions and most report that they have good storage conditions. That’s the positive news. . . .

‘A significant number of respondents to the survey reported that less than 10% of collections were backed‐up in other institutes, national or international.

Other stories in the newsletter:

  • Native Brachiaria germplasm of Uganda
  • Guineagrass breeding in Brazil
  • Using Gliricidia sepium in Indonesia

Read the first issue of the newsletter: Forages for the Future, Global Crop Diversity Trust, Feb 2016. The next issue is due in Aug 2016. To subscribe or share your forage stories with the global community, contact Brigitte Maass (Brigitte.Maass [at]

As Chris Jones, the British forage biotechnologist who leads ILRI’s Feed and Forage Biosciences program, says:
‘The tropical and subtropical forage strategy was initiated at a meeting of forage and genebank experts held in Bonn last October [2015]. I have been recruited as a member of a core group, with representatives from national and CGIAR centres, to guide strategy implementation. This is the first of a series of newsletters outlining the strategy and highlighting activities and opportunities in its development. I’d encourage all interested to engage in future activities and editions.’

The strategy

What follows is a summary of Pengelly’s strategy document.

Tropical and subtropical forages are critically important for the supply of livestock feed and environmental services. But support for the collection and conservation of these forages, and research on their diversity, has declined significantly since 1990. This decline, which has reduced capacity and knowledge in the networks of national and international genebanks that maintain the world’s tropical and sub-tropical collections, has (strangely) coincided with a rapid growth in demand for livestock products across the developing world. This decline thus needs to be redressed, and quickly, if the tropical and subtropical world is to have access to the best forage material and knowledge to meet its growing demands for more and better food and natural resource management.

About the new forage strategy
A new strategy has been developed with input from across the tropical forage genetic resources community. The aim of the strategy is to rebuild a strong, functional network of national, regional and international tropical and subtropical forage genetic resource centres and genebank users. Such a strengthened network will help improve the conservation and study of the most important germplasm by introducing efficiencies and greater rationalization within and between genebanks. It will help raise the game for genebank managers, enabling them to play more central roles as knowledge managers and advisors in wider research and development programs. And it will help genebank staff to anticipate germplasm needs and respond more directly to user requests for information and seeds.

Development of the strategy has been supported by three activities. Discussions were held with national and international genebank managers between Apr and Jun 2015 to gain their views. A survey of key tropical and subtropical forage institutions at the national level (genetic resource centres in Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, USA), subregional level (the Southern African Development Community centre in Zambia) and international level (CIAT, ILRI, ICRAF) was conducted in Aug 2015. A workshop of genebank managers and forage specialists was held at the headquarters of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, in Bonn, Germany, in Oct 2015.

The need for a strategic plan to conserve and use tropical and subtropical forages is arguably greater than that for other ‘crops’. That’s because tropical forage plants are usually not regarded as a commodity in themselves, are made up of a large range of species, and are often being conserved in poorly resourced genetic resource centres in developing countries. Forage plants in addition have special biological challenges —made all the more difficult to address by reduced agricultural research-for-development funding in recent decades. The need for a strategy is strengthened further by the broadening role of tropical and subtropical forages beyond livestock feed to environmental uses such as control of soil erosion, green manure crops and sources of biomass for biofuels.

The aims of this strategy will take many years to achieve—but they will not be achieved without first rebuilding community, value, capacity and efficiency.

About legumes and grasses
The tropical and subtropical forages being collected and conserved comprise mostly the many legume and grass genera and species that have contributed to the development of livestock feed systems or that have been collected with this potential in mind. The region of Central and South America and the Caribbean is the key centre of diversity for forage legumes while sub-Saharan Africa is the key centre of diversity for forage grasses. (Among exceptions to this are important legume genera such as Stylosanthes, Leucaena, Desmodium, Centrosema, and Gliricidia, which are primarily American in origin, while important grass genera such as Urochloa (syn. Brachiaria), Pennisetum, Megathyrsus (syn. Panicum) and Digitaria have predominantly sub-Saharan African origins.)

On the importance of forages
Tropical and subtropical forage genetic diversity has improved livestock production in many environments and farming systems, particularly over the last 50 years. These forages have underpinned large-scale pasture-based beef production in the subtropical and warm-temperate regions of North America, South America (especially Brazil), and northern Australia; have provided the essential feed-base for more intensive small- to large-scale livestock production systems, including beef, small ruminant and dairy production; and are important in feeding pigs in some regions. These forages have benefited sown pastures and alley cropping as well as agroforestry and cut-and-carry production systems, to name some.

The economic importance of tropical and subtropical forages is rising fast along with the fast-rising demand for, and consumption of, milk, meat and eggs across the developing world, while the environmental benefits tropical forages deliver—such as storing carbon, reducing soil erosion, reducing use of nitrogen fertilizers in green manure systems, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by ruminant livestock—are also increasing in importance. Some tropical forage species, such as Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), have potential for use as feedstocks for cellulosic biofuels. And some tropical grasses have become important in recreation use, where they are widely used for turf.

On breeding programs
Breeding programs to develop forage cultivars have been used over the past 50 years with some outstanding successes, such as the introduction of resistance to major pests and diseases. While major breeding programs stopped being conducted in Australia after about 1990, the USA has a number of active breeding programs conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida. International centres have continued investment in major breeding programs. A program on Urochloa (syn. Brachiaria) spp. conducted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has been one of the largest and most sustained, releasing several new cultivars in the past decade. Brazil also conducts forage breeding programs (on Urochloa, Pennisetum and Megathyrsus maximus [syn. Panicum maximum]). ILRI is working with dairy scientists at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) to exchange Napier grass materials and has initiated a molecular biosciences program to exploit the variation found in Napier and other species it holds in its forage genebank.

There are probably less than ten major breeding programs operating today worldwide on tropical and subtropical forages. Far more frequently, cultivars have been developed by comparison among wild populations and/or selections from within wild populations. Some of the most important tropical and subtropical forage cultivars have been commercialized through straight selection from wild populations.

Tropical forage germplasm collections contain more diversity than any other crop or forage collection in terms of numbers of genera and species. As in all forage collections, grasses (Poaceae) and legumes (Fabaceae) dominate. The collections contain about 600 recognized genera and most of those are represented by more than one species. ILRI reports it alone has some 1400 species in its collection. There is also diversity in form: while herbs dominate, climbers, shrubs and trees are all represented and each form by several species.

Unconvinced? Here are another nine reasons

1 We’re losing forage genetic resources along with habitats
Many of the forage accessions currently held ex situ (removed from their natural habitats) are from regions that have undergone significant land-use change over the past half century. Much of the forests, grasslands and savannahs in South and Central America, for example, have been replaced with urban infrastructure. Expansion of agriculture in Brazil in particular has transformed vast natural forests and grasslands into intensive soy and other croplands or into improved monospecific pastures. Brachiaria brizantha cv. Marandu, for example, now grows on some 60 million hectares (148 million acres) of Brazilian land, forming a dangerously narrow genetic base. Development and population growth in many parts of Africa have resulted in expansion of cropping and overgrazing of rangelands, which has also reduced biodiversity. These changes across the tropics have made the tropical and subtropical forage germplasm already held ex situ extremely valuable, and sometimes irreplaceable.

2 Forage plants are wild relatives of crop plants
The world’s tropical and subtropical forage collections contain several species that can be considered crop wild relatives. Some are known to be wild types of the same species as major crops. Others will require a more detailed understanding of taxonomy and species to sort out their relationships to crops. The forage genus Rynchosia and, until recently, the genus Atylosia (now Cajanus), for example, are both close relatives of pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan). Many crop breeders do not even know this material exists. To contribute to crop plant improvement, there needs to be easier and better access to information on what forage genetic materials are being held and where.

3 Resources for forage work has declined big time
Investment in the conservation and use of tropical and subtropical forages, unlike that of crop plants, has declined since about the 1990s, even in those developed countries and emerging economies, such as USA, Australia, South Africa and Brazil, that have significantly benefited from investments in forage conservation and use. This investment decline over the past 25 years is evidenced by the poor viability of many tropical forage collections, the fewer staff and resources for collecting forage resources and managing forage collections, loss of expertise and use outdated genebank operating systems. Policymakers and donors need to be convinced of the greater roles that conservation, research and use of tropical forages can play in food security, enhanced livelihoods and healthy environments.

4 Scientific staffing for tropical forage work has declined drastically
Until the 1990s, CIAT, ILRI, Brazil’s EMBRAPA Brazil, Australia’s Commonwealth, Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and other institutes employed more than 250 scientists specializing in tropical and subtropical forage genetic resources. The number of active, employed tropical and subtropical forage scientists is now probably less than 30 and the bulk of knowledge built up over many decades now rests with about 40 mostly retired scientists.

5 Forages possess exceptional diversity
ILRI reports about 600 genera and 1400 species in its collection of tropical and subtropical forages, while CIAT holds about 730 species. And there are other taxa held in national genebanks that are unrepresented in the collections of ILRI, CIAT or the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Preservation of this exceptional diversity will require that genebank managers and researchers stay abreast of continuous changes in taxonomy and technical issues in such matters as viability testing, seed dormancy, seed longevity, security backups, pollination and pollinators, diseases, day length sensitivity, ploidy levels and the wide range of breeding systems. While there is much diversity, less than 100 species have proven useful as forages to date. This means that 1200 species of limited or no immediate forage, feed or environmental value are being conserved globally. This does not mean that 86% of the accessions held are of limited value. The largest collections of any one species are mostly those perceived to have had the greatest potential value, and hence, most plant collecting focus. This is reflected in CIAT’s genebank, where 45% of the accessions of some 730 forage species are from just 20 species.

6 Transformational technologies are opening new frontiers in forage research
Dramatic advances in bioscience technologies have transformed tools for understanding the vast genetic diversity, and potential use, of crop and forage plants and their wild relatives. While exploiting this plant diversity to overcome climatic and other agricultural constraints is now possible due to the explosion of breakthroughs in genomics and related fields (‘genotyping’), practical outcomes of use of these ‘omic technologies’ depend on knowledge of the plants’ observable traits (‘phenotyping’) and possibilities for their adaptation and use.

7 Selection and seed availability both need speeding up for scaling up
With so many tropical and subtropical forage species and genotypes proven to be useful in particular environments and systems, livestock programs need to be able to access the best advice from forage specialists using the best selection tools. But such selection of well-adapted germplasm needs to be followed by ready availability of viable seed (or vegetative planting material) in sufficient quantities for quick evaluation and use at scale.

8 Current CGIAR forage work is insufficient
CGIAR genebanks comprise the largest and among the most diverse collections of tropical and subtropical forages in the world. These international collections also provide some backup storage for other collections and tend to be better resourced than national system collections. Notwithstanding CGIAR’s mandate to conserve this germplasm and to supply its materials to users globally, CGIAR centres have strong regional foci that have skewed their geographic distributions in the past. And although CIAT and ILRI have been expanding their regional foci (e.g. ILRI research on breeding for disease resistance and greater use in Napier grass, for diversity in buffel grass and for both diversity and dual-purpose food-feed roles in cowpea and other legumes), the combined resources of all CGIAR centres probably do not include the technical skills that would enable them to cover the full range of priorities and needs in tropical forage work. Greater collaboration and efficiency should provide a more comprehensive and unified strategic position for the CGIAR.

9 Forage treaties and agreements are inadequate
The great majority of the world’s tropical and subtropical forage resources are not listed in Annex 1 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The CGIAR collections are managed under Article 15 of this treaty and may be made available under standard material transfer agreements. The exchange of material from national collections can be constrained by a reluctance of countries to share their germplasm with others outside of the multilateral ITPGRFA agreement. In addition, the vast majority of tropical and subtropical forage germplasm that has been collected was collected before the Convention on Biological Diversity came into effect in 1994, meaning that most forage germplasm held outside of the CGIAR genebanks can in fact be exchanged without attending to treaty obligations. This is an important issue for forage conservation, but possibly more so for utilization. A strategy taking all this into consideration needs to be developed.

Read the whole of the new strategy: A global strategy for the conservation and utilisation of tropical and subtropical forage genetic resources, by Bruce Pengelly, Pengelly Consultancy Pty Ltd., Dec 2015.

To find out more about ILRI Feed and Forage Biosciences program, contact Chris Jones  (c.s.jones [at]

UN adopts resolution promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands


Ethiopia’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, speaks at UNEA-2 (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Written by Dorine Odongo, communications and knowledge management specialist for ILRI’s Livestock and Environment Program.

A new  resolution on Combating desertification, land degradation and drought and promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands was presented and adopted at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) held 23–27 May 2016 at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya.

At a UNEA-2 side event on sustainable pastoralism, high-level discussions among key players in the livestock sector highlighted pastoralism’s ability to promote healthy ecosystems in the face of climate change, showing that common pastures are potential reservoirs of greenhouse gases.

Kicking off the side event, the deputy executive director of UNEP and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, Ibrahim Thiaw, reminded participants that ten years ago, myths and misconceptions surrounding pastoralism were already being strongly debunked—particularly those portraying it as ‘primitive, unproductive and environmentally destructive’.

Research showing that pastoralism promotes healthy productive ecosystems continues to be largely ignored, underexploited or misunderstood. The side event was spearheaded by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other collaborators.

UNEA’s then president and minister for environment and green development in Mongolia, Oyuna Sanjasuren, argued that pastoralism plays a key role in protecting ecosystems but must be managed well to be sustainable.

Ethiopia’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, said that to achieve the United Nations 2030 and Africa 2063 agendas, pastoralist issues must be addressed and with a unified voice. Such issues include policies to protect pastoralists, increased investment in drylands, improved pastoralist access to markets and incentives for pastoral environmental stewardship.


Ethiopian Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, left, with Iain Wright, ILRI Deputy Director General, at UNEA-2 (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Land tenure for pastoralists: how best to achieve?
Lack of land rights is a huge challenge for pastoralists, posing big threats to pastoral sustainability and viability. This is recognized in the UN’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs #1, 2 and 5).

ILRI conducts research on pastoral and agro-pastoral dryland environments, investigating such issues as institutional and governance approaches to promoting participatory land-use planning and land tenure systems. In addition, ILRI works to promote sustainable use of rangelands and to improve livestock-based livelihoods. Together with its Kenyan NGO partner RECONCILE (Resource Conflict Institute), ILRI coordinates and supports the Global Rangelands Initiative of the International Land Coalition (ILC). The initiative, established in 2010, supports governments and members of the ILC in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop and implement enabling policies and legislation for more tenure-secure rangelands.


Abdelkader Bensada, an officer responsible for UNEP’s work on sustainable pastoralism and rangeland conservation and UNEP’s focal point for the International Land Coalition, talks with Fiona Flintan, a rangelands governance scientist on joint appointment with ILRI and the International Land Coalition, at the rangelands side event at UNEA-2 (Global Rangelands Initiative) (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Pushing the sustainable pastoralism agenda higher
A coalition of international organizations working on livestock and environment issues, in addition to several African governments, led by Ethiopia, Namibia and Sudan, fronted the resolution for adoption by UNEA 2, and in so doing managed to push sustainable pastoralism and rangelands higher up the international development agenda. The passing of this resolution was the latest example of the importance people are placing on SDG 15, ‘Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss’, and of the need for multilateral environmental agencies to cooperate and collaborate.

This move has provided much-needed impetus for investing in pastoralism in order to optimize and realize its full potential and comparative advantage as a livelihood system, particularly suitable for coping with climatic variability and change.

See photos from the side event here.

For further information, see ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment blog or contact Dorine Odongo (d.odongo [at] or Fiona Flintan (f.flintan [at]

Vaccine research on Africa’s cattle-killing East Coast fever: A short (somewhat potted but handsomely illustrated) history

PowerPoint Presentation

Life-cycle of Theileria parva. This figure illustrates the different life cycle stages of the single-celled tick-transmitted Theileria parva parasite, which causes East Coast fever in cattle. The parasite undergoes transformations into different forms as it cycles through its mammalian and tick hosts. The figure, created by ILRI scientist Nicholas Svitek, was inspired by fluorescence and electron micrograph images of the parasite life cycle (Fawcett et al., 1982a, Norval et al., 1992von Schubert et al., 2010). 

Here’s what’s going on in this complicated, and complex, parasite life cycle: Within minutes of their injection by an infected tick into a cow, parasite forms known as ‘sporozoites’ zip open the membrane of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) of the cow to gain entry. Once safely inside, where the parasite is out of reach of attack by the cow’s immune system, the parasites develop to a ‘schizont’ stage, a process that results in genetic ‘transformation’ of the bovine cell, in which it acquires the properties of cancer and begins to divide, along with the parasites inside of it, endlessly. (T. parva is the only eukaryotic organism known to transform lymphocytes.) Some of the schizont parasite forms then undergo merogony, giving rise to yet another form of the parasite, called merozoites, which cause their host’s white cells to rupture, after which the parasites further mature into ‘piroplasm’ forms, which invade the cow’s red blood cells, where they are then ready for uptake by ticks taking their next bloodmeal from the cow.

Tick larvae and nymphs acquire an infection by feeding on infected cattle or buffalo, and transmit the parasite as the next tick instar, nymphs and adults. Kinete forms, the final products of the parasite’s sexual cycle, invade the tick salivary glands where sporogony occurs. Mature merozoites (Mz) and sporozoites (Sz) originate from a multinucleated residual body.

Notes: Stages of the life cycles are not drawn to scale. The vertebrate host cell nucleus is coloured in purple and the parasite nucleus is in orange. Microspheres in sporozoites and micronemes in merozoites are depicted as small dark green dots inside the parasite. Host cell microtubules in the dividing schizont-infected cell are drawn in green. Drawings and artistic creation by ILRI scientist Nicholas Svitek. (This drawing illustrates a new ILRI paper, published by Elsevier under a Creative Commons licence, in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases on 26 Feb 2016: doi:10.1016/j.ttbdis.2016.02.001).

Article by Susan MacMillan and Vish Nene, illustration by Nicholas Svitek

Tremendous research progress has been made over the last ten years to better control the deadly African disease of cattle known as East Coast fever. This disease is caused by a single-celled organism, Theileria parva, which is carried by some tick species. Cattle become infected when a tick carrying the parasite takes a blood-meal from the animal over several days.

The disease was named for its importation into southern Africa by cattle that originated from the East Coast of Africa at the start of the 20th century. The parasite was named after Arnold Theiler, a Swiss veterinary researcher who had emigrated to South Africa, where he became famous for co-developing the first safe vaccine against the rinderpest cattle plague, an accomplishment that ushered in systematic, mission-orientated veterinary research in that country. Theiler, whose youngest son Max would later win the Nobel Prize for developing the yellow fever vaccine, was first to distinguish East Coast fever, then entirely unknown to science, in 1903.

Cattle infected with the T. parva parasite develop a cancer-like disease manifested by high fever, swollen lymph nodes and lungs filled with excess fluid, which eventually literally drowns the animals, typically within just three weeks of infection. This remarkable protozoan has genes that enable it—within minutes of being injected into an animal—to attach itself to the surface of a cow’s white blood cell, ‘unzip’ the cell membrane and slip into the cell. Once inside the bovine cell, the parasite is unseen and safe from attack by the cow’s antibodies. T. parva then proceeds to take over the cell machinery. Activating the cow’s cell division pathway, it multiplies along with its host cell, causing the cancer-like state.

Those animals that do not succumb to East Coast fever are thereafter immune to subsequent infections with the same strain of parasite. Such natural full recovery and immunity is what first piqued the interests of scientists, who reasoned that it must be possible to develop a vaccine that would provoke similar immune processes, thus providing cattle with life-long protection against the disease.

The sequencing of the genome of the T. parva parasite, completed in 2005, and its publication in the scientific literature enabled scientists to thoroughly characterize the protozoan’s genetic makeup, including the diversity of the parasite’s antigenic molecules that provoke the cow’s immune system to generate protective antibodies and killer T cells that attack and clear the parasite from the host. This is the basis of an effective ‘infection-and-treatment’ (ITM) immunization method, in which live parasites are inoculated into cattle along with a long-acting antibiotic. A ‘Muguga cocktail’ ITM vaccine combining several parasite strains and providing broad-spectrum immunity to East Coast fever is now a registered product in three countries in eastern Africa. Effort today is being directed at improving and scaling up the production of this ‘live vaccine’ to make it more widely and cheaply available to the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on livestock in the twelve countries of eastern, central and southern Africa where the disease remains endemic.

Meanwhile, research to develop a ‘subunit’ vaccine, which is based on bits of parasites rather than whole parasites, with the bits eliciting production of neutralizing antibodies and killer T cells, has been revived by a research consortium that is developing proof-of-concept for a next-generation East Coast fever vaccine. The pioneering genomic, molecular and immunological advances that are making this subunit vaccine work possible promise to finally and fully control this devastating disease within the next decade or so.

See the recent science article on which this article is developed:
The biology of Theileria parva and control of East Coast fever—Current status and future trends, by Vish Nene, Henry Kiara, Anne Lacasta, Rogé Pelle, Nicholas Svitek and Lucilla Steinaa, 2016, in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, 26 Feb 2016,

Read other articles about this publication on ILRI’s ILVAC blog site:

Susan MacMillan leads ILRI’s Awareness and Advocacy communications work. Vish Nene leads ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program (ILVAC). Nicholas Svitek is a cellular immunologist within ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program.

DID YOU KNOW? ILRI in the Livestock Global Alliance


The following remarks were made by Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on 26 May 2016 at a side event held at the General Assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health, in Paris. At this event, an alliance of leading organizations in global livestock issues launched an advocacy brief and related materials aiming to bring the often overlooked sector to the forefront of solutions to global development challenges such as food security, health, economic growth and climate change.

The Livestock Global Alliance unites the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and World Bank Group.

Snapshot of ILRI

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one of 15 international agriculture research centres of the CGIAR Consortium and the only one dedicated entirely to livestock research for the developing world. ILRI is co-hosted by the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya and also has regional or country offices in 16 other locations in Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Drawn from 40 nationalities, ILRI has a work force of about 750 staff globally.

The institute works through extensive partnership arrangements with research and development institutions in both the developed and developing parts of the world. ILRI’s research and development work covers areas ranging from laboratory-based biosciences in animal health, genetics and feeds to field-based integrated sciences in the areas of animal productivity, food safety and zoonoses, livestock and the environment, gender and livelihoods, and policy and markets. Capacity development and communications and knowledge management are important parts of the institute’s mandate and cut across all its research and development areas.

Livestock Global Alliance

ILRI and the World Bank jointly convened the first meeting that created the Livestock Global Alliance in April 2012 at ILRI’s headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya. At that time, both ILRI and the World Bank were developing new institutional strategies and recognized the need for greater coordination among the key global livestock sector actors working in the public domain. Particularly in the face of increasing criticism of the livestock sector by industrialized countries and agenda, there was perceived need for a coherent and common voice providing evidence-based information and balanced perspectives about livestock issues.

Participants at the initial meeting identified the need for closer partnerships, with each organization bringing to bear its comparative advantages. It was believed that by working together more closely, institutions in a Livestock Global Alliance could more effectively communicate why livestock remain essential to the society, health and wellbeing of the world’s poor and why addressing both the challenges and the opportunities presented by the livestock sector is critically important.

While the five organizations involved in the alliance are diverse in their operations and mandates, all share a common vision of the multiple and central roles that livestock can play in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Each of the participating institutions has committed to reaching out to its constituencies with these central common messages. As a member of the CGIAR Consortium, ILRI will also harness the breadth and depth of agricultural research from across the CGIAR’s 15 member centres and global research programs to communicate science-based options for sustainable smallholder livestock futures.

As the livestock sector globally remains greatly underfunded, ILRI and its Alliance partners are working together to raise understanding of just how adequate funding will enable the livestock sector to serve the SDGs.

The three pillars of the Livestock Global Alliance are social equity, global health and environmental sustainability.

Social equity

ILRI researches the roles of livestock in livelihoods of the poor, spanning the following.

  • Gender roles in livestock livelihoods and households.
  • Income-generating opportunities for producers, processors, traders and service providers along livestock value chains.
  • The role of livestock as both assets and safety nets for the poor.
  • Development, with private companies, of the first-ever (index-based) livestock drought insurance serving pastoralists in remote regions of East Africa.
    Between 2008 and 2011, recurring droughts cost Kenya some USD12.1 billion, with the livestock sector incurring 27% of this loss, about USD3.3 billion. Early impact assessments suggest that those who purchased ILRI’s livestock insurance policies experienced a 36% reduction in distress sales of livestock, a 25% reduced likelihood of eating much smaller meals, and a 33% reduction in dependence on food aid.
  • Technological solutions for increasing livestock productivity and opportunities for small-scale livestock producers to participate in markets.
    Markets for livestock commodities are growing rapidly in developing countries, where most livestock production growth is occurring, and are expected to continue to grow for several decades, opening opportunities for small-scale producers, with as many as half of them women.

Global health

ILRI’s longstanding animal health research is conducted in the following areas.

  • Better control of key livestock diseases—especially those that are endemic and devastating to developing countries and for which major commercial vaccines are unavailable.
  • Development of new vaccines, including East Coast fever, African swine fever, Rift Valley fever, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and pestes des petits ruminants.
  • Production of the first-ever vaccine broadly available and affordable to the poor to control East Coast fever in African cattle.
    East Coast fever annually kills more than one million cattle and causes 12 African countries losses of some USD300 million. One million doses of the ILRI-produced East Coast fever vaccine has benefitted half a million people’s lives.
  • Development of new and improved ‘penside’ diagnostic toolkits to better identify disease and control disease outbreaks in smallholder environments where there is limited veterinary care.
  • Food safety and other challenges lying at the interface of human health, human and animal nutrition and animal agriculture.
  • Development and facilitation of One Health approaches to controlling emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and people.
  • Development of practical risk-based approaches to ensuring the safety of milk, meat and eggs sold in the informal markets of developing countries.
    5 million consumers in Kenya and 1.5 million in India’s state of Assam are benefiting today from ILRI-partner research on safer milk.
  • The role of milk, meat and eggs in the nutrition of the poor, especially that of women of child-bearing age and infants in their first 1000 days of life.

Environmental sustainability

ILRI’s environment research focuses on increasing livestock ‘goods’ and reducing livestock  ‘bads’ in the following areas.

  • Opportunities for mitigating livestock impacts on the environment, in particular greenhouse gases, and for helping poor livestock keepers adapt to climate change.
  • Options for improving small-scale livestock productivity, with better manure management to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from intensifying smallholder systems.
  • Practical incentives and policies for reducing livestock harms to the environment.
  • Good grazing management for rangelands
    Rangelands have the potential to sequester 8.6 million tonnes carbon each year.
  • Interventions enhancing community resilience, particularly in pastoral and agro-pastoral regions.
  • Establishment of a Mazingira (‘Environment’) Centre to assess for the first time the greenhouse gas emissions of Africa’s livestock.
    Current estimates of livestock greenhouse gas emissions used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are based on livestock emission figures in developed countries and may be overestimating such emissions in Africa by as much as tenfold.
  • Facilitation of economically and socially viable community-based ‘eco-conservancies’ through early research in East Africa’s Masailands co-conducted with Maasai communities and communicators.
    More than 200 eco-conservancies have been established recently in Kenya alone, which are now protecting biodiversity as well as livestock populations, restoring rangelands to health and providing local pastoral communities with added income for their wildlife and environmental stewardship.

For further information, visit the website of the Livestock Global Alliance, where this communiqué is posted, along with an advocacy brief, a short animated film and other research-based information materials.

ILRI News blog: Sustainable livestock, sustainable lives: Livestock’s role in global health, equity and environment, 26 May 2016.

ILRI Clippings blog: Livestock are coming to the fore of sustainable development to-do lists, 25 May 2016.

ILRI News blog: A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 13 Apr 2012.


Livestock for better nutrition and disease control–One Health Colloquium held this week at Chatham House


Stacked farm animal figurine (from zulily on Pinterest).

One Health Colloquium
Sustainable Livestock, Disease Control,
Climate Change and the Refugee Crisis

31 May–1 Jun 2016
Chatham House, London

The Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, London—which examines how global health challenges manifest themselves in foreign policy and international affairs—is looking at links between sustainable livestock systems and livestock disease control on the one hand and climate change, human nutrition and today’s refugee crisis on the other.

Today and tomorrow (31 May–1 Jun 2016), Chatham House, the Livestock Global Alliance (LGA), the One Health Platform and other One Health partners are convening senior policymakers, academics, multilateral development agencies, business leaders and other private-sector stakeholders to discuss these topics. Outcomes of the discussions will feed into a series of policy recommendations for multilateral agencies, opportunities for collaboration between the public and private sectors, and a research agenda for One Health approaches to sustainable livestock systems.

The invited participants—including representative from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Bank and the International Livestock Research Institution (ILRI)—are discussing livestock’s role in poverty reduction, sustainable livestock production systems, innovations in livestock vaccines and diagnostics and the value of establishing national and regional One Health centres of excellence to advise on links among agriculture, sustainable livestock systems and human development.

Two of the participants of this meeting are Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI, where she leads a program on food safety and zoonoses, and Shirley Tarawali, ILRI assistant director general.

This meeting is being held under the Chatham House Rule, whereby participants are free to use the information received but neither the identity nor the affiliation of speakers or other participants may be revealed. Check back on the ILRI News and AgHealth blog sites at a later date for further reports on ILRI’s two presentations at this colloquium, which you can click through below.

The influence of livestock products (LP) on nutrition during the first 1000 days from ILRI Vaccines and diagnostics—The case for regional One Health centres of excellence from ILRI


The following is a program announcement about this colloquium from Chatham House, lightly edited for brevity.

Sustainable livestock systems and livestock disease control
links to climate change, human nutrition and the refugee crisis
Efforts to reduce poverty have been high on the development agenda since the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, with many successes having been achieved over the past 15 years. Although MDG 1, ‘Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty’, is yet to be achieved throughout the world, many countries made considerable advances toward this target before the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in Sep 2015.

In India, for example, the proportion of people with an income of less than one dollar a day was nearly halved between 2000 and 2012, while in Ethiopia, the percentage of people living below the national poverty line fell by 14% over the same 12-year period. The World Bank reports that much of the poverty reduction in Ethiopia is attributable to growth in agriculture, and the impact of livestock trade in reducing poverty more widely in the Horn of Africa region is well understood. The national economies of some countries in the Horn depend almost entirely on the trade of livestock (including Somalia, where 60% of the population derives a livelihood from the sector), and across other parts of Africa and the Middle East the livestock industry remains critical to food security.

As the global demand for animal food products rises—consumption of meat and dairy is estimated to rise by 76% by 2050—it is necessary to consider how the livestock industry can develop sustainably while balancing demands for animal-source foods in high- and low-consuming countries to meet global health and nutritional goals. There is pressing need for policymakers and other stakeholders to evaluate the ways in which the sector can contribute to future economic growth in line with the ambitions of the SDGs. This will require assessments not only of the contributions livestock have made in reducing poverty in low- and-middle-income countries, but also of the negative impacts of overconsuming livestock products on health and the environment. Livestock production will also need to be considered within the context of heightening resource scarcity and intensifying climate stresses.

Effective strategies will require coordinated engagement on two levels.

  • Multi-stakeholder commitment to identify how the sector can be managed and financed sustainably and how innovation in livestock vaccine development, diagnostics, disease surveillance and therapeutics can improve livestock production yields and animal welfare while reducing the negative health and environmental impacts of livestock production worldwide
  • Multi-stakeholder engagement to bring together governments, producers, retailers, the service industry and civil society to foster a shift to healthier, more sustainable patterns of global animal protein consumption

This two-track approach will underpin attempts to meet two linked SDGS—SDG 2, ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’, and SDG 13, ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’.

The role of proteins and micronutrients derived from livestock in meeting the nutritional demands of a rapidly growing worldwide human population is a key aspect of the debate that requires more attention. In many low- and middle-income countries, a range of initiatives has been introduced to improve nutrition—especially during pregnancy and early childhood years—while there have been concurrent calls in developed countries to reduce the consumption of livestock products as a means of mitigating livestock-generated greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Consensus is lacking on the role a growing livestock industry might play in meeting future nutritional demands while remaining sensitive to the global challenges around climate change and to other issues such as antimicrobial resistance.

During the current global refugee crisis, increased scrutiny is also being paid to the potential for an increase in the prevalence of zoonotic vector-borne diseases, which are transmitted from animals to people via biting mosquitoes and other insects and ticks, and of other emerging zoonotic diseases in countries that host refugees and migrants. Competent vectors for several such infectious diseases, including malaria, leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis, are present in southern Europe, the Middle East and across parts of the Americas and Asia. The movement of humans and animals within and between these regions raises the potential for such zoonotic diseases to emerge in countries where cases have not been documented before.

Recent examples of this include outbreaks of the West Nile virus across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, North Africa and North America. The growing number of Zika virus cases in Brazil and detection of the virus in neighbouring countries, as well as the re-emergence of malaria in Greece, are the latest demonstrations that no geographical region can remain immune to novel or re-emerging zoonotic infections. The One Health implications of migration and the movement of people and livestock on disease transmission, although evident, are not well explored; nor are cost-effective strategies for improving disease control among refugee populations, including preventive measures through vector control, vaccination and improved diagnostics and surveillance.

While there no systematic association has been made between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, the factors influencing migration, including poverty, conflict and economic hardship, increase the risk for communicable diseases, including zoonoses. For example, pastoralism—the use of extensive grazing on rangelands for livestock production—which often involves the movement of livestock across borders in tropical and sub-tropical regions, is known to increase the potential for vector-borne diseases to emerge in new territories.

While no intervention can stop the movement of disease vectors and pathogens across borders, improved disease surveillance in animal populations can detect outbreaks at an early stage and help prevent their spread. Use of vaccines and rapid diagnostic tools and establishment of regional One Health centres of excellence can significantly mitigate such threats to both human and animal health.

But questions remain. Can regional centres be sufficiently empowered to manage the spectrum of One Health approaches to zoonotic disease control in humans and animals—from human behaviour change and social interventions for prevention to surveillance of infections and antimicrobial resistance to preparedness and response to outbreaks? And can the myriad parallel initiatives operating across Africa and other tropical regions be harmonized to create regional networks that can serve as repositories for expert One Health advice on how livestock systems impinge on development?

The Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House is addressing these interrelated issues and questions through the following topics in this two-day colloquium:

  1. The roles of livestock in poverty reduction and improving nutrition and their implications for climate change mitigation
  2. Sustainable livestock production—funding mechanisms and the impacts on global development
  3. The One Health implications of mass migration in humans and animals
  4. Knowledge transfer, disease control and innovation in vaccines and diagnostics—the case for regional One Health centres of excellence

Sustainable livestock, sustainable lives: Livestock’s role in global health, equity and environment


The following joint communiqué was released in Paris today, 26 May 2016, at a side media event at the General Assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health.

An alliance of leading organizations in global livestock issues launches an advocacy brief today, aiming to bring the often overlooked sector to the forefront of solutions to global development challenges such as food security, health, economic growth and climate change.

The Livestock Global Alliance unites the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and World Bank Group (WB).


Livestock account for over a quarter of the protein and 13% of the calories we consume. More than 1.3 billion people (approx. 18% of the global population) depend on livestock for their livelihood. The sector accounts for an average of 40% of agricultural GDP of developing nations, a percentage that is growing and already reaches 60% in some poor countries. Despite its enormous contribution to food security and economic growth, the sector remains underfunded, receiving less than 3% of official development assistance by OECD country members.

‘Livestock is so much more than meat, milk and eggs’, comments David Nabarro, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.

Livestock generate incomes for small-scale farmers to send their children to school and access health care.

Livestock act as insurance against unexpected production losses and is the basis of resilience.

Livestock’s role in national economies and as a potent force for sustainable development must not be overlooked any longer.

Livestock will play a key role for meeting the Zero Hunger challenge.
—David Nabarro


The Alliance highlights the huge potential that exists to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the livestock sector if greater investment and collaboration between actors is prioritized. For example, it is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock supply chains in many regions could be reduced by 20–30% by implementing better livestock practices.

‘We have barely scratched the surface of what the livestock sector is capable of in terms of improving the livelihoods for small-scale producers and family farmers, and, more broadly, of becoming safer, fairer and more sustainable’, comments François Le Gall, Adviser at the World Bank, and Chair of the Livestock Global Alliance. ‘Improved grazing and feeding practices, for example, as well as using livestock waste for renewable energy and fertilizer, could help us meet sustainable development and climate goals. Working with many others, we’re uniting efforts to turn livestock’s potential into reality.’

There is a huge diversity of livestock production systems, enterprises and consumption patterns all over the world. To harness livestock for the greatest good for people and the planet, it is essential to grasp this diversity in livestock practices, which require tailored interventions to achieve lasting development outcomes. On the other hand, there are some interventions of universal value, from which all countries can benefit.


Areas for action in the livestock sector will be highlighted at the Paris event; examples include:

  • For grazing systems: Improve access to markets and related infrastructure, access to services, advice and information and, in pastoral systems, improve herd mobility, foster community engagement in sustainable management of natural resources
  • For mixed crop-and-livestock smallholder systems: Improve access to services, advice and information; increase efficiency and sustainability of natural resources management; strengthen collective actions and gender equity
  • For industrial livestock systems: Provide regulatory and market-based instruments designed to further increase efficiency, reduce negative impacts and to drive innovation for safer and more humane production

In coming months, the Alliance will continue to work closely with other organizations on collaborative initiatives supporting each of its three pillars: health, equity, and environment.

For further information, visit the website of the Livestock Global Alliance, where this communiqué is posted, along with an advocacy brief, a short animated film and other research-based information materials.

Getting the (science) word out: ILRI & ICAR share livestock communications & knowledge management practices


Note: This is the eighth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.

PART 8: Getting the (science) word out:
ILRI and ICAR share best livestock communications and knowledge management practices

By Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

This is the first of three articles reporting on the ICAR-ILRI communications workshop.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) held a one-day joint communications and knowledge management workshop on 4 Mar 2016 at the National Agricultural Science Centre Complex, in New Delhi, India.


The workshop was held at the prestigious and handsome 22-acre National Agricultural Science Centre Complex at PUSA, New Delhi (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The goals of the workshop were to share experiences and best practices in livestock research communications and knowledge management and to explore opportunities for ICAR and ILRI communications teams to work together more closely. The workshop was jointly organized by ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management (CKM) team and ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA). Communicators, scientists and senior officials of both institutes participated in the workshop.

Former ICAR director (left) with Jimmy Smith and Alok Jha (right)

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith (centre) with South Asia regional representative Alok Jha (right) and former ICAR director (left) at the communications workshop (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).


Three of the ICAR keynote speakers (left to right): Rameshwar Singh, director of ICAR Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture; H Rahman, ICAR DDG for Animal Sciences; and RK Singh, director of ICAR Indian Veterinary Research Institute (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The ICAR–ILRI workshop was organized around three focus areas:
(1) translating science-based practices into impact
(2) communicating evidence for wider influence
(3) managing research knowledge for wide accessibility and use

Five-to-six 10-minute case studies each given in each focus area. Following these short case study presentations, workshop participants split into small groups for further discussion. These groups gave participants an opportunity to ask presenters further questions and to recommend ways in which ICAR and ILRI might collaborate on animal science communications in future.


The communications workshop focused on three areas, with several short case study presentations made on each (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Focus area 1: Translating science-based practices into impact
Translating science-based practices into impact by communicating research outputs into potential development outcomes: Getting knowledge into use

For the first workshop focus, six case studies were presented by researchers from ILRI and ICAR, with topics ranging from old and new publishing vehicles (books and magazines, and web and mobile applications) to new publishing technologies (sending agricultural information to mobile phones) to new communication methods/approaches (innovation platforms).

BS Prakash, of ICAR, described ICAR’s traceability system for livestock value chains using radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging and geographic information systems (GIS). This system, which simplifies the process of tracing the source of infections in animals and determining the origins of animals, is available in kiosks and the data is made available to both livestock researchers and stakeholders. Workshop participants suggested that ICAR focus on creating greater awareness among farmers about this traceability system. They also suggested ICAR experiment with improving livestock feed resources through popular software, smartphones and more kiosks.


Sagarika Gandhi leads a group discussion on delivering livestock information through mobile phones (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Sagarika Gandhi, a consultant scientist, described a project she was involved in with ILRI to provide relevant and timely livestock information to farmers at low cost. This project, ‘mKisan: Delivering agriculture and livestock knowledge through mobile phones’, was conducted from 2012 to 2014. It was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and its implementation was led by the GSMA Foundation, an international mobile-for-development organization. The project made high-quality, difficult-to-source livestock information available in several forms, such as interactive voice response (IVRS), SMS, voice messages, on-demand videos and call centres. This project adapted and prioritized the content for mobile phones. At the end of two years, the project had 800,000 users, one-third of whom were repeat users; just 9% of the users were women. The project members discovered a stakeholder preference for high-quality, highly localized information, particularly on livestock vaccinations and feeds and fodder, and found it difficult to measure the project’s impacts on yields and incomes.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Mobile Platforms

The workshop participants suggested the creation of livestock content for Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms in future. They raised the possibility of setting up community radio stations and a joint ICAR–ILRI portal/e-hub for livestock information that would be more accessible to farmers. And they emphasized the need for high-quality, locally relevant, indigenous livestock information.

Himanshu Varshney, who manages ICAR’s website and leads the council’s knowledge management efforts, reported that ICAR is also delivering information to farmers’ mobile phones, in the form of voice messages and apps, and is using web-based information sources to communicate the council’s research findings. He explained that ICAR has diversified its media channels to cater to users from all sectors, with their diverse information requirements. He said that the ICAR website remains a vital source of information for many people. The website disseminates information, incorporates a content management system, reproduces e-publications of journals in the form of a digital library and pre-print versions of publications, provides a learning management system for teachers and students, and has built a knowledge management repository specifically tailored for farmers and agricultural extension workers.

During group work at the ICAR-ILRI communications workshop

Group discussions on websites (left) and popular magazines (right) (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Making ICAR’s information available online, Varshney explained, raises the visibility of both ICAR and its research, reduces the time needed for readers to get access to print publications, increases ‘institutional memory’ and increases the impacts of ICAR journal papers. But Varshney also said that posting material on web pages was not enough. ICAR staff want to create a more interactive site and an improved content management system. Participants suggested that future ICAR-ILRI communications collaborations could focus on creating weather-based agricultural advisories and communications support for livestock disease surveillance and vaccination campaigns.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Web Platforms

Rameshwar Singh, head of ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA), said the main goal of ICAR’s book publishing program is to publish authentic, multi-author, peer-reviewed reference books containing the latest information relevant to India’s agricultural communities. To date, ICAR’s greatest successes have been in publishing textbooks, popular science books, and science monographs and manuals. Challenges remain, he said, in producing extension materials suiting specific regions and in building a global profile and audience. His staff are currently considering creating e-commerce portals.

Breakout group discussion

The group discussion on books was led by ICAR-DKMA director Rameshwar Singh (second from right, second row) (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

ICAR’s popular magazines unit, said Jagdeep Saxena, a DKMA senior editor, is working to increase its reader/contributor base. At present, ICAR publishes four magazines, which it sells relatively cheaply thanks to a government subsidy. One of the unit’s main challenges, Singh said, is sourcing good livestock content; a possible collaboration with ILRI is seen as a good opportunity.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Book Publishing

V Padmakumar, an ILRI scientist and project leader, made a short presentation on ‘Scaling out research through innovation platforms’. He stressed the importance of inclusive and collaborative research, interactions and engagement, of ‘contextualizing’ the research agenda and of not working in silos. The participation of all actors in a value chain, of all stakeholders from all levels (village, state, national), should be encouraged, he said.


Hyderabad-based ILRI scientist V Padmakumar delivers a presentation on innovation platforms (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Padmakumar described how his team and partners helped build innovation platforms for two ILRI projects he worked on—MilkIT in Uttarakhand and imGoats in Rajasthan. The workshop participants discussed the need for making research evidence visible and agreed on the importance of building strong partnerships and co-ownership of research.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Innovation Platforms

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Innovation Platforms 2

Learn more about the ICAR–ILRI work plan for 2015–18.

Check back here for a report on the next theme of this workshop.

View pictures of the workshop.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.

Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2016

Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.

Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.

Part 7: Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India, 12 May 2016


‘Zoonotic’ diseases take the spotlight of UN environmental talks this week and next in Nairobi, Kenya


ILRI veterinary epidemiologists Delia Grace and Eric Fèvre were two of the panelists at a high-level Science Policy Forum this morning discussing zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya. The forum precedes the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, which takes place at UNEP all next week (23–27 May 2016). UNEP’s 2016 Frontiers Report was launched at this morning’s event (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Diseases transmitted between animals and people—which cause 60% of all human infectious diseases—are a ‘frontier issue’ at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA2), being held this week and next at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya.

Click the arrow below to view this story in slide format or go to Storify to view this story on one page.

— Susan MacMillan (@SusanMacMillan) May 20, 2016

Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India



Bhadrak, Odisha, was one of several ILRI-CSISA project sites in India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
Odisha Odyssey:
A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India

Written by Jules Mateo, Pradeep Sahoo, Braja Swain and Susan MacMillan

In recent years, scientists of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have been working with institutional partners and local farmer organizations in Odisha, a large eastern state of India on the Bay of Bengal, on research to improve the feed and fodder resources readily available to smallholder livestock keepers. ILRI conducted this collaborative research through a CGIAR Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) aiming to increase and sustain small-farm productivity in selected regions of Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Dairy businesses around the city of Bhadrak, in northern Odisha State, are growing (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

As part of an ILRI photojournalism trip to India undertaken in early Mar 2016, the authors visited a town on the outskirts of Bhadrak, a city in northern Odisha, to capture a bit of what the ILRI-led CSISA work has accomplished for small-scale dairy farmers in the area.

Dairying in Odisha

Dairy cows are kept in sheds and well cared for and fed (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

The team met with dairy producers, home-based cheesemakers, milk collectors and inspectors and other key players in Odisha’s emerging commercial dairy value chain.

A milk collection centre in Odisha

A milk collection centre in Bhadrak run by an ILRI-trained paravet woman (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

First stop was a milk collection centre located in a village on the outskirts of Bhadrak, where customers carrying milk were queuing. This centre is run by a paravet woman who received dairy training from ILRI and local partners in the CSISA project. In addition to collecting milk, the centre provides the dairy farming community with concentrate feeds and good-quality cow and buffalo semen.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Concentrate feeds and cow and buffalo semen are also available at the centre (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

A block away was the team’s second stop, a large fodder farm growing various types of improved fodder plants and grasses, which are sold, cut and carried to local dairy cows and buffaloes.

Fodder for dairy cattle

A tract of land for growing fodder for dairy cattle (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Next on the tour was a nearby integrated crop-livestock farm. And ‘integrated’ it truly was—with just the animal husbandry operations including several milk cows, daily cheese-making in the household kitchen, chickens pecking the earth at the front of the compound, and six large fish ponds at the back of the house, behind the cow stalls.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

An integrated farm with dairy cows, cheesemaking, chickens and fish ponds (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Like most smallholder producers, this integrated farm is a family-run business: everyone, every day, helps to raise the animals, feed the fish and make the cheese. The matriarch heading this household runs a tight ship and appears to have good, if ambitious, business sense. When complimented on her efficient, profitable and environmentally friendly integrated farm, she responded, ‘It’s hard work. I don’t sleep well at night’.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

The matriarch of the family who manages an integrated farming business (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The next stop, again only a few blocks away, was another farm, this one with dairy cows chewing their cud and grains drying in the sun at the front of the compound. The man who headed this household and led its dairy business work showed us an enclosed pen where he kept several prized milking cows. In a room next to the pen he stored a chopping machine, manufactured under ILRI’s direction, that he uses to cut fodder into small pieces for easier consumption and digestion by his milk cows.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Grains and milk in a farmer’s yard (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

An ILRI-developed chopper is used for cutting fodder for dairy cows (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

A milk chilling centre closer to the city proper was the team’s fifth and final stop for the morning. Inside a small single room, the centre’s modern freezer, vats and other milk storage equipment loomed large. The evening and morning milk delivered here by local farmers are chilled and trucked daily to Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

A milk chilling centre on the outskirts of Bhadrak (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Read previous parts in this blog series: Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India
Part 1: Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.
Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.
Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.
Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2015
Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.
Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.

Read more about ILRI’s work in Odisha:
Goat business is big business in India’s Odisha State—Bishnupada Sethi, 23 Feb 2016.
Indian farmers in Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal, face fodder crisis: Using crop ‘wastes’ as feed is one solution, 28 Aug 2015

On 8 Mar 2016, ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, his wife Charmaine Smith, ILRI Representative in South Asia Alok Jha, and ILRI research project leader Braja Swain paid courtesy calls on senior government and university officials in Bhubaneswar, the capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha. The ILRI delegation met with the Chief Secretary, AP Padhi, and the Secretary for Odisha’s Fisheries and Animal Resources Development (F&ARD) Department, Bishnupada Sethi, to discuss the state of the livestock sector in Odisha and contributions ILRI could make in improving the lives of farmers dependent on livestock.

ILRI has recently submitted a proposal on ‘Feed and Fodder Production in Different Agro-climatic Zones and Utilization for Livestock of Odisha’ to F&ARD’s Directorate of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services (DAH&VS).

ILRI has been working in Odisha since 2013 in collaboration with Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), the Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (OMFED) and the state government’s DAH&VS and F&ARD to improve the state’s livestock productivity through better use of crop residues and locally sourced feed supplements within the framework of the CGIAR Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA).

An international workshop on Improving Livestock Feeding Practice and Enhancement of Feed and Fodder Availability in Odisha was organized jointly by the Society for Management of Information, Learning and Extension (SMILE) and ILRI in 2015.

Based on the workshop’s recommendations, Odisha’s F&ARD Department is recommending the preparation of a comprehensive fodder development plan for Odisha.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

View all the photographs taken in Odisha in this ILRI Flickr album.

Learn more about the ILRI–CSISA project.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

ILRI scientist Braja Swain led the ILRI livestock work for the CSISA project in Odisha. Pradeep Sahoo, an agricultural economist and university lecturer from Odisha, spent two years working on the ILRI–CSISA project in this state. Jules Mateo (based in Manila) and Susan MacMillan (Nairobi) are part of ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management team.

Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj


In Mayurbhanj, Odisha, India, a youth proudly shows off a Harry Potter t-shirt and two of the family’s kid goats (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo). 

Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 6: Odisha Odyssey:
The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj

By Susan MacMillan, Jules Mateo, Pradeep Sahoo and Braja Swain,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is partnering the eastern Indian state of Odisha (formerly and still commonly called ‘Orissa’), located on the Bay of Bengal, to improve the production and sale of sheep and goats and their products as well as dairy products from cows. The overarching aim of this work is to reduce poverty and malnutrition by enhancing household incomes and livelihoods.

8 Mar 2016

The Indian state of Odisha has about one million sheep and goats and the added distinction of being the home of two famous goat breeds—the black Bengal goat and the Ganjam goat, the latter named after a district in Odisha border Andhra Pradesh. The markets for both goat breeds are good, fetching Indian rupees 400 (about USD7) for 1 kilo of dressed goat meat.
—Dean of the College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology

The livestock sector is not well promoted in Odisha State; veterinary services and fisheries are neglected areas of development here, so this is a good investment.
—Shri Aditya Prasad Padhi, Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner of Odisha

Small ruminant animals—goats and sheep—are the ATM ‘instant cash’ for farmers throughout South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
—Jimmy Smith, ILRI Director General

ILRI is interested to conduct a livestock fodder project in Odisha that can enhance the state’s small ruminant and dairy value chains.
—Alok Jha, ILRI Representative for South Asia

On 9 Mar 2016, Jules Mateo, my Philippines-based ILRI communications colleague, and I traveled with ILRI agricultural economist and project leader Braja Swain, who was born in India’s Odisha State and stills calls it home, several hours north from the state capital, Bhubaneswar, to the city of Bhadrak, where we spend the night in a small guesthouse. The following morning, with expert guide and ILRI agricultural consultant Pradeep Sahoo, another scientist also born and raised in this state, we drove another four hours north to reach the hilly and generally forested Mayurbhanj district, which is bounded to the north by the Indian states of West Bengal and Jharkhand.

The people here, as elsewhere in India, Sahoo explained, are categorized by the government into four social groupings:
(1) ‘general’, consisting of Brahmin (traditional Hindu priests and teachers), Karana (accountants and tax accountants) and Kshatriya (warriors)
(2) other (socially and educationally) backward classes (OBC)
(3) scheduled castes (SC) (formerly known as ‘untouchables’)
(4) scheduled tribes (ST), whose livelihoods depend on forests and other natural resources

Although these terms and definitions make me uncomfortable (politically correct they are not!), they have a long history as part of a so-called ‘reservation system’ of the Indian Government, which employs quota-based affirmative action to reserve government seats for specific groups, to increase opportunities for underprivileged communities, and to protect those communities from social injustice and exploitation. Mayurbhanj has the state’s largest physical area and as well as its largest population of tribal peoples, Sahoo reported. The 20–30 tribes in Odisha constitute 16–17% of the state’s total population. Nationwide, the Indian Government has been subsidizing food for people belonging to three of India’s four groups: other backward classes, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.


Mayurbhanj goat keeper Bipti Mahanta (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

With expert guidance and translations from Pradeep Sahoo and a young local man he enlisted for our tour named Anup Mahanta, Jules Mateo and I sat down to visit with Bipti Mahanta, a goat herder tending her animals on the straw residues of a rice field after its grain has been harvested. The rice is grown here in paddy fields once a year, and the residue rice straw is free for villagers to use for grazing their goats and cows for 5–6 months of the year. Herders such as Bipti Mahanta are needed to prevent their valuable stock from getting bitten by dogs or stolen by thieves.

Mahanta takes the goats she and her village neighbours own out to graze each day at about 9 or 10am, returning to the village, carrying goat fodder collected from a nearby forest, about 1pm, when she and the other goat herders will bathe, lunch on ‘water rice’, and then take a siesta.

Mahanta says that her village prefers goats to cows: ‘In an emergency of for a festival, we can sell a goat to get the cash we need’. A 2–3-year-old male goat weighing 30–35 kilos will fetch India rupees 8,000 (about USD120).


A woman collects animal fodder from the forest to carry to her homestead (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Works and days
Two things are hard to portray here, in this bare reporting. The first can perhaps be glimpsed in the photograph above of Bipti Mahanta.

But first, some context. We’re off the grid’ here, in the forests and fields of Mayurbhanj. The modern information age (and economy and highway) have largely passed this part of the state by. (We’re as far from India’s tech tycoons and towns as it is possible to get, with few cell phones or other ‘disruptive innovations’ having yet transformed daily life and habits.) But it is clear that the remoteness of this district, with its tribal peoples and Arcadian landscapes, its demanding quotidian and seasonal agricultural rhythms, which may have helped slow development, have also conserved much to be admired.

I experience an almost vertiginous sense, for example, of being in the presence of a whole society that appears to be living within its means—a self-sufficient community of shared values and real, if basic, social security. The sheer lack of visible ‘stuff’’, and the local capacity for delayed gratification, enlivened me.

In stark opposition to the workaday minimalism here is the abundance of ‘natural capital’ viewed at every turn—the animals, of course—including cows, heifers, bullocks, bull calves and chickens and chicks in addition to goats and kids—but also the forests and waterways, the grasses and fields of paddy rice and rice straw. Communities here are managing a sustained, and sustainable, extraction of the natural resources they have at hand. (How many other societies can say the same?) And then there is the attraction of the great complexity underlying the ‘simple’ mixed crop-and-animal farming systems these communities are practicing.

As Bipti Mahanta tells us of her daily schedule, it’s clear that life’s pleasures come in the form of a morning spent out in the open, watching over her animals (free to move and converse with whomever she wants, says Mahanta proudly); a cool bath and nap back in the homestead after the morning’s fieldwork; the daily ceremony of a family midday meal of ‘rice water’; the arrival of a new-born (animal or human); and major events marking generational passage of one kind or another, always celebrated communally.

This is a community—a kind of ‘homeschooled’ culture—that works on many levels. The measured perspectives as well as ambitions within Mayurbhanj’s goat-producing communities and foodsheds tend to be dealt with sensitively as well as rationally. Maybe some reverse engineering would be in order for the rest of us, I think, to find our way back to ways of communal life that work.

Things of course are not at a standstill in Mayurbhanj: The ‘self-improvement’ gene of humanity is expressed here, as everywhere. But with living standards low (by most standards), few get-rich-quick schemes or great expectations are likely to survive. But—again ‘but’—while the district’s unremarkable economic prospects are likely to thwart the hopes and dreams of some young people for ‘the finer things of life’, I can’t help but think that many aspects of ‘the good life’ are already in their possession.

Such imagined realities, or pastoral illusions, of mine are as dangerous as they are presumptive, of course. The material privations here are real enough, and poverty, as well as the more restrictive mores of traditional life, here as everywhere can inflict pernicious, corrupting and enduring damage on individuals and societies alike. But I find it impossible to forgo the temptation to consider the benefits that would accrue from engaging Mayurbhanj’s political and economic as well as natural, social and human capital for ‘greater good’.

For example, while living frugally, with basic amenities and certainly within no feminist utopia, the tribal cultures of this eastern state seem to have achieved something exceptional. In Mahanta’s voice and stories, in her eyes, stance and walk, I saw qualities rare in women of any culture or country—a confident sense of her own purpose and usefulness, for example, a pride in her independence, and a freedom to operate—to exercise agency.

Perhaps this is one of those things that the scheduled tribes can teach the Brahmin, Karan and Kshatriya members of India’s ‘general group’, the country’s disadvantaged ‘other backward classes’ and ‘scheduled castes’—and all the rest of us.

Animal husbandry
The second thing hard to portray in this report is the unusual level of animal husbandry practiced by Mayurbhanj’s tribal people. The human care on display everywhere for goats and other animal stock is exceptional, actually tender as well as responsible. (Should I ever come back to life, I decided, I could do no better than to do so as a Mayurbhanj goat.) After a morning spent freely grazing rice and natural fields, the goats are brought back to the homestead, where the adult animals are lightly tethered and rest comfortably in the shade of the household’s inner courtyard, with their kids running about, free to frolic or to nibble on the green shoots of fresh fodder brought back from the forest that morning.


Two young chicks position themselves on the back of one of the household’s placid black Bengal goats for a grooming session (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The goats are raised alongside cattle and chickens, with chicks climbing on the backs and heads of the goats, calves taking comfort from lying next to she-goats, and the (human) family members going about their daily chores and business, which include the business of tending to the needs of all these animals with which they share their homes (this being more ‘courtyard’ than ‘barnyard biodiversity’.)

Living so intimately with their living food animals, these tribal families are exemplars of modestly enterprising and enabling pastoral traditions. While the economic prospects here do not (yet) loom large, one senses something else, some ecosystem/human system integrity, some agricultural algorithms of enduring value, at work.

Perhaps, I think, the care these communities invest in their farm animals has a corollary in the dignity shown by their women folk.


Mayurbhanj goat keeper Dinabandhu Maharta (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Later, in the afternoon, we visit Ankura village and the farmhouse of Dinabandhu Maharta, a 65-year-old farmer and the other six family members of his household. They farm 2.5 acres of land, which support 29 goats, 38 chickens, 3 cows, 5 bullocks and 1 calf. Maharta takes his goats out for grazing for 6 hours each day and collects wood and animal fodder to carry home from the forest twice each day. Everyone in his household helps look after the goats and other livestock. He has sold no goats in the last 4 years because he needed to slaughter 28 of them over the 4-year period to feed guests at weddings of his son and daughter. He said that the selling price of these goats in total would be about Indian rupees 200,000–250,000 (USD3,000–3,758).

Maharta’s cows each produce about 1 kilo of milk a day. In recent years, he says he has seen improvements in veterinary medicines (including worm treatments) and vaccinations available in his area. And he says that his economic standing has improved with the greater number of animals he and his family are raising, some modernization of his farming practices, and the incomes generated by his two sons, one of whom works as a salaried auto mechanic. In addition, an increased availability of improved seed, fertilizer and pesticide has helped him to increase his paddy yields by 3–4 times, from 3 to 10 quintals (a quintal equals 100 kilograms).


Mayurbhanj goat keeper Judhistear Maharta (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Still later in the afternoon, we stopped at another farm household, headed by 48-year-old Judhistear Maharta with his wife and their three children. This household keeps 39 goats, 1 cow and 4 bullocks on 6 acres of farmland. Maharta’s family has reared goats for the last 15 years. He sold one goat last year for Indian rupees 12,000 (USD180) and slaughtered another four for his son’s wedding celebrations. In years previously, he sold 3 goats for a total of Indian rupees 30,000 (USD451). He said his fields produced 18 quintals (1,800 kilograms) of rice the previous year and his family also grows onion, garlic and other vegetables.

Note on Odiya foodie culture


Odisha lunch (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The ‘foodie culture’ of the Odiya people of India’s Odisha State is on display at a small popular restaurant in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, which serves, according the the menu, ‘Goat with masala gravy’ (‘Mansa kassa/Tarkari’), listed as costing Indian rupees 170 per serving and consisting of ‘tender mutton chunks cooked in thick Oriya gravy’. Except that, as most people here understand and my colleague Braja Swain explained, the meat in this dish is not from a sheep but from the black Bengal goat. I never got to the bottom of this discrepancy, except to understand (loosely) that mutton is somehow more acceptable than goat meat, even when served in a modest fast-paced restaurant frequented by locals. On the recommendation (read ‘strong recommendation’) from Swain, I ordered this ‘goat disguised as lamb’ dish—and, yes, I found it to be just as delicious as he advertised.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.

Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2016

Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.

View all photos of the ILRI delegation in Bhubaneswar: ILRI Flickr album.

Read more about ILRI’s work in Odisha:
Goat business is big business in India’s Odisha State—Bishnupada Sethi, 23 Feb 2016.
Indian farmers in Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal, face fodder crisis: Using crop ‘wastes’ as feed is one solution, 28 Aug 2015

On 8 Mar 2016, ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, his wife Charmaine Smith, ILRI Representative in South Asia Alok Jha, and ILRI research project leader Braja Swain paid courtesy calls on senior government and university officials in Bhubaneswar, the capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha. The ILRI delegation met with the Chief Secretary, AP Padhi, and the Secretary for Odisha’s Fisheries and Animal Resources Development (F&ARD) Department, Bishnupada Sethi, to discuss the state of the livestock sector in Odisha and contributions ILRI could make in improving the lives of farmers dependent on livestock.

ILRI has recently submitted a proposal on ‘Feed and Fodder Production in Different Agro-climatic Zones and Utilization for Livestock of Odisha’ to F&ARD’s Directorate of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services (DAH&VS).

ILRI has been working in Odisha since 2013 in collaboration with Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), the Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (OMFED) and the state government’s DAH&VS and F&ARD to improve the state’s livestock productivity through better use of crop residues and locally sourced feed supplements within the framework of the CGIAR Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA).

An international workshop on Improving Livestock Feeding Practice and Enhancement of Feed and Fodder Availability in Odisha was organized jointly by the Society for Management of Information, Learning and Extension (SMILE) and ILRI in 2015.

Based on the workshop’s recommendations, Odisha’s F&ARD Department is recommending the preparation of a comprehensive fodder development plan for Odisha.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

Agricultural research, rural poverty and climate change—(Some of) the weakest links


Stefan Dercon (left) and Mark Howden (right) presenting at the ISPC Science Forum 2016 (picture credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan). 

We’ve been a bit quiet recently on the ILRI blog front as we focused on covering the Science Forum 2016 organized by the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) of CGIAR, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 12–14 Mar 2016.

Below are links to a couple of the more challenging presentations.

Knowledge workers at work: Agricultural scientists get down to brass tacks (and new pathways) for rural prosperity, 
3 May 2016.
Reporting on the responses by Stefan Dercon (links between agricultural research and rural poverty reduction) and Mark Howden (agricultural research and climate change) in a Q&A session that followed their presentations in the day 1 opening plenary session, on 12 Mar. Dercon is a development economist at Oxford University working for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Howden is a climate change scientist at the Australian National University serving on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

‘In their uncompromising, tough-love scientific stump speeches, both Dercon and Howden argued for a kind of ‘intelligent design’, if you will, a back-to-basics path that blurs boundaries and dispenses with knee-jerk disciplinary biases and hit-and-run science projects to address the seemingly impossible agricultural deliverables promised by this group as well as, of course, the crushing complexities and power asymmetries facing the two billion people the group works to benefit.

‘While both speakers are obviously data-literate and data-driven, they both appeared to view research ‘business as usual’ as a ‘clear and present danger’. Dercon’s cheerful indignation at the lack of coherent syntheses for real-world policymaking, and Howden’s sympathetic understanding of farmer resistance to climate change rhetoric, were tonic. Dercon’s deconstruction of the evidence linking agricultural research and rural prosperity may have caused some concern within this elite conference group, but such discomfort is rather the norm in mission-oriented scientific circles, where the disputatious, and the original, have honoured places.

‘Both speakers focused on the importance of raising the capacity of agricultural research to enhance decision-making—by policymakers in the case of Dercon and by farming communities in the case of Howden. Interestingly, neither speaker focused on increasing agricultural research impacts per se, but rather on how agricultural research can support other communities (aid workers, food producers) in making the most appropriate decisions. . . .’

If you like the full article above, read the whole article and the other articles below.

Rethinking pathways for rural prosperity: The agricultural challenge 
by Stefan Dercon13 Apr 2016.
Reporting on Dercon’s day 1 plenary talk on agricultural research and poverty reduction.

+ SLIDE PRESENTATION for Dercon’s talk: Does agricultural research reduce poverty?
VIDEO OF PLENARY TALK (23 minutes) by Dercon is here in full (watch from 35:42 till 58:20 minutes).

The changing, real-world, climate change challenge for agricultural researchers
by Mark Howden27 Apr 2016.
Reporting on Howden’s day 1 plenary talk on agricultural research and climate change.

+ SLIDE PRESENTATION for Howden’s talk: Challenges ahead as a result of climate change
VIDEO OF PLENARY TALK (17 minutes) by Howden is here in full (watch from 4:30 till 21:55 minutes).

Be sure also to check out all 15 good short video interviews as well as blog articles (see full list below) from the Science Forum:

03 May
Knowledge workers at work: Agricultural scientists get down to brass tacks (and new pathways) for rural prosperity (Stefan Dercon and Mark Howden day 1 Q&A)

28 Apr
Holistic research embedded in development processes and strong partnerships key to sustainable agriculture in Africa (day 2 breakout session)

27 Apr
The changing, real-world, climate change challenge for agricultural researchers (Mark Howden day 1 plenary talk)

26 Apr
Increase research investment: Karen Brooks on priorities for rural prosperity (video interview)

25 Apr
Closing gender gaps in control over assets for lasting development outcomes (Ruth Meinzen-Dick day 1 plenary talk)

22 Apr
Interdisciplinary teams and delivery linkages: Gebisa Ejeta on research pathways to rural prosperity (video interview)

21 Apr
Not by agriculture alone: Segenet Kelemu on research priorities for rural prosperity (video interview)

20 Apr
Work along value chains: Victor Manyong on research pathways and priorities (video interview)

18 Apr
Pathways to rural prosperity: Priorities for agricultural research (day 3 plenary panel discussion chaired by Doug Gollin, of the University of Oxford and the CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment; ILRI’s director general, Jimmy Smith, was a panel member)

14 Apr
Human and institutional capacity development for rural prosperity, a question of survival (day 2 panel discussion)

13 Apr
Improving the impact of international staple crop research on poverty reduction (day 1 breakout session)

13 Apr
Rethinking pathways for rural prosperity: The agricultural challenge (Stefan Dercon day 1 plenary talk)

12 Apr
No single magic bullet for rural prosperity: Interactions between agricultural research and the economy (day 1 breakout session)

12 Apr
Science Forum day 1—Presentations set the scene on poverty, gender and climate change (links to Stefan Dercon, Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Mark Howden day 1 plenary slide presentations)

11 Apr
Agricultural research pathways, partnerships and priorities for rural prosperity: Maggie Gill interview (video)

For more information and materials, check out the main portal for the ISPC Science Forum 2016.

With thanks to the 20 communications staff, scientists and students from CGIAR centres and partner institutions who provided facilitation, blogging, tweeting, photography and video support to the Science Forum 2016.

‘Wonder Women’ of Bhubaneswar


Temple carving in Bhubaneswar (this and all photos on this page by ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 5: The ‘Wonder Women’ of Bhubaneswar

By Susan MacMillan, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

8 Mar 2016: 5:30 am
My communications colleague at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Jules Mateo and I are in the lobby of our hotel in New Delhi checking out. I’m groggy, having been up all night catching up on emails and finalizing a blog article to celebrate ‘women in livestock development’ (aka, WILD) on this day, which happens to be International Women’s Day. I’m a few minutes late getting down to the lobby to check out.

A taxi waits to take us to the airport for our early morning flight to Bhubaneswar, capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha (formerly, and still commonly, known as ‘Orissa’). On arriving at the Delhi airport and quickly entering, we find we’re in time for our flight but I’m still relieved when two women from Air Vistara, the newish domestic airline we’re using, approach us to ask us to move a new queue. I assume our check-in is being expedited.

But no, that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that we’re both being bumped up to business class. It turns out that Air Vistara (‘vistaar’ means ‘limitless expanse’ in Sanskrit) is making a big effort to celebrate International Women’s Day, and Jules and I have just been selected to receive some special treatment. This felicitous pre-dawn airport incident will turn out to be just the first of many day-long occasions marking this special day in India.


Memento of the upgrade!

On receipt of our new business class tickets and boarding cards (stapled with festive yellow ribbons), we’re each handed a little bouquet of flowers. The airline women ask if we’d mind having our pictures taken with them (of course not!) and then we make our way, giddy with excitement about our unwarranted upgrade, to the gate. The whole airport appears to be conspiring in this celebration: the woman who pats us down at the security check, for instance, wishes us a ‘Happy International Women’s Day’, as do several others.

Boarding our plane, we’re directed to our comfy business class seats and offered a selection of the day’s morning papers and a freshly squeezed juice before take off. The stewardesses give us every possible attention on our (now too short) flight. (I spend most of the 1.5 hours catching up on my sleep and am sad to miss the elaborate Indian breakfast.)

As we land, our ever-attentive stewardesses ask if we’d mind staying behind as everyone else gets off the plane so that another series of pictures can be taken. This time the pilot comes back to join us in the selfies and other mobile snaps—and it turns out the pilot is another Indian woman. In fact, everyone handling this flight appears to be a woman, reminding me of the news splash the previous Nov about an all-female crew on an Ethiopian Air flight from Addis Ababa to Bangkok, with—the media reported breathlessly—‘the daughters of Lucy’ fully operating the journey, from ground to sky, on the eve of that airline’s 70th anniversary.

A delicate fact that I have as yet omitted to mention is that Jules and I are travelling with three of our superiors, our director general Jimmy Smith and his wife Charmaine as well as ILRI’s representative for South Asia, Alok Jha. Our embarrassment about travelling business as they sit back in coach, and about getting so much attention from everyone all morning, becomes a joke as Braja Swain, an ILRI scientist and project leader in this state, packs us all into a vehicle to take us to the Bhubaneswar hotel where Jules and I will be staying that night.

As the joke continues on our way from the airport, we pass billboard signs promoting International Women’s Day (the whole country has been infected!). This reminds Jha that he once spent a few months working for an institute in Bhubaneswar that solely serves women farmers, the only such institute in all of Asia, he says.

8:30 am
Alok Jha gets out his cell phone and puts a call in to a colleague he still knows there, suggesting that as our ILRI delegation is in town for the day, we could pay a visit to the institute that afternoon, at their convenience. Jha’s call is transferred to the head of this institute, who immediately extends us a warm invitation for us to visit her after lunch.


Scenes of our series of morning courtesy calls on government and university VIPs in Bhubaneswar.

10:00 am
Which is what—following a morning spent making courtesy calls on various senior government officials and university professors to discuss livestock research collaborations—we do.


Memento of some of the VIPs the ILRI delegation visited in Bhubaneswar.


Poster advertising celebrations at Bhubaneswar’s Central Institute for Women in Agriculture to mark International Women’s Day.

2:00 pm
The Central Institute for Women in Agriculture belongs to the vast network that makes up the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. As we enter the large building housing the institute, we’re immediately shown to the director’s office. Jatinder Kishtwaria is waiting for us and serves us chai and an assortment of India’s milk-based sweets. We introduce ourselves and enquire about her institute’s programs, which, she explains, she herself is just getting to know as she took up her position just 20 days previously. After 20 minutes or so, we thank her and begin to make polite noises about taking our leave.

As our host walks us out her door, we catch something she says about a ‘program’. We dutifully follow her down a hallway and enter a large conference room filled with people seated, where, it quickly transpires, the senior members of our little delegation have been made honoured guests at an event about to start. The Smiths and Alok Jha are handed bouquets of flowers and shown to their seats on the raised dais at the front, along with the other speakers on what, we now understand, is a whole afternoon’s program marking International Women’s Day.


Jimmy Smith, Alok Jha and Charmaine Smith all made impromptu speeches at an event held on 8 Mar 2016 celebrating International Women’s Day at the Central Institute for Women in Agriculture, in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.

The afternoon’s proceedings could not have been more delightful, nor we more delighted to be taking part. Jimmy Smith, Alok Jha and Charmaine Smith each gave a little impromptu speech (Jha noting that ‘Every day should be International Women’s Day!’). One of the women who spoke received an award for her agricultural entrepreneurship. Several staff of the institute recounted the history of women in Indian agriculture, what the institute had achieved in working for them, and how far the world had advanced in helping agricultural women advance. And how much remained to be done.

At the close of the program, we leave the conference room to take chai, consumed with a box of milk sweets, while chatting with the other guests and taking in several special exhibits and poster displays.


(Top) Nehru quote hung above an office door at CIWA; (bottom left) Jatinder Kishtwariathe, director of CIWA, reflects on the day with ILRI’s Charmaine Smith; (top right) two of the many women guests at the event; (centre right), the CIWA staff member who was master of ceremonies at the event; (bottom right) the woman bestowed an award for her agricultural entrepreneurship .

Among the exhibits set up were several tables displaying small replicas of agricultural implements designed to reduce the labour or danger of farm work traditionally done by women in India. While inspiring to see that such improvements are being made, and that the prices of the tools are subsidized by the government to make them more affordable by poor women, it also broke the heart a bit to see how rudimentary are the advances and how heavy remains the menial load and drudgery work of India’s hundreds of millions of farm women.


As Nehru so rightly indicated, it is the women of India who, once on the move, will get the nation moving. Certainly, we met some of these ‘Wonder Women’ of Bhubaneswar on this auspicious day.

With many thanks to Jatinder Kishtwaria and her colleagues at ICAR’s Central Institute for Women in Agriculture for the great work they are doing and for their inspiring afternoon’s event.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.

Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2016

View all photos of the ILRI delegation in Bhubaneswar: ILRI Flickr album.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.




2016 Science Forum: Rethinking agricultural pathways to inclusive development


This painting, ‘Garden in the Sky’, 1973, is by Helen Frankenthaler (1950–2011), an American abstract expressionist, as are all the other paintings on this page (via Wikiart).

Next week (12–14 Apr 2016), the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC), a standing panel of leading scientific experts working to strengthen the quality, relevance and impact of CGIAR science for development, holds its annual Science Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In the lead up to the 2016 Science Forum, the topic of which is ‘Agricultural research for rural prosperity: Rethinking the pathways’, steering committee members and invited speakers answered a few questions related to the Forum’s focus on agricultural research pathways to inclusive rural development. Below are excerpts of their responses. You’ll find all the responses on the SF2016 blog site.

The objective of the 2016 Science Forum is to rethink the pathways for agricultural research to stimulate inclusive development of rural economies in an era of climate change. The Forum will . . . suggest an updated list of priority research areas and approaches which involve more strategic and inclusive engagement with partners.


‘Orange Downpour’, 1963.

Baba Yusuf Abubakar, executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria
The ARC is an umbrella organization of 15 research institutes and 11 agricultural colleges comprising some 12,000 staff. Abubakar is a member of the CGIAR Fund Council and a Cornell graduate in animal breeding and genetics.

One of the essential elements for delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is prosperity; that is to grow a strong inclusive & transformative economy. We know that achieving this goal is very complex . . . .

In developing countries, we must . . .  renew efforts at improving agricultural systems for inclusive growth through increase in productivity of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, better rural infrastructure, innovative farming practices and more effective natural resource management.

We need, as a game changer, increased investment in R4D. . . . [A] cross-sectoral approach is key through the involvement of farmers and all stakeholders along the value chain of actors.

The challenge is to produce more and better food with fewer resources through technological innovation.


‘A Little Zen’, 1970.

Ruth Meinzen-Dick, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Meinzen-Dick has coordinated the CGIAR Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi), which works with all CGIAR centres, since 1996.

I was glad to see the emphasis on inclusive development and am concerned that focusing on ‘prosperity’ should not take attention away from the need to pay attention to the poor and marginalized.

Creating prosperity for some is relatively easy; inclusive development is harder, but more meaningful.

An important way to achieve that is to strengthen assets, especially rights to resources for those who depend on those resources, including not only farmers but also pastoralists, fishers, forest communities, and women within those communities in particular. Assets are especially important because they create the basis for sustainable improvements in not only productivity but also welfare.


‘What Red Lines Can Do’, 1970.

Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head of 2020 Vision and chief of staff at the International Food Policy Research Institute
With her colleague David Spielman, Pandya-Lorch led a project on ‘Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development’, which identified and examined major successes in agricultural development and drew out the lessons they offered to substantially reduce hunger.

Greater rural prosperity looks like better fed, well-nourished people with decent, remunerative jobs who are able to withstand and bounce back from shocks.

To achieve greater rural prosperity, we must continue to invest in agriculture but also move beyond this focus to include investments in better nutrition and health, in social protection, in management of natural resources, in other words, in resilience.

Millions Fed examined pathways to success in six different areas: intensifying staple food production; integrating people and the environment; expanding the role of markets; diversifying out of major cereals; reforming economy-wide policies; and improving food quality and human nutrition.


‘Living Edge’, 1973.

S Mahendra Dev, director and vice chancellor of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
Dev has written or edited 12 books, including the recently published Inclusive Growth in India: Agriculture, Poverty, and Human Development, and is a board member of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Within agriculture, we should move towards non-cereals like pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables and to allied activities like livestock, poultry and fisheries.

Studies show that countries lose 2 to 3% of GDP due to malnutrition. Similarly one dollar investment in improving child and maternal nutrition can give returns of $20 to $30.

The rural non-farm sector should be developed because agricultural incomes are not sufficient to reduce poverty in rural areas. . . . Sometimes the solution for agriculture may lie in non-agriculture.

The green revolution helped Asian agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s. We should extend the green revolution to African agriculture. But, we should go beyond the green revolution and have climate-resilient agriculture.


‘A Green Thought in a Green Shade’, 1981.

George Bigirwa, head of the regional team for East and Southern Africa at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
Bigirwa worked for Uganda’s national research system for 23 years, contributing to the development and release of maize and rice varieties now popularly grown in Uganda and neighbouring countries.

[Agriculture] is a major engine for overall economic growth and possibly the single most important pathway out of poverty in the rural space.

In Africa, almost 75% of the population is engaged in agriculture and if one is to uplift their standard of living, the interventions have to be through agriculture.

Gone are the days when researchers would design interventions on their own and hand them over to end-users to implement or adopt.


‘Southern Exposure’, 2005.

Peter Carberry, deputy director general for research at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
Before his recent CGIAR appointment, Carberry served as chief research scientist in Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Farmers produce, consume and sell commodities; the currency of markets are commodities; the pathways for agricultural development are largely built on commodity value chains and markets. Hence, rural prosperity looks like farmers producing, consuming and, critically, benefiting from selling their cereal, legume, livestock, cash crop and wood commodities into functional and developing value chains and markets.

The impressive performance of Australian dryland agriculture has been achieved through innovation, based on research leading to technology development and adoption. . . . Australia shares the same climate, soils and agro-ecology as much of the developing world where agricultural livelihoods need to improve.

Australian farming is unsubsidized, conducted on fragile soils and in one of the most variable climates in the world.


‘Weather Change’, 1963.

Fentahun Mengistu, director general of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research
Mengistu previously served as director of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Research Stations and director general of Amhara State Agricultural Research Institute.

[M]odern biosciences can help achieve higher yields with fewer resources and less impact on human and environmental health.

[M]ethodologies of today [will] be insufficient for the future. With the new speed of change and diversified portfolio of small-scale farmers, targeting a single problem will be inadequate.

Future research [will] need to address multiple challenges at a time. Therefore systems research is increasingly needed with the collective action of many disciplines and institutions at various fronts.


‘Wind Directions’, 1970.

Kei Otsuka, professor at Kobe University and Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
Otsuka serves on the Global Rice Science Partnership oversight committee and has published books on the Asian and African green revolutions.

I believe that we should support Green Revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly for maize and rice. In addition to ‘seed-fertilizer technology’, ‘improved management practices’ are important. But the latter aspect has been largely neglected in CGIAR research.

For rice, transferability of Asian technology is high, so that what is important is to strengthen extension. For maize, farming system research, which seeks the best combination of manure and chemical fertilizer application, intercropping between maize and legumes, hybrid seeds, the use of improved cows, and production of feed crops, needs to be done.

More collaboration between CIMMYT and ILRI is clearly needed.


‘Harbinger’, 1986.

Tom Tomich, founding director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and inaugural holder of the WK Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California at Davis
Tomich directs the UC statewide Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and serves on a number of committees and boards, including the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council.

No country—putting aside city states—has achieved prosperity without growth in productivity in multiple sectors (agriculture, industry, services) and in fact for many countries this growth process has been mutually reinforcing. So while agricultural productivity does play a central role, agriculture cannot do the job alone. Equally important regarding prosperity, which includes elimination of the interrelated scourges of mass poverty and chronic hunger, history also indicates that equity of distribution of these gains is essential.

Since at least the 1990s—and certainly now with manifestations of impacts of climate change already apparent, it is clear we cannot think of the path to prosperity as assured—the sustainability and resilience of the food system (and our economies and societies more generally) must also be considered. Vulnerability of the food system to climate change is one of several interacting sources of uncertainty that means we also need to consider the wellbeing of people together with health of ecosystems.

To me, the big realization of the transition from the late 20th into the early 21st century has been that human activities are the primary driver of change (for better or worse) in the Earth’s life support systems, including our food systems, and we need to take seriously the strategically important system feedbacks (epitomized by climate change, but also by a nexus like climate x energy x water) as the foundations of sustainable prosperity in the 21st Century.


‘Sunshine after Rain’, 1987.

More information
Read the full interviews of these experts, all of whom will speak at the Science Forum next week, on the Science Forum 2016 blog.

‘One Health for the Real World’ (or, ‘real livestock for real global wellbeing’)


The four members of the organizing committee of the One Health for the Real World Symposium and key players in the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium: (left to right), James Wood, University of Cambridge; Andrew Cunningham, Zoological Society of London; Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies; and Melissa Leach, Institute of Development Studies (this and all photos on this page except the ILRI photo directly below of Annie Cook are via Flickr/ Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium).

This post is written by Annie Cook, post-doctoral scientist, ILRI

Annie Cook

One Health can be defined as the collaborative effort of several disciplines
to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment. 

The 27 speakers at a recent One Health for the Real World Symposium: Zoonoses, Ecosystems and Wellbeing make up a (very) respectable ‘who’s who’ in the world of One Health, which includes all those working to unite the knowledge, practices and approaches of medical, veterinary and environmental sciences for the healthy wellbeing of all three.

The symposium was held at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) 17–18 Mar 2016 and organized by ZSL and a three-year project called the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium (DDDAC). The symposium marked the culmination, and ending, of the consortium.

Twenty organizations, including the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), made up the Dynamic Drivers consortium, which from 2012 to 2015 coordinated research exploring the relations among African ecosystems and zoonotic diseases—those transmitted between animals and people—that impinge on ecosystem, human and animal wellbeing.

The ‘real world’ in the symposium’s title reflected the ambition of the consortium members to share their three years of research results not only with each other but also with the policymakers and practitioners who could make a real difference in advancing the One Health agenda.

Melissa Leach

Indeed, Melissa Leach, chair of the DDDAC and director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, stressed in her welcome address the importance of linking science and research to policy and practice. ‘Politics is key to moving forward on difficult One Health issues’, she said.

Professor Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust, gives the opening keynote presentation

Leach was followed by Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar, whose keynote presentation raised the bar even higher: ‘If we make the right choices, make the right connections, we can change the course of history’, Farrar argued. He also stressed that tackling today’s growing global health threats called not only for strong leadership but also for exceptional trust in such sensitive areas as disease surveillance and response, governance and data sharing.

One of the ‘right choices’ and ‘right connections’ that Farrar mentioned must be greater public understanding of, investment in, and policy focus on the transmission to humans of diseases originating in wild and domesticated animals. A remarkable 61% of all human pathogens, and 75% of new human pathogens such as those causing bird flu and HIV/AIDS, originate in animals. This ‘zoonotic’ thread (and threat), while often overlooked and under-appreciated in similar fora, happily was apparent in each of the following five major themes raised in the symposium’s subsequent keynotes and discussions.

View Farrar’s slide presentation: The real world: One Health—Zoonoses, ecosystems and wellbeing

1 Anthropogenic drivers of disease, including changes in land-use and human behaviour


Bernard Bett, a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI, presented a case study of the DDDAC program that investigated the effects of irrigation on levels of the virus causing Rift Valley fever in human blood serum. Rift Valley fever is an acute, fever-causing viral disease of domesticated animals, such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels, with ability to infect and cause illness, sometimes fatal, in humans. Bett’s study found that those living in irrigated areas had higher levels of antibodies to the pathogen than those in pastoralist areas. Preliminary results indicate sheep and goats from irrigated and riverine areas had higher rates of exposure to the Rift Valley fever virus than those from pastoral areas.  But because the results were statistically not significant, further research is required to determine the role of irrigation in acute human and animal infections with Rift Valley fever.

View Bett’s slide presentations: Irrigation and the risk of Rift Valley fever transmission—A case study from Kenya and A mathematical model for Rift Valley fever transmission dynamics

View Bett’s media interview: The hidden dangers of irrigation, SciDevNet, 22 Mar 2016

View Bett’s impact case stories: One Health working brings widespread Rift Valley fever out of the shadows and Protecting livestock and securing livelihoods during threats of epidemic

2 The need for an interdisciplinary approach to One Health research

David Waltner-Toews

Jakob Zinsstag, of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, emphasized the added value of integrating human and animal health approaches rather than allowing them to work in isolation. The knock-on effects of considering One Health problems in isolation was also stressed by David Waltner-Toews, of Veterinarians without Borders-Canada, who stated that ‘emerging infectious diseases are symptoms of related wicked problems embedded in complex social-ecological feedbacks’. A novel approach to considering One Health was raised by Jan Slingenbergh, a consulting animal health specialist formerly with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, who proposed a ‘global risk analysis framework’ similar to that developed to address global warming.

View Zinsstag’s slide presentation: Understanding zoonotic impacts: the added value from One Health approaches

3 The relationship between One Health and poverty


The keynote address for this theme was given by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and food safety specialist Delia Grace, who presented an in-depth review of the relationships among ecosystems, poverty and zoonoses. ‘Human sickness is a major cause of falling into and remaining in poverty and much of this is related to agriculture’, she said. This was further emphasized by Jo Sharp, of the University of Glasgow, in her presentation highlighting the catastrophic effects of ill health. Grace reported that misdiagnosis and underreporting were two big challenges in tackling emerging infectious diseases. She warned that ‘hurried responses to zoonoses are often anti-poor, causing more harm’. And she underlined how effective control can be: ‘Every dollar invested in brucellosis control returns six dollars in reduced burden’.

View Grace’s slide presentation: The economics of One Health

4 Should One Health research focus on emerging or endemic diseases?

Dr Peter Daszak, President, EcoHealth Alliance, keynote presentation

Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, highlighted drivers of emerging disease, such as land conversion, intensification of livestock production and wildlife trade, and the costs of controlling pandemic threats. He noted a false dichotomy between neglected tropical diseases and emerging diseases: ‘Emerging diseases become endemic diseases’, he said. Sarah Cleaveland, of the University of Glasgow, stressed the complementarities and gains ‘from adopting shared approaches to emerging and endemic diseases’. Endemic zoonoses and emerging zoonoses often have similar drivers, she said, but emerging zoonoses get more publicity. ‘Effective health systems for neglected endemic zoonoses will also help control emerging diseases.’

View Daszak’s slide presentation: Pre-empting the emergence of zoonoses by understanding their socio-ecology

5 The need to incorporate different perspectives into One Health research

Professor Bassirou Bonfoh , Director-General, Swiss Centre for Scientific Research, Cote d'Ivôire, keynote presentation

Bassirou Bonfoh, director general of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire, stressed the need to incorporate ‘different viewpoints, knowledge and expertise’ when designing health systems. Several presentations reiterated the need to incorporate the voices of different people; a commonly repeated phrase at the symposium was ‘whose knowledge counts?’ Hayley Macgregor, of the Institute of Development Studies, highlighted a danger in research: ‘People’s cultural logics or social practices are readily cast in negative terms’.

View Bonfoh’s slide presentation: Motivation, culture and health in a socio-ecological system in Africa

Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientist Adviser, DFID, gives the final keynote presentation

In the final keynote, Charlotte Watts, chief scientific advisor at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), argued that One Health approaches can be very effective for decision-makers facing a crisis. As an example, she listed the diverse options available for controlling the ongoing Zika outbreak using ecosystem, medical and veterinary scientific knowledge and technologies.

The final panel discussion, with representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), summarized the themes of the symposium’s discussions and introduced further relevant issues concerning biodiversity, conservation and animal welfare.

A highlight of the symposium were lively one-minute ‘flash talks’ by poster presenters. The 28 posters presented covered diverse topics, including many with a livestock focus, such as the following.
Kathryn Berger, of the University of Cambridge, presented a ‘Global atlas of animal influenza’ that can be used for surveillance and control programs.
Birungi Doreen, of Makerere University, pointed out that research on possible Ebola virus disease in pigs in Uganda had some negative impacts on the pork value chain in that country and required sensitizing stakeholders to reduce any harm such research could cause.
Natascha Meunier, of the Royal Veterinary College, showed that diseases transmitted from wildlife to cattle most likely occurred via indirect routes, particularly vector-borne disease transmissions.
Robin Wiess, of the University College London, reminded us that zoonosis is a two-ways street: Humans can be a source of infectious disease in animals. ‘Don’t forget the “anthroponoses!”’.

Kevin Bardosh

The symposium also included the launch of a book, One Health—Science, Politics and Zoonotic Disease in Africa, edited by Kevin Bardosh, which offers ‘a much-needed political economy analysis of zoonoses research and policy’.

The closing statement Melissa Leach stressed that One Health is not always comfortable integration. ‘As a social scientist, I see that One Health is about solving puzzles, dispelling bullshit, learning new things and making the future different’. Indeed, a recurring theme throughout the symposium was the need for a new generation of ‘multidisciplinary professionals’.

Ian Scoones

And there was a final plea from Ian Scoones, of the STEPS Centre and the Future Agricultures Consortium: ‘Let’s not make a new One Health discipline—yet another silo!’

The symposium was organized by the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium (DDDAC) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) with support from the Royal Society. The DDDAC is multidisciplinary research consortium funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) program, which works to ensure that developing-country ecosystems are sustainably managed to alleviate poverty alleviation as well as to support inclusive and sustainable growth.

Go here to find out more about ILRI research on zoonotic diseases and here for past ILRI news stories on One Health.

About the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium
The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium was an international, multidisciplinary research programme. From 2012 to 2016 it explored the relationships between ecosystems, zoonoses, health and wellbeing, focusing on four emerging or re-emerging zoonotic diseases in four diverse African ecosystems: henipavirus infection in Ghana, Rift Valley fever in Kenya, Lassa fever in Sierra Leone, and trypanosomiasis in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its innovative, holistic approach married the natural and social sciences to build an evidence base which is now informing global and national policy seeking effective, integrated One Health approaches to control and check disease outbreaks.

Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming

Milk cans and children in the doorway

Milk cans and children stand in the doorway of a dairy cooperative outside Karnal, Haryana, India (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 4: Building better brands and lives through
peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming

By Susan MacMillan and Jules Mateo,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
in March 2016 started in the city of Karnal, in the prosperous northern state of Haryana.

On the way

On our way to visit a village on the outskirts of Karnal, in Haryana, India, we passed several sights that told their own story. A kind of pious family food production, it appeared, constituted the very fabric of this place.

Haryana poultry unit

Haryana poultry unit

Poultry units outside Karnal, Haryana, India (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

First we passed a large poultry unit, not surprising in this state, which is known as the ‘poultry capital of India’.

This unit was raising 2,400 Kuroiler chickens (2000 females and 400 males), a popular hybrid dual-purpose meat and eggs breed developed in India in the 1990s. Compared to India’s native chickens, these multi-coloured birds, which live on a diet of kitchen and agricultural waste, grow bigger (3.5kg vs 1kg for males and 2.5kg vs 0.9kg for females) and lay more eggs (150 versus 40 per year). Kuroiler eggs fetch 20 Indian rupees versus just 5 rupees for eggs of unimproved native breeds.

Indian dairy farming family

Indian milkman

(Top) A dairy farm family transports rice straw to their dairy animals; (bottom) a man transports milk to a collection point (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Then we passed a family transporting rice straw and green fodder by bullock cart from their farm plot to their house in the village, one kilometre away, where they keep their dairy animals. This family told us that the three-year-old bullock pulling the cart cost them 5,000 rupees (about 75 US dollars). Coming in the other direction was a man on a motorcycle transporting morning milk he had collected from several farms and was taking to the local village collection point. All of them kindly stopped so that we could take their pictures.

Hindu devotees carry decorated floats on an annual pilgrimmage to a Maha Shivaratri festival to honour Lord Shiva

Hindu devotees carry decorated floats on an annual pilgrimmage to a Maha Shivaratri festival to honour Lord Shiva (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Finally, we passed several colourful processions of groups walking along the road carrying elaborately decorated floats on their way to a Lord Shiva festival.

The Mahashivaratri Festival (‘The Night of Shiva’) falls on the moonless 14th night of the Hindu month of Phalgun (Feb or Mar in the English calendar), marking, one legend goes, the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati, when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of primal creation, preservation and destruction.

Devotees observe a strict 24-hour fast, wake early to take a ritual bath in the Ganga or other source of holy water and put on fresh new clothes. Then they walk in groups to the nearest Shiva temple carrying pots of the holy water with which to bathe the Shiva ‘lingam’ every three hours along with the five sacred offerings of a cow, called the ‘panchagavya’—milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. The five foods of immortality—milk, ghee, curd, honey and sugar—are placed before the lingam along with flowers and incense. Amidst chanting and ringing of temple bells, large numbers will keep a sleepless vigil throughout the night, telling stories, meditating and singing hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. On the following morning, they will break their fast by partaking of prasad offered to the deity.

Those who fast on this night and offer prayers to Lord Shiva, it’s believed, bring good luck into their lives.

In the village

About a half an hour’s drive from the National Dairy Research Institute, we arrive at the village of Nagla Roran. With its immaculately clean, paved streets, tidy homes, electricity and other infrastructure, including farm machinery strewn casually about the place, it more resembles a farm town than farm village.

Sanjiv, Karnal village dairy entrepreneur

Mishti Farmer Producer Co, Ltd, with Agribusiness Centre

Sanjiv (above) and his signboard in his dairy agribusiness centre office in Nagla Roran (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

We first visit the office of an enterprising youngish man called Sanjiv, who runs a cooperative providing improved forage seed and cattle feed to 230 village dairy producers. Rice, maize, wheat, barley, gram, mustard, cotton and sugarcane are some of the major crops cultivated here, alongside the raising of dairy and other animals.

Buffalo cow

Two deluxe agricultural models on display in the village (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Sanjiv represents the third generation of his family to run a dairy business and provide agribusiness services. Dairy enterprises, he says, are great ‘value-added’ opportunities for small-scale farmers and are helping to close the gap between urban and rural livelihoods.


Sanjiv, his daughter Mishti, and the Mishti products his dairy enterprise is producing (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

In the home

Sanjiv's mother, who insisted in keeping the family cows in the family business

Sanjiv’s mother, with one of her cows (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Next Sanjiv takes us to his home in the village, where his mother keeps her dairy animals.

Dairy businesses have raised living standards in the village, Sanjiv says. (All the adults now have cell phones, he points out, and most households have more than one television set.)


Scenes of Sanjiv’s household (ILRI/Susan MacMillan and Jules Mateo).

Three years ago, at the birth of his daughter Mishti, Sanjiv considered starting a non-dairy business but his mother refused to stop keeping her herd of milk cows and buffaloes, and so he undertook training at the Business Planning & Development Unit of the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), in nearby Karnal, and began building up businesses that add value to the milk his mother’s cows produce.

Sanjiv and his daughter Mishti, after whom he branded his dairy products

Sanjiv and his three-year-old daughter Mishti, after whom he named his dairy products (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Sanjiv has branded his products ‘Mishti’ in honour of his (admittedly adorable) daughter.

On the farm

But that’s not all. Not satisfied with just processing dairy products and serving his community with various dairy agribusinesses, Sanjiv has started a new venture: highly integrated, conservation-friendly livestock-mushroom farming. He proudly shows us how it all works, how every natural resource is used, how absolutely nothing is wasted. He is obviously proud of how all his knowledge, and that of so many ‘best practices’ in mixed farming and agribusiness, are coming together under his direction here.

So, not a small village, or small ambitions, after all. Sanjiv and his family and his village are moving forward and moving fast. I leave them just hoping that our advanced agricultural research can mange to keep up with them.


Sanjiv’s closely integrated livestock-mushroom farming operations (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

With many thanks to our guide for the morning, Ajay Kumar Yadev, of the National Dairy Research Institute, in Karnal.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India

 Milk cans

Milk cans in Karnal, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the third in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—
Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India

By Susan MacMillan and Jules Mateo,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
in March 2016 started in the city of Karnal, in the prosperous northern state of Haryana.

Dairy shop owner Balinder Kumar with customers
Dairy shop owner Balinder Kumar (right) with customer (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Meet Balinder Kumar, proprietor of the Surta Dairy Shop, one of hundreds if not thousands of such small shops in the city of Karnal, in India’s northern state of Haryana. Every street in this city of nearly 300,000 people is reported to have at least 3 to 4 dairy shops. Here, in India’s most famous dairy city, where the famed National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) is based, milk-based foods are the foundation of every meal.

Six months ago, Mr Kumar was a farmer trying to make a living off the milk he sold from his dozen buffalo cows and 15 dairy cows. It was hard to make a profit selling milk, so he opened a dairy shop in the city to sell fresh milk, curd, butter, cheese, milk sweets and other dairy products. His wife and mechanical engineer brother are his partners, his wife tending the animals kept in a nearby village farm and his brother helping him upgrade and maintain his farm and shop equipment.


Curds (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

With the help of staff at NDRI, Mr Kumar got training in milk product processing and purchased a multi-purpose dairy machine, costing 55,000 Indian rupees (about 950 US dollars), with which he now makes a variety of products in the back of his shop.

He opens his shop daily at 7am and does a brisk business all day selling fresh milk, curds (dahi, made by adding an acidic component such as lime juice or vinegar to curdle the milk and then filtering the solids from the whey), paneer (after draining the curds in muslin or cheesecloth and pressing out the excess water, the resulting paneer is dipped in chilled water for 2–3 hours to improve its texture and appearance), yoghurt (produced by bacterial fermentation of milk), lassi (a sweet or savoury blend of yogurt, water, spices and sometimes, fruit), ice cream, butter (made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk, to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk), ghee (a form of clarified butter prepared by simmering butter churned from cream and removing the liquid residue), and more.

 Multipurpose processing machine

Mr Kumar’s multi-purpose milk processing machine (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Like most dairy products in India today, Mr Kumar’s products are unbranded. Reputations here are still made (and unmade) by word of mouth. And until recent years, most of these products were still made in the home, and mostly by women. But as India modernizes, and more and more people move to the cities and find employment, there is more and more demand for lightly processed milk-based foods supplied by neighbourhood shops like Mr Kumar’s.

More and more people are too busy to make curds and other dairy products themselves, so they come to my shop and others like it every day to buy their milk foods.
—Balinder Kumar

As milk is the basis of the diets of most people here, that means good business for Mr Kumar. And as the country’s population and appetite for dairy grows, so will his business.


Surta Dairy Shop in Karnal, Haryana, India (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

It’s obvious on our visit to his shop, called Surta Dairy (named after Mr Kumar’s father, Surta Singh), that Mr Kumar’s reputation is as solid as his new business. Asked if he is happy that he made the large investment in his multi-purpose dairy machine, Mr Kumar nods emphatically. While he was making little profit selling his surplus milk to middle men along the dairy value chain in his peri-urban village, he said, the added-value products he’s now selling in his urban dairy shop are generating a relatively large, and growing, profit for him and his extended family.


Surta Dairy Shop collage (ILRI/Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan).

With many thanks to our guide for the morning, Ajay Singh, a graduate student in the Dairy Technology Department of the National Dairy Research Institute, in Karnal.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

Serious rain: East Africa’s annual Easter resurrection

Story by Susan MacMillan.


Boys with their goats in the rain in Kenya (ILRI/Stevie Mann).

3 April 2016: Loresho, Nairobi suburb
Exactly four days following Easter Sunday this year, the ‘long rains’ arrived in Nairobi, watering the earth, flooding the streets, pounding the rooftops. All night that night, and all night the following nights, the kusi monsoon, blowing inland from across the Indian Ocean, has delivered the beating rain. People dutifully acknowledge this annual East African event, one that seven of every ten East Africans relies on to feed themselves and their families. One that, memorably, on occasion fails to transpire.


A livestock carcass in Kenya, following prolonged drought (Neil Palmer/CIAT).

One year the long rains failed. That is a terrible tremendous experience, and the farmer who has lived through it will never forget it. Years afterwards, away from Africa, in the wet climate of a Northern country, he will start up at night, at the sound of a sudden shower of rain, and cry, ‘At last, at last!’
— Isak Dineson, Out of Africa

15 March 1997: Kinangop, Kenya

Three million people living in areas of the northern, coastal and other low lands of Kenya have been affected by a failure of the annual short rains last October/November, which follow­ed two consecu­tive failures of the annual long (March–May) rains—FAO, 1997

The air is thick, polluted with a haze of smoke from fires burning out of con­trol for the last several weeks in the Aberdares and on Mount Kenya. Zebra stand motionless under thorn trees. Unusual. We are in a dry season in Kenya. Some are calling it a drought. For some it’s been a famine. In the back-country of Machakos District and the remote north­ern frontier, people have died for lack of food. Two boys in Ukambani were reported to have dug up a bur­­ied dog, eaten it and then died themselves. Old people and children are, as always, most vulner­able to calamity. And animals. Across the country, tens of thousands of them have lain down on the hard­pan to die for lack of water and grass.

In the vast drylands of Kenya, the food disappeared soon after the grass. Nairobi shops begin to run out of milk and butter in January. In March, a sand dune is born on either side of the main road west of the capital. Cars on dirt roads plough through dust a foot thick. An abandoned truck lies buried to its axles in a dust drift. People walking along the road are entirely obscured by fine dust our vehicle spins into the air as we make our way to Lake Nai­vasha for the weekend. A Thompson’s gazelle running across the powdered surface of the earth kicks up a cloud of haze that hangs for minutes in the air.

In the meantime, clouds in the sky are moving eastwards from the great lakes of Central Africa and massing over the Rift Valley. The clouds turn dark early mornings and late after­noons. Big winds rise suddenly. To people like me, this spells an end to the dry season. To the farmers in this part of the world, the changed skyscape tells little. Clouds don’t mean rain above the grasslands of the Rift. Rain here doesn’t necessarily mean rain, either. A driz­zle, a few showers, some rainy days — these go unmentioned. As though they never happened.

On a cattle ranch at the foot of the Kinangop Escarp­ment, above Naivasha, a few drops of rain fall. I look up, close my eyes, spread my arms and call out to the others. RAIN! An old-timer looks down at her feet and turns away.

What these farmers are waiting for — what their ways of life depend on — is serious rain. Tropical rain that rains through the night, that hammers the iron-corrugated roofs of home­steads, that splashes into tin gutters and pours out onto the cracked earth. Sheets of rain that turn dirt streets into mud, that bring cattle into still huddles, heads down. Noisy rain that drowns out the world for hours at a time. Such liberation doesn’t come from displays like mine at the fall of a few rain drops.

Serious rain here is called the rains. Every tribe and culture that inhabits the East Afri­ca savannas treats the arrival of the rains as a blessing. Children born in the rains and young couples married in the rains are doubly blessed. With the arrival of the rains, the voices of people on country roads rise. The forms of everything in nature — people, cows, birds, dik-dik, thorn scrub — stiffen a little. Alert, expectant. Listen when the rain stops, when the birds begin to chirp and the sun reappears, and you’ll hear the sound of dormant seeds germin­ating, of grasses sprouting and sap rising — of a vast store of energy being released. A great moment is in the making: the food cycle is about to begin again.


Kenya schoolboy enjoying the rain (Flickr/Viktor Dobai).

29–30 March 1997: Karen, Nairobi suburb
9:30 PM: A window is open. We’re watching a video. We smell wet on pavement before we hear it fall. The splats of fat drops hitting leaves and tree trunks and the sides of the house. Then the unspeakably sweet sound of steady rain. A wetting rain. A rain that will penetrate the ground, soften the earth, prepare it for the heavier rains to follow.

10:30 PM: We open sliding doors in the living room, step onto the veranda and breath in. The rain has stopped. Lightening flashes. Between claps of thunder, a chorus of amphibian and insect life, outrageously loud, rises and falls in rhythmic succession. ‘A bit of rain sure stirs things up,’ my husband says.

11:30 PM: Later, in bed, a steady rain starts up again. The frogs and insects must have known this (how do they know this?) — that that first fall of rain was the beginning of serious rain. That it will rain tonight all night long. We fall asleep in a cool room, as fresh as the breeze on our faces.

6:30 AM: We awake as the rain finally stops, just before light. Somewhere in the night the frogs and cicada ended their revelry. Excited birds now make their own racket in the garden. Well under way by dawn on this Easter Sunday morning is the resurrection that occurs every year in this country with the arrival of the long rains.

But when the earth answered like a sounding-board in a deep fertile roar, and the world sang round you in all dimensions — all above and below — that was the rain. It was like coming back to the sea, when you have been a long time away from it, like a lover’s embrace.
— Isak Dineson, Out of Africa


Head of sandstone buddha in the bodhi tree roots at Mahathat temple, Ayutthaya, Thailand (Kat Nienartowicz).

20 April 1997: Karen, Nairobi suburb
I work in an upstairs study, at a desk facing a window that looks onto a fig tree. In this last month of rains, the tree has sprout­ed shiny leathery leaves the colour of lime-green. At the bases of the leaves, figs the size and shape of big peas grow in tight clusters.

A dozen yellow-vented bulbuls, a streaky mix of black and yellow green, are sitting in the tree this morning, at my eye level. I watch as the birds peck at the ripe figs, breaking a hole through the outer skin, then working the hole until it becomes a slit that unhinges to reveal a brownish nutty-looking pulp within. From somewhere in the tree a black-headed (bright yellow) oriole produces a melodi­ous liquid whistle. A pair of paradise fly-catchers, long-tailed and chestnut-coloured, swoop through the branches to catch insects gorging on the newly exposed pulp. Dropped and disembowelled fruits lie scattered across the driveway. Bats will feed on these wild figs tonight. So will vervet monkeys, baboons, hyrax and other small animals I never see.

The fig tree is still common in Nairobi gardens. The ‘strangler fig’, which begins its life in the fork of a host tree, which it embraces and ultimately kills with its aerial roots in their downward stretch for earth, provides shade even in the middle of the dry season. Known as Mugumu in Kikuyu, this fig tree is a gathering point for communities and is widely regarded in East Africa as the sacred home of ancestral spirits. Five centuries before the birth of Jesus, Gautama Buddha is reported to have been sitting under a fig tree — I imagine an enormous Indian Banyan of the strang­ler type — when he attained enlightenment, entering that state of perfect illumination that reportedly exists beyond passion, suffering and existence itself.

This story was originally published originally on Medium, 3 Apr 2016:
View story at

Reverse vaccinology identifies candidates for an improved vaccine against cattle pneumonia in Africa


Untitled artwork by Cuban artist Alfredo Sosabravo.

‘Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides (Mmm) is the causative agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), a devastating respiratory disease mainly affecting cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. The current vaccines are based on live-attenuated Mmm strains and present problems with temperature stability, duration of immunity and adverse reactions, thus new vaccines are needed to overcome these issues.

‘We used a reverse vaccinology approach to identify 66 Mmm potential vaccine candidates. The selection and grouping of the antigens was based on the presence of specific antibodies in sera from CBPP-positive animals. The antigens were used to immunize male Boran cattle (Bos indicus) followed by a challenge with the Mmm strain Afadé.

‘Two of the groups immunized with five proteins each showed protection after the Mmm challenge (Groups A and C; P < 0.05) and in one group (Group C) Mmm could not be cultured from lung specimens. A third group (Group N) showed a reduced number of animals with lesions and the cultures for Mmm were also negative. While immunization with some of the antigens conferred protection, others may have increased immune-related pathology.’

This is the first report that Mmm recombinant proteins have been successfully used to formulate a prototype vaccine and these results pave the way for the development of a novel commercial vaccine.

ILRI co-author of this paper Joerg Jores makes the following remarks about this success.

‘The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) granted the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) a research project to develop a subunit vaccine for CBPP. This project developed successfully and resulted in identification of proteins for a candidate vaccine (Perez Casal et al, 2015, Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology).

‘At the moment it is not known whether the duration of protection and the efficacy elicited by the recombinant proteins identified are superior to that of the T1/44 live vaccine. A second phase funding from IDRC for VIDO and KALRO will devote efforts to improve and refine the current cocktail subunit vaccine. A subunit vaccine will overcome the need for a cold chain.

‘My ILRI colleague Anne Liljander and I employed ‘reverse vaccinology’—which uses bioinformatics to screen the entire genome of a pathogen to find genes likely to induce protective immune responses in the host animal—to identify 38 Mycoplasma antigens of potential interest (Perez Casal et al, 2015, Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology). The antigen-encoding genes have been codon optimized, cloned in an expression vector and transferred to VIDO-KALRO.  Two groups of cattle each receiving 5 recombinant antigens showed significant levels of protection compared to the control group. Eight of the 10 of the antigens in the two pools found to be protective were identified by us using the reverse vaccinology approach.’


Graphic from Journal of Clinical Bioinformatics.

Genomics-based antigen selection using reverse vaccinology
‘The reverse approach to vaccine development takes advantage of the recent breakthrough in complete genome sequencing of many bacteria, parasites and viruses. The genome sequence provides a catalogue of all protein antigens that the pathogen can express at any time. Reverse vaccinology is based on in silico prediction of vaccine antigen candidates using the genetic sequence rather than the pathogen itself. This approach allows not only the identification of all antigens seen by conventional methods, but also the discovery of novel antigens that might be less abundant, not expressed in vitro, or less immunogenic during infection that are likely to be missed by conventional approaches (Table 3.1.1). In theory, all genes of a pathogen can be tested without any bias in a high-throughput system to screen for protective immunity.’—Sylvie Bertholet, Steven G Reed and Rino Rappuoli, from Ch 3.1: ‘Reverse vaccinology’, in The Art & Science of Tuberculosis Vaccine Development, 2nd edition.

Read the whole science paper (behind a paywall), Recombinant Mycoplasma mycoides proteins elicit protective immune responses against contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, by Isabel Nkandoa (Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation [KALRO]), Jose Perez-Casal (Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization—International Vaccine Centre [VIDO-InterVac]), Martin Mwirigi (KALRO), Tracy Prysliak (VIDO-InterVac), Hugh Townsend (VIDO-InterVac), Emil Berberov (VIDO-InterVac), Joseph Kuria (University of Nairobi), John Mugambi (KALRO), Reuben Soi (KALRO), Anne Liljander (ILRI), Joerg Jores (ILRI), Volker Gerdts, Andrew Potter (VIDO-InterVac), Jan Naessens (ILRI), Hezron Wesonga (KALRO), published in Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, Vol 171, Mar 2016.

Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute



Shrestha, the world’s first cloned buffalo bull, in his holding pen at India’s National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the second in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India‘.

By Jules Mateo,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
earlier this month started in the prosperous northern state of Haryana,
at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI),
located in the city of Karnal.

Shrestha, a spirited buffalo bull, greeted Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), with a low grunt during a visit Smith and his delegation recently made at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), India’s pre-eminent dairy research centre, located in the northern city of Karnal and the prosperous state of Haryana.

Curious about his visitors and eager to play (or perhaps to attack, it was hard to tell), the six-year-old Shrestha did not stand still for a second in his holding pen. Jet black and weighing something like 550 kilos, Shrestha, which means ‘most excellent’ or ‘noble’ in Sanskrit, is no ordinary domesticated water buffalo. He is the world’s first cloned Murrah buffalo bull.

Cloning research

Buffalo bull Shrestha is a Murrah, a high milk-yielding breed (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

The largest member of the Bovini tribe, which includes yak, bison, wild African buffalo and various species of wild cattle, the water (or Asian) buffalo is a formidable animal. These animals carry enormous backward-curving, crescent-shaped and deeply ridged horns stretching close to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long in males.

Domesticated for more than 5,000 years, water buffalo have buttressed humanity’s survival with their meat, horns, hides, milk, butterfat, and power, plowing and transporting people and crops.—National Geographic

The Murrah is a breed of domestic water buffalo kept for dairy production. It originated from Punjab and Haryana states of India and has been used to improve the milk production of dairy buffalo in India and many other countries. Of the 13 buffalo breeds in India, the Murrah is the most sought after. Acknowledged as the best ‘breed-improver’, its gene pool now extends across the globe in South Asia, South America, Mexico and West Asia.

Researchers at NDRI, a major partner of ILRI’s, produced the world’s first cloned buffalo in 2009 using an ‘advanced hand-guided cloning technique’ and a donor cell from a foetus. In total, NDRI has produced more than a dozen cloned milch animals, including Swarupa, a female calf cloned from Karan-Kirti, the highest milk-producing Murrah buffalo at NDRI farm, and Apurva, a female calf cloned using somatic cells isolated from urine. Both female calves were born in 2015.


At NDRI’s experimental dairy production farm (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

As previously reported in the Times of India, ‘NDRI director AK Srivastava hoped that the technology could go a long way in multiplying the number of best milch buffaloes in the country. “India has world’s largest population of buffaloes, which contribute about 55% of the total milk production in the country but even then there is an urgent need to enhance the population of elite buffaloes as their number is very small,” he said.’


The ILRI delegation tours the impressive animal facilities at NDRI (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

According to AK Srivastava and MS Chauhan, a principal scientist at NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre, the NDRI experimental and dairy processing units also take pride in related advanced research achievements, such as the expression of the human insulin gene in buffalo mammary epithelial cells for production of insulin to treat diabetes and the expression of the human lactoferrin gene in goats for production of human lactoferrin to treat diarrhea, intestinal ulcers and other digestive problems.

Animal science laboratory

An animal science laboratory at NDRI (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The dairy institute has many other practical achievements to boast of. It has, for example, developed a model that identifies heat stress in Murrah buffaloes and assesses how that stress affects the animal’s reproduction and it has been granted patents for an improved process for preparing milk cake and for a kit that detects detergent in milk. Here is a more complete list of the major achievements of NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre alone.)


The ILRI delegation tours NDRI’s advanced research into milk/dairy processing (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

NDRI operates under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which is based in New Delhi. With more than 10,000 scientific and technical staff working at 101 ICAR institutes and 71 agricultural universities across the country, ICAR is one of the largest national agricultural systems in the world.


NDRI’s museum-cum-farm for livestock feed and fodder varieties (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

NDRI’s research programs focus on dairy production, processing and management as well as dairy research, training and extension. Specifically, the research institute concentrates on improving dairy animal genetics, dairy production systems and dairy cow productivity (via improved feeds and animal nutrition), as well as producing nutraceuticals (probiotics, prebiotics, micronutrients) in milk, adding value to traditional milk products (via new processes, biotechnologies, etc.) and ensuring quality control in dairy enterprises.


An NDRI dedicated facility for cow and buffalo semen (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

NDRI and ILRI are currently identifying areas for collaboration in dairy research and animal biosciences as part of a three-year (2015–18) ICAR-ILRI work plan. The research areas identified include animal breeding and health, food safety, zoonotic disease control, feed and fodder improvements and enhanced livestock value chains, as well as work to further develop and expand India’s already large capacity in livestock research for development.

With animal breeding already selected as one of the joint focus areas, the collaborative cloning of another ‘noble’ animal might one day be in the cards.


Portrait of one of NDRI’s many well-kept animals (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Read Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016, in this blog series: ‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.