Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–‘greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’

At OIE, ILRI's Jeff Mariner and others responsible for the eradication of rinderpest

At the 79th General Session of the United Nations World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in Paris in May 2011, ILRI’s Jeff Mariner (second from right) stands among a group of distinguished people heading work responsible for the eradication of rinderpest, a status officially declared at this meeting (image credit: OIE).

Several world bodies are celebrating what is being described as ‘the greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’: the eradication of only the second disease from the face of the earth.

The disease is rinderpest, which means ‘cattle plague’ in German. It kills animals by a virus—and people by starving them through massive losses of their livestock.

‘In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,’ reports the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ‘the disease devastated parts of Africa, triggering extensive famines. . . . After decades of efforts to stamp out a disease that kept crossing national borders, countries and institutions agreed they needed to coordinate their efforts under a single, cohesive programme. In 1994, the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) was established at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in close association with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

‘Excellent science, a massive vaccination effort, close international coordination and the commitment of people at all levels have helped make rinderpest eradication possible.

‘On June 28, 2011, FAO’s governing Conference will adopt a resolution officially declaring that rinderpest has been eradicated from animals worldwide. The successful fight against rinderpest underscores what can be achieved when communities, countries and institutions work together.’

Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty

Australian Peter Doherty, 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine who served on the board of trustees of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), a predecessor of  ILRI (photo credit: published on the Advance website).

Australian Peter Doherty, an immunologist who is the only veterinarian to win the Nobel Prize, for Physiology or Medicine, in 1996, and who served as chair of the board of trustees research program of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), a predecessor of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is attending the FAO ceremonies this week. In an interview with FAO, he said:

Vaccine research is currently a very dynamic area of investigation and with sufficient investment and the enthusiastic participation of industry partners at the “downstream” end, we can achieve even better vaccines against many veterinary and human diseases.

The Washington Post in May reported that ‘the World Organization for Animal Health, at its annual meeting in Paris on Wednesday, accepted documentation from the last 14 countries that they were now free of rinderpest. The organization, which goes by its French acronym, OIE, was started in 1924 in response to a rinderpest importation in Europe.

‘The most recent recorded outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001. Much of the past decade has been spent looking for new cases, in domesticated animals and in the wild, wandering herds of ungulates, or hoofed animals, in East Africa. The last place of especially intense surveillance was Somalia, where the final outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1977.

‘“There are a huge number of unsung heroes in lots of countries that made this possible,” said Michael Baron, a rinderpest virologist at the Institute for Animal Health in Surrey, England. “In most places, they were ordinary veterinary workers who were doing the vaccination, the surveillance, the teaching.”

‘Three things made rinderpest eradicable. Animals that survived infection became immune for life. A vaccine developed in the 1960s by Walter Plowright, an English scientist who died last year at 86, provided equally good immunity. And even though the virus could infect wild animals, it did not have a reservoir of host animals capable of carrying it for prolonged periods without becoming ill.

‘In 1994, the FAO launched an eradication program that was largely financed by European countries, although the United States, which never had rinderpest, also contributed money. The effort consisted of massive vaccination campaigns, which were made more practicable when two American researchers made a version of the Plowright vaccine that required no refrigeration. . . .’

One of those researchers was Jeffrey Mariner, now working at ILRI, in Nairobi, Kenya. Mariner also helped in surveillance work ‘with a technique called “participatory epidemiology” in which outside surveyors meet with herdsmen and ask open-ended questions about the health of their animals and when they last noticed certain symptoms.

‘“It was local knowledge that really helped us trace back the last places where transmission occurred—sitting down underneath a tree in the shade, listening to storytelling,” said Lubroth, of the FAO. . . .’

Read the whole article in the Washington Post, Rinderpest, or ‘cattle plague,’ becomes only second disease to be eradicated, 27 May 2011.

Read FAO’s interview of Peter Doherty: Healthier animals, healthier people, June 2011.

Short film illustrates expanded, agile partnerships behind recent disease research breakthrough

This short (5-minute) film, ‘Battling a Killer Cattle Disease’, produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), provides background and context for a recent research breakthrough made at ILRI’s animal health laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya, and at their partner institutions in the UK and Ireland. The research was funded over 7 years in large part by the Wellcome Trust in addition to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Trypanosomosis is a wasting disease of livestock that maims and eventually kills millions of cattle in Africa and costs the continent billions of dollars annually.

In 2011, a group of geneticists at these collaborating institutions identified two genes that enable Africa’s ancient N’Dama cattle breed to resist development of the disease trypanosomosis when infected with the causative, trypanosome, parasite.

The team members were able to make use of the latest gene mapping and genomic technologies because they had the genetic systems and experimental populations of livestock in place to do so as these technologies came on stream.

Eventually, these results should make it easier for livestock breeders in Africa to breed animals that will remain healthy and productive in areas infested by the disease-carrying tsetse fly.

The international team that came together in this project is an example of the disciplinary breadth as well as agility needed to do frontline biology today. In this work, the team developed several new research approaches and technologies that were needed to unravel some fundamental biological issues, with likely benefits for many African farmers and herders.

Those interviewed in the film include Harry Noyes, at the University of Liverpool; Alan Archibald, at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh; Andy Brass, at the University of Manchester; and Steve Kemp and Morris Agaba, at ILRI.

Amid soaring meat costs, officials from East Africa and Middle East seek plan to keep animal diseases from disrupting livestock trade

Orma Boran cattle crossing a river in Kenya

New approach to Rift Valley fever outbreaks aims to ensure food safety as region boosts livestock imports from Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Dolan)

With increased trade in livestock products offering a possible antidote to high food prices, livestock experts from the Middle East and 12 African countries are meeting this week (13-16 June, 2011) in Dubai to develop a strategy that eliminates the need to impose devastating bans on livestock imports from the Horn of Africa, as prevention against the spread of Rift Valley fever. The strategy should expedite the flow of livestock products while increasing safety of the overall livestock trade in the region.

Convened by the African Union’s Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the workshop will encourage officials and livestock traders to use a simple ‘Decision Support Planning Tool’ to guide and moderate their responses to Rift Valley fever outbreaks.

The ‘decision support tool’ for Rift Valley fever was developed by 30 experts and decisions-makers from across the Horn of Africa with technical assistance from researchers at ILRI, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and other partners. The tool will be used by chief veterinary officers and other national decision-makers. Its framework identifies the sequence of events likely to occur as the risk of a disease outbreak increases.

Rift Valley fever is a mosquito-borne virus found in eastern, western and southern Africa, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Epidemics emerge periodically with prolonged rains. Climate and land-use changes could make outbreaks more frequent. A study done by ILRI economists Karl Rich and Francis Wanyoike indicated that the Rift Valley fever outbreak in 2007 cost Kenya at least USD32 million.

‘We must avoid unnecessary disruptions in agricultural trade between East Africa and the Middle East,’ said Ahmed El Sawalhy, director of AU-IBAR. ‘Livestock products must be safe and action concerning disease outbreaks must be in line with the actual threat.’ To this end, an animal health certification model suitable for pastoral livestock production systems and that promotes OIE standards has been developed by AU-IBAR in partnership with FAO and the Royal Veterinary College, London. The model is based on risk assessment and involves integration of both upstream animal health inspection and certification at entry points, markets and at the quarantines.

Time is also of critical importance in prevention and control of transboundary animal diseases. ‘In the last Kenyan Rift Valley fever outbreak, control measures were implemented late—not until there were definitive signs of an outbreak,’ said Jeffrey Mariner, an epidemiologist at ILRI. ‘This tool links early warning signs to control measures that can be implemented before animals or people begin falling ill. The new tool could reduce the impact of Rift Valley fever, and maybe even prevent some local outbreaks and has the potential to prevent the spread of Rift Valley fever through trade.’

‘The good news,’ says Bernard Bett, an epidemiologist at ILRI, ‘is that the impact of Rift Valley fever can be mitigated with early action during an outbreak, but veterinary officers and  decision-makers need to know what interventions to implement—and when—as the  stages of an epidemic  unfold.’

Rift Valley fever is best prevented through animal vaccination. But vaccines are expensive and few governments are willing to pay for expensive vaccines unless evidence indicates an epidemic is imminent. Regional cooperation is required to build consensus on managing the disease and to prevent trade disruptions.

Larry Meserve, USAID/EA’s regional mission director commented, ‘President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative aims to increase food security throughout Africa. To succeed, we must all help to improve the capacity of leadership in the Horn of Africa to anticipate potentially disastrous events like disease epidemics so that appropriate preventive or mitigating measures are taken before it is too late. Livestock is a vital staple crop in this part of the world, and both the private and public sectors have to do everything possible to prevent unnecessary disruptions in the trade of livestock and other commodities.’

Visit the official workshop blog site:

Scientists identify livestock genes to unlock protection against one of Africa’s oldest animal plagues

Cow suffering from trypanosomosis

Cow suffering from trypanosomiasis (photo credit: ILRI/Elsworth).

An international research team using a new combination of approaches has found two genes that may prove of vital importance to the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in a tsetse fly-plagued swathe of Africa the size of the United States. The team’s results were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The research, aimed at finding the biological keys to protection from a single-celled trypanosome parasite that causes both African sleeping sickness in people and a wasting disease in cattle, brought together a range of high-tech tools and field observations to address a critical affliction of some of the world’s poorest people.

With increased surveillance and control, sleeping sickness infections in people have dropped ten-fold in the last 13 years, from an estimated 300,000 cases a year in 1998 to some 30,000 in 2009, with the disease eventually killing more than half of those infected. Although best known for causing human sleeping sickness, the trypanosome parasite’s most devastating blow to human welfare comes in an animal form, with sick, unproductive cattle costing mixed crop-livestock farmers and livestock herders huge losses and opportunities. The annual economic impact of ‘nagana,’ a common name in Africa for the form of the disease that affects cattle (officially known as African animal trypanosomiasis), has been estimated at US$4–5 billion.

In a vast tsetse belt across Africa, stretching from Senegal on the west coast to Tanzania on the east coast, and from Chad in the north to Zimbabwe in the south, the disease each year renders millions of cattle too weak to plow land or to haul loads, and too sickly to give milk or to breed, before finally killing off most of those infected. This means that in much of Africa, where tractors and commercial fertilizers are scarce and prohibitively expensive, cattle are largely unavailable for tilling and fertilizing croplands or for producing milk and meat for families. The tsetse fly and the disease it transmits are thus responsible for millions of farmers having to till their croplands by hand rather than by animal-drawn plow.

‘The two genes discovered in this research could provide a way for cattle breeders to identify the animals that are best at resisting disease when infected with trypanosome parasites, which are transmitted to animals and people by the bite of infected tsetse flies,’ said senior author Steve Kemp, a geneticist on joint appointment with the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Liverpool.

This genetics of disease resistance research was led by scientists from ILRI in Africa and from the UK universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh, and involved researchers from other institutions in Britain, Ireland and South Korea.

The researchers drew on the fact that while the humped cattle breeds characteristic of much of Africa are susceptible to disease-causing trypanosome parasites, a humpless West African breed, called the N’Dama, is not seriously affected by the disease. Having been domesticated in Africa some 8,000 or more years ago, this most ancient of African breeds has had time to evolve resistance to the parasites. This makes the N’Dama a valued animal in Africa’s endemic regions. On the other hand, N’Dama cattle tend to be smaller, to produce less milk, and to be less docile than their bigger, humped cousins.

African agriculturalists of all kinds would like to see the N’Dama’s inherent disease resistance transferred to these other more productive breeds, but this is difficult without precise knowledge of the genes responsible for disease resistance in the N’Dama. Finding these genes has been the ‘Holy Grail’ of a group of international livestock geneticists for more than two decades, but the genetic and other biological pathways that control bovine disease resistance are complex and have proven difficult to determine.

The PNAS paper is thus a landmark piece of research in this field. The international and inter-institutional team that made this breakthrough did so by combining a range of genetic approaches, which until now have largely been used separately.

‘This may be the first example of scientists bringing together different ways of getting to the bottom of the genetics of a very complex trait,’ said Kemp. ‘Combined, the data were like a Venn diagram overlaying different sets of evidence. It was the overlap that interested us.’

They used these genetic approaches to distinguish differences between the ‘trypano-tolerant’ (humpless) N’Dama, which come from West Africa, and ‘trypano-susceptible’ (humped) Boran cattle, which come from Kenya, in East Africa. The scientists first identified the broad regions of their genomes controlling their different responses to infection with trypanosome parasites, but this was insufficient to identify the specific genes controlling resistance to the disease. So the scientists began adding layers of information obtained from other approaches. They sequenced genes from these regions to look for differences in those sequences between the two breeds.

The team at Edinburgh conducted gene expression analyses to investigate any differences in genetic activity in the tissues of the two cattle breeds after sets of animals of both breeds were experimentally infected with the parasites. Then, the ILRI group tested selected genes in the lab. Finally, they looked at the genetics of cattle populations from all over Africa.

Analyzing the vast datasets created in this research presented significant computational challenges. Andy Brass and his team in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester managed to capture, integrate and analyze the highly complex set of biological data by using workflow software called ‘Taverna,’ which was developed as part of a UK e-Science initiative by Manchester computer scientist Carole Goble and her ‘myGrid’ team.

‘The Taverna workflows we developed are capable of analyzing huge amounts of biological data quickly and accurately,’ said Brass. ‘Taverna’s infrastructure enabled us to develop the systematic analysis pipelines we required and to rapidly evolve the analysis as new data came into the project. We’re sharing these workflows so they can be re-used by other researchers looking at different disease models. This breakthrough demonstrates the real-life benefits of computer science and how a problem costing many lives can be tackled using pioneering E-Science systems.’

To bolster the findings, population geneticists from ILRI and the University of Dublin examined bovine genetic sequences for clues about the history of the different breeds. Their evidence confirmed that the two genes identified by the ILRI-Liverpool-Manchester groups were likely to have evolved in response to the presence of trypanosome parasites.

‘We believe the reason the N’Dama do not fall sick when infected with trypanosome parasites is that these animals, unlike others, have evolved ways to control the infection without mounting a runaway immune response that ends up damaging them,’ said lead author Harry Noyes, of the University of Liverpool. ‘Many human infections trigger similarly self-destructive immune responses, and our observations may point to ways of reducing such damage in people as well as livestock.’

This paper, said Kemp, in addition to advancing our understanding of the cascade of genes that allow Africa’s N’Dama cattle to fight animal trypanosomiasis, reaffirms the importance of maintaining as many of Africa’s indigenous animal breeds (as well as plant/crop varieties) as possible. The N’Dama’s disease resistance to trypanosome parasites is an example of a genetic trait that, while not yet fully understood, is clearly of vital importance to the continent’s future food security. But the continued existence of the N’Dama, like that of other native ‘niche’ African livestock breeds, remains under threat.

With this new knowledge of the genes controlling resistance to trypanosomiasis in the N’Dama, breeders could screen African cattle to identify animals with relatively high levels of disease resistance and furthermore incorporate the genetic markers for disease resistance with markers for other important traits, such as high productivity and drought tolerance, for improved breeding programs generally.

If further research confirms the significance of these genes in disease resistance, a conventional breeding program could develop a small breeding herd of disease-resistant cattle in 10–15 years, which could then be used over the next several decades to populate Africa’s different regions with animals most suited to those regions. Using genetic engineering techniques to achieve the same disease-resistant breeding herd, an approach still in its early days, could perhaps be done in four or five years, Kemp said. Once again, it would be several decades before such disease-resistant animals could be made available to most smallholder farmers and herders on the continent.

‘So it’s time we got started,’ said Kemp.


See this news and related background material at ILRI’s online press room.

The International Livestock Research Institute ( works with partners worldwide to help poor people keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, and find profitable markets for their animal products. ILRI’s headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya; we have a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and 13 offices in other regions of Africa and Asia. ILRI is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (, which works to reduce hunger, poverty, illness and environmental degradation in developing countries by generating and sharing relevant agricultural knowledge, technologies and policies. This research is focused on development, conducted by a Consortium ( of 15 CGIAR centres working with hundreds of partners worldwide, and supported by a multi-donor Fund (

The University of Liverpool ( is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organizations valued at more than £110 million annually.

The University of Manchester (, also a member of the Russell Group, is the largest single-site university in the UK. It has 22 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. According to the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, the University of Manchester is now one of the country’s major research universities, rated third in the UK in terms of ‘research power’. The university has an annual income of £684 million and attracted £253 million in external research funding in 2007/08.

Pastoral reciprocity: A lesson in community ethos

Impacts of drought in Kitengela in 2009

We heard today from Mohamed Said, a scientist leading research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on pastoral rangelands in eastern Africa, that Kitengela, a Maasai rangeland neighbouring Nairobi, is turning green again after good recent rains following last year's devastating drought, which the livestock herders in Kitengela say killed most of their livestock along with much of the area's wildlife. Interestingly, although already turned green with heavy rains that arrived early in this year, this rangeland remains virtually empty of cattle. It is, rather, full of sheep and goats. Kitengela's Maasai herders have driven all their cattle southeast to Emali. Said and ILRI Maasai partner Nickson ole Parmisa say that the herders will bring their cattle back home, to Kitengela, in another few weeks, when the grass in Kitengela, which is now new and short, has grown taller. Here is a case study in how Africa's pastoral societies continue to work, against all odds, as communities. Late last year, when the impacts of the drought in the Horn of Africa were peaking, Maasai herders from throughout Kenya's Kajiado District descended on Kitengela with their animal herds because they had heard that the Kitengela rangelands had had 'a few showers'. That was true in a few places, but with all the new livestock driven in to this one part of Kajiado, Kitengela was reduced to a dustbowl within a few days. With no forage to eat, the livestock of Kitengela perished soon after the stock that had been trekked in from far places. Many people began to question the wisdom of traditional pastoral movement on Africa's increasingly fragmented rangelands. Now, just a few months later, the Maasai herders of Emali are returning the hospitality, and mercy, shown them last year by their Kitengela cousins. It is now the Emali Maasai who are sharing their green grass (the rains came earlier to Emali than to Kitengela, so the grass at Emali is taller than that in Kitengela) with the hungry animals of Kitengela. While scientists at ILRI and elsewhere debate the wisdom of pastoral mobility (does it still work in today's crowded world?), what apparently is not in doubt is the wisdom of pastoral reciprocity.

Improving cattle genetics with in vitro embryo production technology

Livestock scientists from ILRI and the Clinical Studies Department of the University of Nairobi (UON) recently succeeded in breeding Kenya’s first test-tube calf using a technique called in vitro embryo production (IVEP). IVEP makes it possible to rapidly multiply and breed genetically superior cattle within a short generation interval.
Why is this important?
For several reasons. First, livestock is the fastest growing sub-sector in the world, as increasing trends of 114% in demand for meat and 133% for milk attest. To improve on food security, it is essential to double livestock production in the developing world by 2020. IVEP is clearly one of the most efficient ways to accomplish this.

Second, let’s consider the problem of environmental impact. Doubling livestock production through traditional breeding techniques increases pressure on natural resources—water, land and biodiversity. So the need for enhanced efficiency without degrading natural resources is urgent. Again, IVEP, which requires only laboratory equipment in the production process, comes to the rescue.

Third, there is the biodiversity issue. Matching genotypes to environment is crucial. Scientists need to take several factors into consideration—among them adaptation, tolerance for disease, tolerance for new environments and alignment to market development. Although plenty of genetic diversity exists, thus far we’ve done little with it. Once more, IVEP could be the answer.

Fourth, IVEP has significant commercial potential because farmers can rent their best cows as donors and their lower-quality cows as surrogates.

Most importantly, we need to look closely at the constraints faced by small-scale livestock keepers.

  • Cattle genotypes and production environments, as often as not, do not match. Result:  low productivity.
  • Heifer replacement programs take a long time and are rarely done properly. Result: supply is low, prices are high.
  • Sex ratios are often disadvantageous. Result: too many males and high production costs.
  • The commercial relevance of many indigenous breeds is not optimised. Result: farmers incur unsupportable losses.
  • Programs for breed conservation and preservation are often improper. Result: some breeds are threatened by extinction and no gene pool for replacement exists.

IVEP does not—and should not—completely replace traditional reproductive technologies such as conventional embryo transfer (ET) and artificial insemination. Each of these techniques has its place, and each of them utilizes tissues, embryos and semen for improvement and reconstruction of cattle breeds. The difference is that while the traditional ET techniques involve more animals and are wholly done in the field, IVEP is undertaken in the lab and involves fewer surrogate animals in the field. IVEP eliminates the tedious steps of synchronizing donor cows.

Specifically, IVEP technology as a breeding tool has the distinct advantage of maximizing utilization of appropriate dam and sire genotypes by:

  • increasing efficiency of multiplication in breeding;
  • permitting  determination of sex of the offspring; and
  • permitting pre-testing of actual fertility status of the bull.

Thus, while natural mating or artificial insemination are necessarily slow and inefficient, producing only 10-15 offspring per life span of a cow …

…IVEP can produce up to 300 offspring per life span.

The SIFET Project: a successful IVEP program
The Sexed semen in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer (SIFET) project was designed to exploit and promote the potential of applying IVEP reproductive technique to:

  • develop, multiply and disseminate female crossbreeds that appropriately match with production environment;
  • provide a system to preserve top bovine genotypes in cases of accidental culling in a recycle-like scheme (slaughterhouse collection); and
  • identify, multiply and conserve selected superior desirable breed traits.

The project involved collecting ovaries from slaughter houses or picking ovum from live cows. When the genetic material is brought to the lab, oocytes with high developmental competence are selected and morphological evaluation done. Once the ideal oocytes are identified, they are matured in vitro for 22-24 hours. The subsequent in vitro fertilization process is conducted for a period of 18-22 hours with a high sperm concentration. The fertilization itself requires removal of seminal plasma and extenders, separation of motile sperms from dead ones and induction of sperm capacitation. Once the embryos are formed, they are cultured in the lab for 7 days and then transferred to surrogates.

A conception rate of about 40% has been achieved, with calves born without abnormalities.


  1. IVEP technology is feasible in Kenya.
  2. Commercialization of the process should be facilitated as soon as supportive policies and proper legal/regulatory frameworks are in place

Poor field heat detections leading to poor uterine synchrony and lower conceptions are concerns, as is the high genotype variability characteristic of animals brought to slaughterhouses.

Way forward and prospects
Looking ahead, the collaborating scientists anticipate bringing ovum pick-up (OPU) and cryopreservation into the picture as well as capacity building.

Clearly, such programs can help match breeds to appropriate production systems to ensure sound breeding programs. Where and when necessary, new breeds can be introduced within a relatively short period of time. Above all, embryos are far easier to transport across continents than live animals.

Through IVEP technology and well-planned crossbreeding programs such as SIFET that integrate the use of indigenous cows as donors and surrogates while using semen from appropriate (more productive and reasonably adapted) dairy breeds such as Jerseys, F1 heifers suited to the smallholder farmers’ conditions can be produced.

Niche markets for the technology and its F1 products should be further explored and exploited, notably with regard to the potential of forestalling the threat to key wildlife species.

Funding for the project was made available by Heifer Project International. UON provided the technical team and recipient animals. Administration and laboratory facilities were provided by ILRI. The cooperation of the abattoirs (the source of ovaries) and the animal owners are gratefully acknowledged. The capacity building program through a joint CNPq grant for the Embrapa-UON-ILRI partnership, as well as support from Dr Luiz Carmago and Dr Joao Viana of Embrapa, are highly appreciated.

The collaborating scientists are Mwai Okeyo, Henry Mutembei and Bridgit Syombua from ILRI; and  Erastus Mutiga, Victor Tsuma and Henry Mutembei from Clinical Studies, UON.

For more information, contact Dr Okeyo Mwai, Animal Geneticist/Breeder, Biotechnology Theme, ILRI, at

African cattle to be protected from killer disease

ITM Vaccine

Millions of African families could be saved from destitution thanks to a much-needed vaccine that is being mass-produced in a drive to protect cattle against a deadly parasite.

East Coast fever is a tick-transmitted disease that kills one cow every 30 seconds – with one million a year dying of the disease.

Calves are particularly susceptible to the disease. In herds kept by the pastoral Maasai people, for example, the disease kills from 20 to over 50 per cent of all unvaccinated calves. This makes it difficult and often impossible for the herders to plan for the future, to improve their livestock enterprises and thus to raise their standard of living.

An experimental vaccine against East Coast fever was first developed more than 30 years ago. This has been followed by work to allow the vaccine to be produced on a large scale, with major funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and others.

East Coast Fever puts the lives of more than 25 million cattle at risk in the 11 countries where the disease is now endemic, and endangers a further 10 million animals in new regions such as southern Sudan, where the disease has been spreading at a rate of more than 30 kilometres a year. The vaccine could save the 11 affected countries at least £175 million a year.

The immunization procedure – called “infection-and-treatment” because the animals are infected with whole parasites while being treated with antibiotics to stop development of disease – has proved highly effective. However, initial stocks produced in the 1990s recently ran low.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at the request of the Africa Union/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources and chief veterinary officers in affected countries, produced one million doses of vaccine to fill this gap. However, for the longer term it is critical that sustainable commercial systems for vaccine production, distribution and delivery are established.

With UK£16.5 million provided by DFID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity GALVmed is fostering innovative commercial means to do just this, beginning with the registration and commercial distribution and delivery of this new batch of the vaccine. This will ensure that the vaccine is made available, accessible and affordable to livestock keepers who need it most and to scale up its production for the future.

International Development Minister Mike Foster said:

“Some 1.3 billion of the world's poorest people rely on livestock for their livelihoods. Many Africans depend on the health of their cattle for milk, meat and as their only hard asset for trade and investment. A smallholder dairy farmer can take years to recover economically from the death of a single milking cow. That’s why it’s vital that every possible step is taken to ensure that these essential vaccine doses are sustainably produced, tested and made available to the people who need them.

“DFID is supporting GALVmed to explore ways of transferring the production and distribution of the vaccine into the private sector through local manufacturers and distributors. This is extremely important in making the vaccine affordable, accessible and – crucially – sustainable.”

GALVmed CEO Steve Sloan said:
“Funded by DFID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GALVmed is working to protect livestock and the livelihoods of their owners. Thanks to the highly effective East Coast fever vaccine developed over many years by researchers working in East Africa and then refined and mass produced by ILRI, cattle invaluable to pastoralists such as the Maasai as well as smallholder dairy farmers are being protected. 
“The survival of cattle for the millions who live on tiny margins has a direct effect on quality of life and the dignity of choice and self-determination. Collaborating with ILRI and partners in the developing world, including governments and veterinary distributors and those from the private sector, GALVmed is working to embed the vaccine through registration in East African countries and to scale up its production so that it remains accessible to poor people.
“This pioneering registration effort aims to ensure that the vaccine is approved and monitored by affected nations and enables local firms to sell and distribute it, embedding its sustainability. Registration in Malawi is already complete, with significant progress in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.”
ILRI veterinary scientist Henry Kiara, who has conducted research on the live vaccine for 20 years, explains that ILRI is “looking forward to commercialising the production, distribution and delivery of the vaccine to the smallholder and emerging dairy producers as well as livestock herders” in this region of Africa. “Now that all the building blocks are in place, thanks to past investments by DFID and others”, he says, “we are excited to be at a stage where this vaccine can ‘take off’.”

Over the past several years, the field logistics involved in mass vaccinations of cattle with the infection-and-treatment method have been greatly improved, due largely to the work of a private Company called VetAgro Tanzania Ltd, working with Maasai cattle herders in northern Tanzania. Sustainability underpins GALVmed’s approach and the charity is working with developing world partners to ensure that the vaccine is available to those who need it most, bringing public and private partners together.

About the vaccine
The infection-and-treatment immunisation method against East Coast fever was developed by research conducted over three decades by the East African Community, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) at Muguga, Kenya (, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya ( This long-term research was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) ( and other donors of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) ( The first bulk batch of the vaccine, produced by ILRI 15 years ago, has protected one million animals, whose survival raised the standard of living for livestock keepers and their families. Field trials of the new vaccine batch, also produced at ILRI, are being completed in accordance with international standards to ensure that it is safe and effective.

About East Coast fever
East Coast fever was first recognized in southern Africa when it was introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century with cattle imported from eastern Africa, where the disease had been endemic for centuries. It caused dramatic losses with high cattle mortality. It has persisted in 11 countries in eastern, central and southern Africa – Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The disease devastates the livelihoods of small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farmers and smallholder and emerging dairy producers, as well as pastoral livestock herders, such as the Maasai in East Africa.

East Coast fever, or theileriosis, is a devastating cancer-like disease of cattle that often kills the animals within three weeks of infection. It is caused by the single-celled parasite Theileria parva, which is transmitted by the brown ear tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus) as it feeds on cattle. In addition to producing the infection-and-treatment vaccine, ILRI is also working to develop a genetically engineered next-generation vaccine.

Some 70 per cent of the human population of sub-Saharan Africa – around half a billion people – depend on livestock for their livelihoods, with farming and herding families relying on cattle for vital sources of food, income, traction, transportation and manure to fertilise croplands.

A case study showing the impact of the disease on Maasai herders is included below. Further case studies illustrating the impact of the infection-and-treatment vaccine on people’s lives are available on the GALVmed website at:

Case Study: East Coast fever in Tanzania

Maasai herders in Tanzania have been particularly devastated by East Coast fever. In parts of northern Tanzania, more than 1 in 5 calves die before reaching maturity (54 months) in the lowlands and more than one third fail to reach maturity in the (wetter) highlands, where tick-borne and other diseases are more prevalent.

Although the infection-and-treatment vaccine is a “live” vaccine, and thus needs to be stored in liquid nitrogen and administered by skilled practitioners, after which the animals must be monitored by experts for several days, the Maasai here are desperate for the new batch to be ready.

Introduction of the previous batch in recent years has drastically reduced calf mortality, from up to 80 per cent to less than 2 per cent. The protection afforded by the vaccine is so good that Maasai herders are willing to pay for these vaccinations. The vaccine appears to protect the animals against other ailments as well and, in addition, those mature animals that are marked with ear tags as having been vaccinated are fetching up to 50 per cent higher prices in the market. The vaccine is allowing these cattle herders to sell more animals and to invest their new income in, for example, bettering their household diets or paying for their children’s education. The new access to this vaccine is facilitating a transition among the Maasai in herd management, from a subsistence- to a market-orientation.

GALVmed has regular contact with those on the ground to improve access to the vaccine, including a meeting with 25 Masaai livestock keepers in Arusha, in northern Tanzania, earlier this year. At that meeting a Masaai representative stated:

“Please thank all those people who made the vaccine and also those who make it available for us to buy. Tell them not to stop their good work. No cattle means no Maasai – and no East Coast fever vaccine means no cattle.”


Songs of praise

'If the herds die, then the people will die too.'
– Proverb in the Horn of Africa
Songs of PraiseCattle have been getting some bad press lately. Western editorials report the consumption of too much fatty red meat leading to increased heart disease, the inefficient use of grain as feed for livestock and the production of methane gases by cattle, a factor in global warming.

Elsewhere in the world, cattle receive songs of praise. The songs are as old as civilization, when women and men first began to husband resources against the dry season, against winter, against unpredictable floods and drought. Farmers in the tropics and subtropics, where agricultural resources are scarce, face special hardships. Cattle help them survive those hardships. In the vast arid and semi-arid regions of the tropics, cattle and other ruminant animals offer people their only livelihood.

For most people in the developing world, cattle are not a product. They are life supporting. And they are cherished for that.

East African pastoralists sing praises to Maasai and Boran cattle superbly adapted to drought, heat stress and inferior fodder. West African savannah herdsmen depend on disease-resistant N’Dama and the lyre-horned White Fulani. The Hindu revere the large, prominently humped zebu cattle and the long-horned Mysore of southern India, a breed famous for its endurance. In Indonesia, handsome red Bali cattle serve as draught and riding animals that thrive on poor food, subsist on salty water and resist ticks and disease.

FILM: Click here to watch a short video of villagers from Gaza Province, Mozambique singing songs of praise

Why Cattle Matter
Livestock are not the most important factor in developing world agriculture. People are. But the survival of many farmers and pastoralists in poor countries depends on their stock. The thousand-plus cattle breeds developed over the millennia have, like their owners, adapted themselves to harsh and extreme climates, have evolved resistance to endemic diseases, and have developed an ability to survive on little water and poor-quality, seasonal food.

On typical subsistence farms where both crops and livestock are raised, cattle are the only means of power — other than human muscle — for pulling ploughs and taking produce to market. Cattle in poor countries eat grass and browse and crop wastes rather than grain. Their dung is used as fuel, as building material, as fertilizer. Their milk is a main source of protein for children. Surplus milk and young stock and hides are sold to buy clothes and seed, to pay medical expenses and school fees.

For pastoral peoples who live in areas too dry for arable farming, cattle are much more. They are not only food (milk is a mainstay of the nomadic diet) and money (milk is exchanged for vegetables, salt and cloth; animals are given as bride price), they are also a final insurance against disaster, when they are sold to buy available grain when no other food is left.

For traditional farmers and herdsmen around the world, an animal’s most essential quality is its ability to survive. In Somalia, where stock-keeping is the economic backbone of the country, the typical zebu animal is the Garre of the central regions, a medium-sized, red-coated, multi-purpose animal. By the standards of developed nations, the productivity of these cattle is modest; what is too often forgotten in the West is that such animals are remarkably efficient producers in a harsh environment that makes most other agricultural activity impossible.

For the people of Somalia, there is a great deal more to cattle than milk, meat or even profit, even in times less dire than those today. PH Gulliver writes in The Family Herds: ‘Cattle are a man’s dearest possession and almost the only store of value he knows. Without them, his “social” life would be impossible. In his use and disposal of stock he is able, in a most definite way, to express his relations to others. One who is related is ipso facto one who gives and is given animals, for this not only expresses mutual confidence and affection’ but also ‘a genuine co-operation in each other’s life and development’.

More than 65% of Somalia’s population is involved in the livestock industry, with over half the population being nomads whose livestock produce over one million tons of milk a year. But livestock mean even more than livelihoods and food in this country: livestock are also Somalia’s largest traded commodity, accounting for 80% of exports in normal years.

In past years, 300,000 people died of starvation in Somalia and one-half of the country’s cattle died from drought, disease and war. To rebuild the country's economic and social infrastructures, livestock as well as people have to be saved.

Aid organizations know this. The International Committee of the Red Cross, for example, has committed millions of dollars to improving veterinary care in Somalia. Red Cross staff ask people, with considerable success, to bring their livestock to rural centres to be treated against major parasitic diseases. The makeshift veterinary centres soon became central to human as well as animal care, with medics jabbing young children with vaccines while the family animal stock is similarly treated.

Red Cross staff say it is nearly impossible to get Somalia’s nomadic herders to come to centres to vaccinate only their children. That’s not because they don’t care about the health of their children. It’s because they are forced to care more about the health of their animals, which feed their children and extended families.

A child dying is a family tragedy. An animal dying can threaten the survival of the whole family. As a proverb in the Horn of Africa goes: ‘If the herds die, then the people will die too.’

Germeda Koro agrees. Koro is a nomadic herder in the village of Gode, in the Somali Region of southern Ethiopia, where failure of rains in 2008 dried up food resources and water wells and wiped out pastures.

When asked by Time Magazine reporter Alex Perry why the villagers hadn’t slaughtered the goats, cows and chickens he saw roaming the village to save the children dying of hunger and disease, Koro, who had two children being treated for malnutrition, responded: ‘“Look, maybe one or two children get sick. But if you kill your animals, you’re ruining the whole family.” In the absence of billions more dollars for long-term development, that is what planning looks like in Ethiopia today. Letting a child die to save a family.’ (Time Magazine, ‘The Cost of Giving’, 18 August 2008)

The view from the North and the South—from the feedlots of Chicago and the semi-desert scrublands of Somalia and Ethiopia, from those who eat too much protein and those who eat too little—is very different. When advocating policies that affect the developing world, we should exploit and build on the enduring relationship of people and cattle that has benefited both species for thousands of years. If we respect other peoples’ ways of life that are born of necessities now remote in the developed world, we will make development policies that profit rather than hurt the farmers and agricultural economies we are attempting to support.

FILM: Click here to watch a short video of livestock women from Isiolo, northern Kenya singing songs of praise

Helping Asia’s dairy farmers take advantage of rising demand and prices for dairy products

FAO workshop and strategy say fair prices, appropriate policies and strategic investments and partnerships are key for the sector's development.

A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in April 2008 concludes that policy decisions impinging on the smallholder dairy sector should be taken with a broad understanding of their direct and indirect implications on rural as well as urban populations.

The report indicates that the recent control of milk prices in several Asian countries could be counter-productive to supporting the dairy incomes of smallholders and rural development generally. With prices at record levels for both dairy outputs (milk) and inputs (feeds, energy costs), fixed and administered prices tend to hold back big as well as small dairy producers from responding quickly to the changing price signals.

Helping Asia's dairy farmersPrice controls particularly hurt dispersed smallholders, who often lack social networks to help them find and sell to milk collectors offering the highest prices. On the other hand, equitable and remunerative prices for farm-gate milk encourages smallholders to adopt improved and sustainable technologies and management systems that improve their milk quality as well as quantity.

The recent and rapid escalation of commodity prices is the perfect environment in which to test what policies are most conducive to the development of the agricultural sector. Low food prices over the past 20 years led to an underinvestment in agriculture, particularly in smallholder dairying, which, unlike rice and other staples of food security, has been a neglected and relatively unsupported area of research and development.

Fair pricing policies, says FAO, are the first step to this sector’s development.


Helping Asia's dairy farmersThe sudden rise in dairy prices that took the market by surprise in late 2006 was due to the elimination by the European Union of subsidized dairy exports as well as to drought in many large dairy-product exporting countries and higher feed prices worldwide. Throughout 2007, prices for dairy products rose faster than those for any other agricultural commodity group, finally reaching a plateau in late 2007 and abating only in early 2008.
This recent increase in dairy prices potentially offers an opportunity for hundreds of millions of poor, and in many cases, landless, smallholder dairy producers to benefit from these structural, or permanent, shifts in the global demand and supply of dairy products.

This is particularly true for Asia, where growth in both milk production and consumption has been the strongest in the world; nearly 80% of the 238 million tonnes of milk produced in 2007 was supplied by farmers with 1 to 5 cows.

While developing countries in Asia and elsewhere consume only 40% of global milk production, these countries import nearly three-quarters of global shipments of dairy products, including 80% of milk powder exports from developed countries. With the world’s largest net trade milk deficit, Asia is projected to increase its milk production by 3% a year over the next decade, slower than the previous decade but still double annual global growth rates.

This is supported by expectations that, although dairy product prices have been easing in the first half of 2008, increased prices are here to stay. Commodity projections by both FAO and the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute indicate that milk prices over the next decade will remain 50% higher than historical averages.

Smallholder farmers have the capacity to respond quickly to higher milk prices because of their ample scope for rapid yield increases. Current average milk yields in developing countries are just one-fifth that in developed countries because most smallholder farmers feed their dairy animals well below their potential.

With enabling pricing policies and technical support to producers on improved feeding, on-farm management and reducing spoilage, milk yields in poor countries could increase dramatically to meet the rising global demand, bringing millions out of poverty in the process.

How policymakers in region have responded to higher commodity prices
To date, most of the policy responses in Asia to escalating food prices have focused on rice, maize, wheat and other food staples. Some countries, such as India in 2007, briefly limited dairy product exports to ensure domestic price stability. Many importing countries reduced import tariffs on both livestock products and feed inputs and many put in place price caps on milk and other dairy products.


 Asian policy responses to escalating food prices

 China imposes price caps on meat, milk, eggs, grain and edible oils (Jan 2008)
 China subsidizes meat consumption for the poor (for 6 months)
 Thailand imposes price controls on dairy products, chicken, eggs, beef and pork.
 Pakistani cities set retail fluid milk prices below the cost of production.
 Thailand reduces the tariff rate for soybean meal from 4 to 0% to reduce the costs of  feeding local animals.
Indonesia eliminates import duties on soybeans (for 6 months).
 Indonesia subsidizes tempe and tofu producers.
 Korea cuts import duties on corn and soybeans.
 China reduces the tariff rate for soybeans from 3 to 1% for 3 months (Oct 2007–Mar 2008).
 Indonesia takes a  series of measures to stabilize food prices.
 India abolishes the import duty on corn (Jan–Dec 2007)
 India bans the export of pulses (Jun 2006–Mar 2008).
 Vietnam reduces tariffs on meat, offal, eggs, milk products, vegetable oils and animal  feeds by 30–50% and reduces the import tax rate for corn used for animal feed from 5 to  2%.

The different policy responses and the way they are implemented alter economic incentives for the different actors along the dairy marketing chain and have differential impacts on food security in urban and rural areas. Policy responses that seek to ensure food security and access by controlling markets, such as through setting ceiling prices, usually lower prices, preventing potential gains from being realized, and hurt rural livelihoods.

The dairy sector in most developed countries is highly supported through regulated prices and high tariffs to ensure stable and high incomes for dairy producers. This is not the case in developing countries, where dairy policies are less prevalent and price controls are often used to ensure low prices for urban consumers.

A recent FAO review on lessons learned in smallholder dairy development reveals that government interventions in the dairy sector—particularly price policies that create or remove incentives for producers to increase yields—strongly impact rural livelihoods and food security for better or worse, as well as, importantly, the investment climate for the sector.

A key question for policymakers is to what extent the international dairy prices are being transmitted into local economies. FAO’s investigation of price movements in a few countries in Asia identifies some of the factors conditioning the transmission of the prices. Domestic policies influence market signals while the costs of doing business determines the extent to which individual producers respond to those market signals.

The first determinants of how international prices translate into local prices are exchange rate movements and a country’s net trade position. While world dairy prices have increased substantially in recent years, these have been accompanied and partly caused by a substantial depreciation of the US dollar against many currencies.

The exchange rate factor means domestic prices don’t necessarily rise as much as international prices. The impacts of international prices on local prices are highest in countries with stable currencies, such as Indonesia and Bangladesh. In countries whose currencies have been appreciating, milk importers such as the Philippines have benefited from cheaper imports while milk exporters such as Thailand have suffered from reduced export earnings.

Helping Asia's dairy farmers

Prices of dairy products throughout Asia have increased over the past two years. From 2006 to 2008, farm gate prices of fluid milk rose from 10% (Malaysia) to 14% (Nepal) to 30% (Vietnam) to 69% (Mongolia). In the Philippines, which, after China, imports more dairy products than any other Asian nation, the government stopped all support for dairy activities two decades ago, deciding to import all its dairy requirements. While the government has accorded the sector more interest in recent years, its low tariffs (1–3%) on dairy imports, instituted to assure adequate supplies of milk products for its urban consumers, encouraged milk imports.

Despite these challenges to Philippino dairy producers, the smallholder sector, comprising some 96% of the dairy farming sector, has managed to compete favourably in the open market, due to its enterprise-focused approach to dairy development and the laissez-faire pricing policy, which allows markets to determine prices. The rise in international milk prices was transferred into the Philippino wholesale market for milk powder with only a slight delay (despite the peso’s appreciating 33% against the value of the US dollar, making imports less expensive). And farm gate prices, ranging from US$0.30–0.33 from 2001 to 2006 have risen to the current range of $0.40–0.49.

Sri Lanka has also kept tariffs low on imports of dairy products to keep milk, considered ‘essential’ for food security and nutrition, affordable. As a result, price trends in international markets are transmitted almost fully to the domestic market. With relatively stable exchange rates and imports making up 72% of domestic consumption, one could assume that high international prices would lead to higher prices for local suppliers.

However, pricing structures largely determined by a state-owned milk processing company mean the higher international prices translated into nearly 50% rises in packages of locally sold whole milk powder but only a 25% increase (US$0.20–0.25 per litre) in farm gate fluid milk prices in 2007.

Sri Lankan milk producers have thus not been given sufficient incentives to invest in their dairying despite the fact that the country’s total milk collection increased by 13% in 2004 due to higher prices being paid then for milk. Also constraining incentives to engage in the Sri Lankan dairy sector are high production costs that mean that a farmer needs to keep at least three cows and produce at least 15 litres a day to earn a reasonable income from dairy.

As Asia’s fifth largest producer, Pakistan accounts for nearly 13% of global production, most of which is sourced from the country’s 8.4 million  dairying households owning an average of 1 to 10 cows and most of which is consumed within the country.

Dairy’s contribution to Pakistan domestic product surpasses all the major crops and the sector has grown by more than 3% annually over the past decade, mostly due to expanding numbers of dairy animals producing low yields.

Over 2007, prices for fluid milk rose from US$0.31 to %$0.37 per litre. The price setting, however, which in Pakistan is done at district level, doesn’t take into consideration the rising costs of feed and other imports.

In both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, these prices have risen about 8 to 10% per year. Some municipalities are setting price ceiling below the cost of production. So while official milk prices in Karachi are set at RS32 per litre, black market rates in peak season often reach RS42 per litre. In response, farmers reduce or stop making new investments in their dairying, particularly their purchase of buffalo calves, whose price has risen 30–40%, a fact that may spell shortages of milk and cows in future.

Strategically positioning Asia to benefit from growing opportunities:
The Asian Smallholder Dairy Development Strategy and Investment Plan
To facilitate a timely response to this new and big opportunity for the poor, FAO and the Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific (APHCA), with the financial support of Common Fund for Commodities, initiated development of a regional strategy for dairy development. They started by holding a workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 26–29 February 2008, attended by over 50 key policymakers and senior executives of some of the largest dairy companies in Asia. Participants included regional experts from 18 Asian countries and from the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

At a time of record-high international dairy prices, the workshop dairy experts agreed that Asia needs concerted regional collaboration to enable its tens of millions of small dairy producers to derive the full benefits from the dairy value chain through greater productivity, better milk quality and maximum market access.

To help unleash dairy’s potential to transform rural economies in Asia, workshop members and government and private-sector representatives pledged to:
 Strengthen the ability of smallholders, who currently account for 70% of regional milk production,  to supply and market quality milk to the region;
 Actively participate in a regional dairy information and exchange network that will be a channel of best practices on smallholder dairy development;
 Support the development of national action plans that would build on the pillars of the regional strategy.

In response to the outcome of the workshop, FAO committed itself, under the umbrella of APHCA, to the immediate development of a knowledge networking system on small-scale dairy development, addressing such issues as production, marketing, and processing. The results of this workshop were further elaborated the following April into an Asian Smallholder Dairy Development Strategy and Investment Plan, which has as its objective: ‘a glass of good-quality, safe Asian milk per day for every Asian child and more efficient, productive and profitable dairy food chains providing dairy producers with higher earnings.’

In November 2008, ILRI’s Markets Theme director, Steve Staal, will participate in a follow-up workshop in Bangkok with about 30 other experts, including policymakers, researchers, private sector agents and global development thinkers on dairy development and chain analysis. This informal expert consultation aims to build a body of practical knowledge on enabling policies for development of smallholder dairy. It will feed into and support the broader objectives of FAO’s regional strategy for smallholder dairy development in Asia, which is to promote investment into Asia’s dairy sector.

FAO has been working in many countries in the region to help develop national training centers for small-scale dairy processing and genetic improvement of dairy cattle. Like FAO, ILRI strongly supports pro-poor dairy policy and development. ILRI has been working to enhance smallholder dairying in Africa and Asia since early 1990s through collaborative R&D projects with national partners. ILRI’s central interest is the traditional ‘raw’, or unpasteurized, milk and dairy markets of these regions, which are huge and booming. Traditional markets make up an extraordinary 98% of total milk sold in Tanzania, 90% in Uganda, and 86% in Kenya; in South Asia, these informal markets constitute 98% of milk sold in Pakistan, 76% in India and 40% in Sri Lanka. The dairy products traded in these informal markets are often liquid raw or soured milk and traditionally processed products such as the ubiquitous milk sweets of India.

ILRI’s collaborative smallholder dairy projects are looking for win-win options that enhance the welfare of small farmers and market agents while improving the nutritional status of poor households and enriching exhausted soils on smallholder mixed crop-and-livestock farms.
A smart way to meet this triple bottom line is to pay scrupulous attention to already vibrant local dairy markets—to what products local people are already selling and buying. As ILRI veterinary researcher Nick Hooten says:

‘What all of us tend to vastly underestimate is the huge and growing size and viability of local dairy markets in developing countries, with their traditional products designed for local preferences rather than Western appetites. These local markets should be our starting point for enlarging dairy pathways out of poverty.’

A collaboration path toward action
Embarking on such an ambitious initiative requires collaboration and cooperation between governments, institutions and other local and regional partners. FAO and ILRI have a long history of working together on smallholder dairy development and a regional umbrella supporting dairy development in Asia necessitates partnerships that focus on merging research results into development action in the field.

A recent ILRI/FAO publication, Dairy Development for the Resource Poor—A Comparison of Dairy Policies and Development in South Asia and East Africa—outlines an  agenda for pro-poor dairy policy and development. The authors suggest that, generally speaking, dairy development policies that build on traditional production systems, with a particular focus on employment generation and food safety and quality, are likely to be pro-poor. Solid knowledge of policies and their impacts on the structure of the dairy sector throughout the region will provide the stage for future initiatives.

ILRI and FAO look forward to collaborating with interested partners in the region to further the goal of ensuring that every day Asian children have access to at least one glass of Asian milk.

Related Information:
Proceedings of an FAO/APHCA/CFC-FUNDED workshop on:
Developing an Asian Regional Strategy for Sustainable Smallholder Dairy Development

Strategy and Investment Plan for Smallholder Dairy Development in Asia

Asia Pacific Dairy Strategy Project information

APHCA Brief: Dairy prices, policies and potential opportunities for smallholders in Asia, April 2008, by Nancy Morgan, Livestock Policy Officer, FAO Regional Office in Bangkok, Asia-Pacific Dairy Strategy Project

ILRI’s presentation to the workshop, ‘Dairy development for the resource poor: Lessons for policy and planning strategies’, by Nick Hooten, 27 February 2008.

Further Information Contact:
Nancy Morgan, 
Livestock Policy Officer, FAO Regional Office in Bangkok
Asia-Pacific Dairy Strategy Project

Steve Staal
Director of Enhancing Market Opportunities Theme

The ‘big five’ African vintage cows

We are losing the genetic resources locked up in the world’s domesticated livestock at an unprecedented rate
Of the 7,616 breeds of domestic livestock reported to FAO, 1,491, or 20%, are classified as being ‘at risk’. What’s at stake in this ‘livestock meltdown’ is nothing less than the animal basis for world food security. If we are to adapt food production systems to radically changing conditions in the coming decades, animal as well as plant genetic diversity will be critical resources for doing so. Traditional breeds offer diversity, which is the only base for future selection and adaptation. The on-going loss of our livestock genetic heritage is tantamount to losing a road map for survival—the key to food security, environmental stability and improving the human condition. Here are five rare ‘vintage cows’ of Africa that could be part of that road map.



Only some 2,400 Sheko cattle remain alive. These relatively small animals, which are related to West Africa’s ancient N’Dama cattle, are found only in the remote corner of southwestern Ethiopia, near the Sudanese border, where the Sheko people bred them for millennia for their natural resistance to disease, particularly tsetse-transmitted trypanosomosis. The Sheko are believed to be the last remnants of Africa’s original humpless shorthorn cattle, which were probably first domesticated in this region of eastern Africa.



There are about 3.2 million Ankole cattle in five countries of East and Central Africa. The Ankole are drought-resistant and beloved by their keepers also for their uncommon gentleness, beauty, rich milk and tasty meat (believed also to be low in cholesterol). Rapidly expanding human populations, infrastructures and markets, however, are forcing more and more farmers to replace their indigenous African Ankole cattle with exotic breeds such as the black-and-white Holstein-Friesians dairy cows, which produce much more milk. At their current rates of decline, these hardy, graceful animals will disappear within the next 50 years.

This large bony and typically red-coated animal has extremely long lyre-shaped horns. It is kept by pastoral Fulani people, who herd the animal across open semi-arid rangelands of the Sahel that criss-cross five countries of West and Central Africa. This is a dual-purpose milk and meat animal prized for its ability to cope with heat, ticks, insect bites and great water and feed scarcity.


These hamitic longhorn humpless cattle inhabit the hot, humid shores and archipelagos of the Lake Chad Basin in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. They are large-bodied, typically white, and carry highly distinctive bulbous horns. The breed is adapted to the hot and humid climate and can survive long droughts. They are managed under traditional systems, feeding on grass on the small islands of Lake Chad. They are excellent swimmers and follow their herdsmen through the water as they travel from an island to another; their bulbous horns are considered useful in floating. The Kuri are highly fertile animals and excellent milk and meat producers. ILRI estimates the remaining population of Kuri, now threatened with extinction, to number only some 10,000 head.


The semi-nomadic Borana tribe in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya herd the Boran, a medium- to large-sized and long-legged zebu animal that has considerable potential as a meat breed. On acquiring them early in this century, Kenyan ranchers judiciously crossed the original Ethiopian Boran with European breeds. This scheme to maximize the potential of an indigenous breed rather than attempt to replace it with exotic types has been highly successful. Today, the Improved Boran is one of Africa’s top beef breeds. Docile and well-adapted to hot, dry ranching conditions and to sparse pasture, these valuable animals have been exported from Africa to other continents, such as Australia, and from there to the USA.

Further Information

A ‘Livestock Meltdown’ Is Occurring
As Hardy African, Asian, and Latin American Farm Animals Face Extinction

Visit the online press room for further information and a series of short films and high-quality images of the third world’s unique farm animal breeds.

To market, to market, to sell a fat pig

Asia is home to more than half a billion pigs that provide food security and livelihoods to the majority of its rural population. Demand for pig products is soaring, but markets are consolidating. Will smallholder pig producers be able to participate or are they likely to get squeezed out?

The ubiquitous pig is a familiar sight in Asian villages in non-Islamic countries where it mingles with other small stock such as poultry and goats and with large stock, like buffalo and cattle, raised by households in mixed crop-livestock systems where livestock are an important source of cash to meet household consumption needs due to the seasonal nature of crop production.

The demands for and domestic supply of pig meat have been increasing steadily as a result of rising incomes, increasing human population, domestic market liberalization, increasing demand for livestock food products and urbanization.

Pig meat and byproducts

Pig meat provides an important source of protein and other nutrients; it is especially rich in thiamin (vitamin B1) which helps the body metabolize carbohydrates and fat to produce energy, and is also essential for the functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system. Thiamin deficiency is common in low-income populations with diets high in carbohydrates and low in thiamin (eg milled or polished rice). Beriberi, the disease resulting from severe thiamin deficiency, was described in Chinese literature as early as 2600 B.C. Breast-fed infants whose mothers are thiamin deficient are vulnerable to developing infantile beriberi.

Byproducts of pig production also provide important inputs in crop production in the form of fertilizer, thus also providing an efficient way of nutrient cycling to reduce environmental pollution.


Demand for pig meat continues to increase
Given the rising income and rapid urbanization that the region has been experiencing during the past decade, consumption patterns have also shifted towards more protein-based diets, specifically animal-source diets. Pig meat has traditionally been the most preferred meat in diets in South East Asia, and recent major outbreaks of Avian Influenza have induced a move from poultry meat to pig meat.  This, plus the relatively high population growth rates in the region, as compared with the rest of the world, will engender higher demand for pig meat in the coming years, with subsequent implications on the region’s ability to meet this surge in demand and to meet it in the most efficient and equitable manner.  Even in countries not normally associated with pig production, such as India, pig meat consumption is increasing and has traditionally provided a source of meat and livelihoods to many millions of people in tribal communities. Recent trends in demand for quality and food safety are also shaping the way the food supply chain is reorganizing to accommodate these market requirements.

Two key development policy questions thus emerge, namely:
(1) who will supply the demand requirements for pig meat in the region? and
(2) will smallholder producers be able to remain competitive in the changing market for pigs and pig meat?

ILRI’s pig research agenda has been shaped by these development policy issues and is aimed at providing evidence-based policy options to inform the policy debate on pro-poor livestock development in the region.  Specifically, ongoing work with national partners in the region are largely focused in improving competitiveness of smallholder pig producers in the context of changing demand for pig meat, and include among others an investigation of viable institutional arrangements that will enable smallholders to become active participants in the emerging supply chain for pigs and pig meat that are increasingly driven by consumer preferences for quality (lean meat) and safety (hygienic, chemical free), as well as niche markets for traditional quality attributes that are priced at a premium by high-income, urban consumers including special export markets, e.g., organically raised, local breed pigs.

Smallholder pig producers are constrained to effectively respond to changing market demand due to a number of factors, foremost of which is the lack of adequate resources (physical, human, financial, and social), and more importantly the prevailing bias in the policy environment that is stacked against smallholders. There is no denying that in order to meet the increasing demand for pig meat that production has to increase and in an efficient manner. This can only be feasibly done by modernizing the livestock sector through use of modern technology in all aspects of the production systems, e.g., breed, feed, animal disease control.  It is also unavoidable that policymakers usually equate modernization with large-scale industrial systems, following the models from the West. However, history shows that the Western models have also created second-generation problems that are related to important issues such as climate change and environmental degradation.  Thus, Asia could benefit from these economic development miscalculations by following a more sustainable and equitable path by ensuring that policies that will be put in place should be aimed at generating public good outcomes.

Overview of ILRI’s pig research in Asia
Improving the Competitiveness of Pig Producers in an Adjusting Vietnam Market
Many of Asia’s poor and marginalized populations keep backyard pigs in remote regions from Northeast India, Cambodia and Vietnam. ILRI is furthering its work with partners to improve the competitiveness of these smallholder pig producers in the face of rapidly increasingly demand for pig meat so that they can participate in the emerging supply chains for pigs and pig meat that are increasingly being driven by consumer demands. There are also opportunities to exploit niche markets for organically raised local breeds for poverty reduction. This project is funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Improving the pig and pig market chain to enable small producers to serve consumers needs in Vietnam and Cambodia
This project is looking at the existing and potential market opportunities that can be feasibly accessed by smallholder pig farmers. Large farm/processors tend to capture high-end markets that pay premium price for quality products, while smallholders have limited access to such markets. This trend limits the livelihood opportunities of many smallholders, especially women. This project is EU-DURAS Project grant funded.

Northeast India pig systems appraisal
The expected outcome of this project is to find viable options for improving productivity of traditional pig systems to respond to increasing demand for pig meat in Northeast India. This project is funded by ILRI and the Government of Assam.

Contract farming for equitable market-oriented smallholder swine production in Northern Vietnam
This project seeks to characterize and quantify the true costs and benefits of contract farming of pigs in Northern Vietnam to identify a set of policy and intervention options that will facilitate and promote profitable market-oriented livestock farming partnerships and to understand the barriers that prevent the poor from participating in contract farming and other similar marketing arrangements. The project is being carried out in three provinces in Northern Vietnam that supply Hanoi market with slaughter pigs. This project is funded by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative (PPLPI).

Sweet potato pig systems

While demand for livestock products is increasing in China and other Asia countries, livestock research can help mitigate the impacts that increasing demand will have on small scale producers. With rapid change, knowledge about how to adapt farming systems is essential. Pig production accounts for four fifths of total meat production, however there are many challenges ahead including how to feed the increased number of livestock and the impact on natural resources. Mixed farming systems that integrate crop and animal production form the backbone of small-scale Asian agriculture. From 1999 to 2004, the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) collaborated with the Sichuan Animal Science Academy, the Yunnan Beef Cattle and Pasture Research Center, and national agricultural research systems in four Southeast Asian countries in a Crop-Animal System Research Network (CASREN), funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). ILRI worked with the International Potato Centre (CIP) and Chinese partners to employ a livelihoods approach to enhancing smallholder pig production in Sichuan through improved pig feeding with ensiled sweet potato vines and roots. The extra biomass that farmers have been able to conserve has radically changed the pig production system. After harvesting, the vines are wilted to reduce moisture content. The roots and vines are then chopped, mixed with supplements and stored in airtight plastic bags, providing a nutritious feed that can support pig herds for up to nine months of the year. Improved feed has also allowed farmers to keep high-yielding cross-bred pigs, replacing much smaller and slower growing scavenging pigs that spread zoonotic, diseases such as cystercercosis. Other improvements have also been observed, including better husbandry practices, animal housing, and use of feed supplements and drugs, and these have increased the weight of pigs and greatly raised farm income. The success of CASREN’s work in Sichuan, where many farm households more than doubled their incomes by adopting CASREN potato silage technologies, has led the CGIAR System-wide Livestock Program (SLP) to fund related research within China and Southeast Asia.

Vaccine agency to reduce loss of human and animal life in developing countries is launched

The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicine (GALVmed) recently unveiled animal health projects it will tackle over the next ten years.

GALVmed announced progress on vaccine and treatments for Newcastle disease in poultry and East Coast fever and Rift Valley fever in cattle at its international launch at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), in Nairobi, on Friday 9 March 2007. This marked the beginning of a 10-year program aimed at creating sustainable solutions to the loss of human and animal life caused by livestock diseases, which threaten 600 million of the poorest people in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

GALVmed, a non-profit organization funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), is partnering with private and public-sector organizations around the world. It has identified 13 livestock diseases as key targets for development of livestock vaccines and animal health diagnostics and medicines. Founder members of the agency include the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), FARM-Africa, Pfizer, Intervet and Merial. GALVmed exists to broker partnerships among pharmaceutical companies and other public and private-sector organizations to develop accessible and affordable animal vaccines for the whole world’s poorest farmers.

Zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and humans, mainly afflict the poorest households, as evidenced by the recent outbreak of Rift Valley fever in livestock in Kenya, which killed 150 people. Brian Perry, a senior scientist at ILRI, warns that ‘Today, combating livestock diseases is everybody’s business – tropical animal diseases are no longer “just a local problem”. For example, there is a threat that diseases like Rift Valley fever will follow bluetongue into Europe.’

GALVmed’s chief executive Steve Sloan explains that ‘Every year, poor farmers worldwide lose an average of a quarter and in some cases half, of their herds and flocks to preventable disease. This devastates developing economies. Many of these are zoonotic and so also cause human deaths.

Livestock play a critical role in helping people escape poverty. Livestock disease is one of the greatest barriers to development for poor livestock keepers. Flocks and herds die every year from diseases for which vaccine simply do not exist or are beyond the reach of the poor. John McDermott, ILRI’s deputy director general for research says, ‘ILRI scientists and partners have done ground breaking science to develop an experimental vaccines to protect cattle against East Coast fever. The next steps are to conduct trials to facilitate the delivery of this vaccine to the farmers. To do that, we need specialist partners who will test, manufacture and market the vaccine and make it accessible and affordable to the thousands of livestock keepers afflicted by this cattle killing disease.

Click here for the GALVmed News release.

To find out more about GALVmed visit the website